Dressmann’s #JustTheWayYouAre campaign is a brilliant and much-needed takedown of the stereotypical “perfect” man/model in mens’ clothing ads.
+Commentary: First my hat is off to [ürb] for posting this on his blog, and then on Facebook where at least 250+ words spilled out in his comments as a response. This issue is very near & dear to me. As is the psychology behind Madison Avenue. Even the sociology behind social media, and the impact it has on us in a post-emotional performative web experience we call a digital life. That seems to have so much impact on us.
Much of the study behind this is rooted in a great deal of junk science passing itself off as facts these days. When they are nothing more than theoretical pop culture tripe. Even less attention has been paid to the marginalized groups & how they are represented unless they are suddenly your hot demographic. The talk about reaching the “Mobile-Obsessed Multicultural Millennials” is a new retread on a phenomena. Quite literally without cookies on their desktops, always the purview of a middle-class, predominantly white user, now suddenly with mobile, and the number of people exponentially growing with access. You have to think about the ones that influence.
Suddenly you have to think about a user, that agencies are not used to targeting, not able to reach. We went through nearly a decade of millennial hipster ironic ads, with sketchy humor. Oft times actually being offensive, in the guise of trying to be relevant. Falling of course squarely on the shoulders of these up and coming advertising creatives trying to make their products more appealing to a largely disenfranchised audience. Cord-Cutting was just one sign that they no longer depended on the powers that be to frame or construct their media experiences. Team Overshare & Generation Selfie are now being targeted, and the creatives in these agencies (both big & small) are trying to tap that unfettered narcissism for all it is worth.
Yet you have campaigns like Dove’s which no sooner had it hit, and women were applauding it, up rose a voice of criticism that it was “too packaged” or too much playing to our sympathies in a post-emotional performative way. They can both be right. Dove started, which very few people remarked on at the time by mimicking PostSecret. Having people reveal themselves. Then in what can only be considered part of an overall strategy to set themselves apart from the cluttered world of the beauty industry. They are after all just a soap, a very utilitarian thing, but one which strangely we don’t associate with washing our stank off with, but having the transformative power of elevating us to an aesthetic of beauty. First we had the aromatherapy, and introducing a variety of aromas to trigger this. Then we moved onto the toxic-for-the-environment plastic beads that now clog our ocean, but somehow helped us to scrub off those pesky dead skin cells. Now we have the “Let’s Get Real” face of beauty bars, or underwear, or whatever else.
Equally we have a “backlash” of sorts, as we always do with progress: [Exhibit 1 of a million]
So as we race towards inclusiveness, the so-called “majority” (read: Madison Avenue, and entitled privileged teams that put together campaigns) for whom #MasculinityIsSoFragile, that for ever step forward we must hurriedly rush right back to 1950 like the Republican Party, to reclaim America, or the world for those ideals no one has truly lived by in decades. So it is easy to see an attempt, even by a Swedish underwear company that goes against the grain of popular advertisement & brand loyalty as something of a fad, or a ploy. Yet they are just brave enough to usher in this idea, as a generation of people who are visually literate in all the ways that the ad gurus have not apparently given much thought to. Or not in the right ways.
They have for years now been trying to tap this fountain of revenue for its seemingly untapped potential. With Ad-Blocking coming forth, you’d think they would quake and maybe use this moment for a tiny bit of self-reflection. But, no. Instead they are telling us that the very thing we love, as if managing the optics of the situation and putting their PR spin on it, was paramount. The internet as we know it will “go away.”
Is that a bad thing? Not at all. If “as we know it” includes terrible text & ads that are served up by robots, while a bunch of people with huge budgets stare into an abyss of Big Data and still gain no wisdom from it. The move to mobile is always framed around its access to the people with multiple devices, the second-screeners, and the disposable income. After all those are who you want, if your whole world is built on reaching them. Yet any casual glance at the data, and the trends will show you that the people who are adopting mobile access are not the ones you dream of. They are not the early-adopters, we are well out of that phase, this is access by people they are not used to appealing to, only exploiting.
They are less rich, more diverse, and come from every background. They are also only accessing the internet, like this younger generation, in large part on their mobile devices. Words matter less, images matter more. It is a veritable Disney-land of opportunities for a mobile marketer, or even a traditional one. Yet, not in the ways they have been valuing for years. First, they want us to believe that annoying pop-up text ad, or a notification, or a location-based text will somehow trigger a moment where we actually value them. Not as the disruptors of our seamless experience but they think their carnival barking will somehow divert & bring us to their paltry cause.
They never make their product better, after the economic downturn, they used a shrink-ray to make their product smaller while keeping the price the same. In fact, they’ve now raised the prices since, making it smaller impact to their bottom line & make sure they are still able to milk as much value for their shareholders out of their product as they can. Then they hire a team to convince you that, like McDonald’s that you are “Lovin’ It!”
The aggregated effort of all that positioning, constant advertising, and relentless messaging have on a generation of people who are used to memeing, screencapping your AAVE (colloquially known as Ebonic) tweets, and remixing that into a message of much more impact? They will laugh at you, or they will rise up in protest if your ad is offensive, and they will also pushback against anyone who dares to stop the hands of Progress.
Cheerios, Cambell’s Soup, and others have been handling this scenario very well, by which they diversify their advertising, first in print (just like catalogs have been doing for a decade) but then also putting their money & brand on the line with big ad spends. With the passage of Marriage Equality, or more rightly SCOTUS striking down an unjust law, thereby making it the law of the land. It seemed every advertiser and many companies all jumped on the rainbow bandwagon to show their support. A sign of the times, indeed.
As with the Cheerios ad, which was a SuperBowl Ad, which is like the Academy Awards night for ad people, even if over the past decade the week leading up to, or even months, have featured spoilers, etc…as their “audience” has started to cut-cords, and disentangle themselves from their machine, like Neo in The Matrix. They have swallowed the blue pill. While the advertising intelligentsia keeps swallowing the red one.
For this event, this inclusion by a company whose consumer base has never been default white, but appeals to people everywhere & is a staple in homes. Did something that is not, in any way, shape, or form controversial. However, because of its visibility, the racists took to their Facebook page, tweeted, and otherwise burnt up the keys putting commentary that would get them blocked, and reported. It created a groundswell of support and rather interesting positioning by an international brand. They not only seized the moment, but were able to probably gain much more loyalty and credibility with an appropriate response that is not in any way progressive, but recognizes fully the age we live in.
If advertisers truly hope to reach people, more people, the ones they’ve ignored for so long. They are going to have to take a long dark look in the mirror & contrast what they center in their advertising as they move forward. The ingrained stereotypes in their casting calls, or in a lack of imagination creatively that always seems to center whiteness & the male gaze. Surely the spell that has held sway over that industry for so long can not escape the flattening of the landscape, the access afforded by mobility, and the stories which appeal to us all. Instead of watching Mad Men, and wishing for your glory days, look at that as a cautionary tale.
It is going to take bold, strong, and swift moves of inclusion and diversity to keep up with the times. Let’s hope that you can keep pace, because #RepresentationMatters.