Thursday, October 22, 2015

Have Some Decency and Go Gray in Private

While I work in the marketing and advertising business, I too share people's disdain for most marketing and advertising. 

Except when it's good of course. Then, I suspect we're all similar in that we like it. 

Everyone loves the polar bears that surface every winter and sell us Coke. Chrysler couching their cars as being "Imported from Detroit," was brilliant. Nike has done some fantastic ads dating back to the first time they commanded us to "Just Do It." Just about everything Apple does is smart. 

 Pictured: The average Hardee's customer.
But, back to those bad ones. Through the years, we've all watched ad after ad go slumming by using sex, stereotypes and impossible expectations to create the need for their product. 

Being that they're half the population and they make the bulk of the purchasing decisions for households, women — justifiably — dominate gender depictions in advertising. But, unless they're Melissa McCarthy, they're inevitably skinny. And not just skinny but often unhealthily, ridiculously thin. 

Like most people, this fact isn't a new one for me to come to grips with but, I can say that a recent set of ads has caused me to revisit the sad stereotypes that we're often asked to live up to. 

It was an ad for "Just for Men," hair dye featuring former athletes Walt Frasier and Keith Hernandez. In it, these two clowns try to hawk their product but they also completely skewer the mere prospect of one gracefully growing gray. 

Gray hair it seems, is no longer socially acceptable to the big thinkers at "Just for Men." And it's not enough for them to merely posit the prospect of one using hair dye, they make gray hair a social faux pas on par with expelling gas in a work meeting.

(The fact that I'm now going gray and my beard already has a ton of gray might have something to do with my new found sensitivity on this matter.) 

Now, ads targeted at women might use stereotypical imagery but they occasionally embrace notions of subtlety and nuance. Not Clyde and Keith. No sir. They make the point bluntly because we men, club wielding troglodytes that we are, couldn't understand it any other way.

"That beard is weird!!" they exclaim to one poor dude they've inexplicably cornered on an elevator. This guy has nowhere to go, he's just got to stand there and take the barbs. One wonders if he knew when he got up in the morning that his graying mop and beard would be the subject of intense ridicule. 
Because two dudes hanging out in an elevator with
microphones is totally normal. 
"Weird" means it makes others uncomfortable. "Weird" means it attracts attention and, by some measure, is offensive. 

Now let me say that, if you use hair dye, great. I do not care. Whatever floats your boat. But, since when is the mere presence of gray hair on one's head or in his beard the equivalent of having food in your teeth or something dangling from a nostril?  

Until I saw this ad I had no idea that gray hair met this threshold.   

Because Keith and Clyde respect their audience so much, they felt the need to twist the dagger.

"Hold the show!" Keith exclaims, and Walt doesn't miss a beat before adding, "That gray beard is a no-go."

These inspiring nuggets barely have a second to erode one's self image before Keith callously delivers the coup de grace by telling his salt-and-pepper subject that his "'stache is trash."

Trash? Wow. 

In keeping with the unattainably aspirational nature of advertising so often aimed at women, the gray-haired dude in question looks barely 30 years old. 

Isn't this all a bit much? 
Weird hair, maybe. Weird beard? No.  

Would we stand for it if some woman stood in an elevator and yelled at another lady that the back of her legs look like they had hail damage before urging her to buy a pair of Reeboks and start CrossFit?

Meh, what already happens with women is worse. It's insidious. Going back to that subtlety thing I mentioned. 

For years, skinny women, leading perfect lives — on TV — have been telling real, healthy, happy women how they're falling short. Along the way, advertisers found flaws that we didn't even know were flaws. It's no surprise or revelation that this lens has been turned toward men. It's just becoming a bit more obvious to me as I grow visibly older. Counterbalance that with being a dad and one thinks about things a bit more. 

The other night as I was watching the Blue Jays die a slow death, there was a break in play and the commercials rolled. One ad in particular caught Master Blackwell's attention. It was for the Fitbit wellness tracker. The message was somewhat empowering. People from all walks of life, engaging in all manner of physical activity. 

Walking, running, pulling, pushing, lifting, throwing, old, young, male, female. They were all depicted while a catchy jingle played. 

The boy danced along with the song and watched the ad. When it was done he asked me to rewind it. Then he asked me to rewind it again, and again, and again. 

Much to his chagrin, after the eighth or ninth time I stopped and let the TV play. Immediately following the Fitbit ad was one for Hardee's. And with that, we were off to bed.

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