Looking back at my past post-Super-Bowl-ad-reviews was a good reminder of the direction male targeted advertising has taken over last three or four years. When I first started doing this, viewers were berated with over the top, uber-masculine sales pitches in which advertisers demanded that men “Man Up!” They tried to sell us drinks deemed “not for women” and even worse, they promoted sexual assault as an act of bravery for privileged teen boys.
In 2014 we were told that advertisers finally saw the light and they were finally going to bless us with less stereotypes, less aggression, less yelling and more open and varied depictions of masculinity. “2014 will be the year of the sensitive male in advertising,” they said (they being other advertisers). So how did that turn out? Well, to quote myself from last years Super Bowl ad review:
“[2014’s] crop of SuperBowl ads amounted to nothing more than a toe dip into that pool. Sure, the men depicted seemed sensitive… at first, but in time we saw each ad’s true colors. In the end, it was revealed that advertisers have progressed very little when it comes to their depictions of men…”
Things didn’t improve much from there either. Throughout 2014 we watched a mixed bag of messages, a real tug-of-war between uber-masculine sales pitches and some slightly more sensitive male images. Sure, things improved a bit, but as the saying goes; the more things changed the more they stayed the same.
Now it’s 2015 and another Super Bowl has come and gone. Were things any different in this years crop of Super Bowl ads? Well, first off, this may have been the saddest Super Bowl ad year ever (sad as in make you cry, not sad as in crappy) what with Nationwide’s dead kid ad and all the other tearjerkers sandwiched between hours of concussions and gruesome injuries.
I also wouldn’t blame you for thinking this will truly be the year of the sensitive man, given the amount of ads featuring crying dads and man hugs. But don’t let that fool you. In reality what we really saw was a continuation of that advertising tug-of-war reflective of the ongoing back-and-forth happening in society at large. So far in 2015, old masculinity vs. new continues to be the overarching theme of male targeted advertising. This is evidenced by the fact that (By my count at least) there were just as many traditionally masculine ads as there were sensitive male ads during this year’s SuperBowl. Let’s recap…
First, the more traditionally masculine ads:
NASCAR “America Start Your Engines”
In this ad we see Nick Offerman, who’s become a traditional masculinity hero of sorts (thanks to his role in Parks & Recreation) giving yet another speech about how soft America has become (compared to our country’s powdered wig wearing forefathers). The answer to this softness? NASCAR on NBC of course (duh)!
Chevrolet “Focus Group”
This ad takes the completely non-creative, hit you over the head approach to shoving traditional masculinity down our throats… In the ad, Chevy shows a “focus group” (extra strong air quotes on that one) of women and children who conveniently all agree that a big truck makes a man appear more manly than a small sedan. By the way, please tell me you noticed that the small sedan is also a Chevy, but with its Chevy logo photoshopped out of the picture! Way to shit on your own cars Chevy. By the way, I don’t know about looking more manly… but I agree that everyone looks worse standing in front of your crap-ass sedans.
Budweiser “Brewed The Hard Way”
Look, I’m as sick of hipsters as the next guy, but not-so-subtly claiming that micro-brewed craft bears are soft and unmanly is not going to make your pisswater sell any better Bud.
Now, Counterbalancing these traditionally hyper-masculine advertising messages were some of these so-called “sensitive man ads” of myth that we’ve been promised for years.
Call me a jaded curmudgeon if you like, but I’m taking the stand that these ads aren’t as “sensitive man” as advertisers would have you believe. Sure, they each feature men crying and/or doing things men aren’t typically seen doing… like being tender, loving and gentle with kids. Certainly they earn some props for that. But let’s not get it twisted. These are not daring ads in any real way. In two of these ads the men were dads doing things dads should do. Which I’m not trying to imply is a bad thing… Just nothing new or challenging for men to aspire to… And in the third the father was never home… again, not to say that working hard to provide for your family is a bad thing, but we all know it’s a very traditional male role in the family. Not to mention these ads are 99% white (again). Anyway, I could go on, but here are your (pseudo) sensitive man ads:
Nissan “With Dad”
A father who is never home… An understanding mother who spends her time raising the child while fearing everyday for her husband’s life (due to his very manly occupation) and the son who dreams of being like his absentee dad. Then one day, now a silver fox and matured, dad comes home to finally spend time with his boy. He clearly regrets all the time he missed with his son, but all it takes is a strong man hug and a fancy new sports car and all is forgiven… It’s a well worn story (both on camera and in real life).
Dove “Real Strength”
I love messages that try to reframe what we think of as strength. And I love the reframing of fatherhood as a man who’s present and tender and loving… What I don’t love is the fact that we seem to only be able to ascribe these traits to fathers. There’s still an underlying cultural message here… We don’t know who these men were before they became fathers… We’re they evil? Did they mistreat women and kids? Who knows? All that matters is they’re fathers now and… Oh how cute look, he’s kissing his kid… Awwwwwww.
Toyota “My Bold Dad”
Ditto what I said above with this ad. The “shocking twist” is that his daughter is off to the military while dad is the one left behind crying. Again, great stuff. Positive message, etc, but Let’s be real, it’s not as groundbreaking as advertisers would like us to believe.
Finally, I want to point out two ads that were not particularly male targeted, nor did they have anything to do with masculinity. They might not fit the focus of this piece, but they’re certainly worth noting:
“No More” Super Bowl ad
Another anti-domestic violence ad from the No More campaign. A campaign that existed before the NFL picked it up, but has become known solely for it’s association with the NFL at this point. I have some feelings about the No More campaign, which I won’t get into today. Just know that I’m happy to see the topic being addressed on such a public stage. Also, if you were unaware, the call in the ad is a real one. I’m worried however that this tactic will no longer be a safe one for DV survivors to employ now that it’s been so widely publicized.
Always “Like a Girl”
Is this the first time feminine care products have been advertised during the Super Bowl? I don’t know, but the message is certainly powerful. It’s another message I’m happy to see highlighted on such a public stage. But damn it Always… You couldn’t diversify the ad a bit? (No, one black woman + one black girl does not = diversity) Is this a message only white girls need to receive?
That’s it for this year’s Manliest Super Bowl ads. Sorry I was away for so long, it’s been a crazy few months for me. I hope to get back to blogging regularly and I’m excited to keep tracking all the ads and other masculinity related topics in 2015! Thanks as always for reading.