Claire Beale On Advertising: Dove goes in search of the real man

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The Independent Online

Yesterday was Super Bowl Sunday and America tuned in. For US advertisers it’s the biggest event of the year. You can do things with a TV ad in the Super Bowl that you can’t do anywhere else. Like reach 100 million people in one place. You can move a nation.

This is testosterone television, so it’s no surprise that one of the world’s biggest advertisers chose the Super Bowl to launch a new matrix for advertising to men. Unilever has just lifted the wraps on a male grooming range. Now (once you’ve dismissed horses and poodles) grooming will probably conjure thoughts of gauche geeks drenched in cheap girl-bait, peck-pumped sports jocks in sweaty changing rooms or too-beautiful models with hairless torsos and curled lips. Like most other advertising, we have a narrow band of stereotypes to draw on when it comes to selling male toiletries.

Which is why Unilever is trying something different. Its new line is an extension of the Dove brand, called Dove Men + Care, and the ads are hoping to do for the portrayal of men in media and advertising a little bit of what Dove did for images of women. Or at least raise the debate.

You see, the Dove brand was built on the Campaign for Real Beauty idea. You might remember the iconic posters: ordinary women in their underwear. All shapes and sizes. Nothing unacceptably wobbly or droopy or pock-marked, but far from beauty ad norm. And the noise the campaign generated was enormous. It sold plenty of soaps and moisturisers too.

So now it’s the blokes’ turn. According to Matt Close, marketing director for home and personal care at Unilever in the UK, three-quarters of men find it difficult to identify with the men they see in advertising and feel stereotyped and misrepresented; only 3 per cent strongly agree that they are realistically portrayed.

Close says men over 35 – the target market for the new Dove line – are generally very comfortable with who they are and where they’re at in their lives and don’t relate to the heavy emphasis on power, celebrity and striving for achievement that they’re constantly being bombarded with in ads.

So the Dove Men + Care ads by Ogilvy, which are coming to a TV screen near you in the UK very soon, star real men (and women). Oh, and that’s real men, by the way, not reeeal men. And they have a little fun with the midlife male condition. The ad features a song, to the tune of Rossini’s “William Tell Overture” (or The Lone Ranger theme, depending on your cultural predilections). “You’ve reached a stage where you feel at ease. You’ve come this far and it wasn’t a breeze.

“You can take on anything, of course you can! Because you’re a MAN!”

It’s not a great ad. You can hear the brief in every scene. Not for a UK audience, anyway. It’s a little too multinational, too saccharine. It lacks the simple clarity of the Dove posters for women, though maybe that task will be left to other media. And the thing is, men simply don’t have such a problem with the way they’re already portrayed in advertising as women do. They might not relate to it very well, but they’re not disturbed by it. They don’t feel that how they look is really so important. Even Unilever’s own research found that only 1 per cent of men think their physique is their most attractive quality (sense of humour and personality are way out in front). See. Guys aren’t so hung up on whether they’ve got a bump-free bum or pert pecks.

But Unilever’s ad could be the start of something, the start of a more interesting and engaging way of telling men that they don’t have to be 16 and desperate for sex, or a buffed model or a sporting titan to want to smell better than a stale samosa. They can just be themselves. That’s OK. 100 million Americans might just be starting to agree.

Best in show: Mr Brain’s Faggots (Quiet Storm)

Mr Brain’s Faggots understands British men. I know that because I’ve just seen their new TV commercial by Quiet Storm. Unlikely as it sounds, it’s really rather good.

Admittedly, it’s easier to sell normal blokes processed meat and ready meals than it is to sell them something that makes them smell nice and makes their skin soft.

But this nails the hungry man moment wonderfully. Our man in this ad is a hero. He’s a hero because he’s nailed down that loose bit of carpet on the stairs. His kids are in awe. His wife adores him. And he’s rewarded for his manly efforts with faggots for tea. Lovely.