Pouty supermodel No. 1 says she likes a man with a little hair on his chest, but definitely not on his back.
Pouty supermodel No. 2 likes a man with a smooth stomach to show off his six-pack, according to the unidentified narrator who apparently speaks for her. She winks in agreement.
And pouty supermodel No. 3 says she prefers a man without any hair at all. She doesnt think thats weird? Narrator Dude asks. I dont, she confirms, with a purr.
Gillette, the razor giant, wants men to take it all, or at least much of it, off. In an ad campaign featuring ubiquitous blond babe Kate Upton (shes pouty supermodel No. 1), the company touts its ProGlide Styler as the device for the full-body treatment.
Whats remarkable about the Upton TV commercial is not just its basic message – guys, you should be shaving down there – but whos delivering the message. In the spot, set amid a pool party that suggests the last days of ancient Rome, women are set up as the arbiters of what it means to be manly, a role women rarely play in TV commercials. In this case, the women want what men demanded of women long ago – that they become hairless.
Advertisers have reduced men to hunks and beefcakes before. The most famous ad in this vein may have been a Diet Coke commercial in the mid-1990s that featured a model named Lucky Vanous stripping off his shirt at a construction site as a group of young women watched with lascivious delight from their office window. (Diet Coke updated the ad this year with look-alike British model Andrew Cooper.) It was supposed to be funny – a wry reversal on all those panting babes-in-bikinis beer commercials.
And advertisers have also long instructed men about what machismo is supposed to look like. Sunday afternoon football games are packed with TV commercials for pickup trucks, beer, tires, sports drinks and other products that stress strength, toughness, sweat and other supposedly male traits. Marketers have been defining manhood long before a Rolling Stones song immortalized the phenomenon: When Im watchin my TV, and a man comes on and tells me how white my shirts can be / But he cant be a man cause he doesnt smoke, the same cigarettes as me.
But men telling men to man up is one thing. Using women to do so is more unusual. Indeed, Gillette says the campaign, called What Women Want, is the first in its 112-year history in which women take the lead in promoting a product for men.
The unusual approach reflected some culturally tricky terrain, says Susan Oguche, a company spokeswoman. So-called manscaping – Gillette prefers the term body grooming – was popular among bodybuilders and gay men before it began gaining mainstream acceptance more recently. Still, the notion of male hairlessness goes against traditional Western cultural norms, she acknowledges.
Its not a topic guys talk to one another about, Oguche said. So we felt this was a nonconfrontational way to talk to guys about something thats pretty sensitive. We wanted to open up a conversation in a way that would take away the ick factor.
Gillettes approach has engendered intrigue – and some discomfort – among cultural observers.
The ad reflects changes in the way we view masculinity and femininity, says Scott Lukas, an anthropology professor who maintains the Gender Ads Project, a website devoted to analyzing gender images. It plays into notions of male fastidiousness, he said, invoking the contemporary term metrosexuality. Its the Queer Eye for the Straight Guy effect, says Lukas. The idea is that men can care about their appearance in ways that werent as accepted before. There isnt as much cultural sensitivity against that.
Even so, the ad plays off some stereotypes and traditions, he said. The underlying message is that men are slobs, men are grotesque, men have hairy backs, and they need women to civilize them, he said.
Jean Kilbourne, the creator of a film series called Killing Us Softly: Advertisings Image of Women, says the ad is unusual because it turns the tables by having women doing the objectifying of the opposite sex. But Im not sure that makes it any better. The women are pretty objectified, anyway.
Kilbourne notes that Upton and the two other women in the commercial barely get to express themselves; they mainly nod in agreement with statements attributed to them by a man, the narrator.
Whats more, when it comes to cultural attitudes toward grooming, men and women will never be equal, says Kilbourne, the author of Cant Buy My Love: How Advertising Changes the Way We Think and Feel.
A rich, hairy man will never have a problem, she says. For women, its a requirement. No matter what else women do or accomplish, perfect grooming has to go along with it. For men ... its an option, or in Gillettes case, a sexual fantasy.
But Bob Garfield, the former critic at Advertising Age magazine, says the Gillette ad is an equal-opportunity offender.
Whats bad for the goose is bad for the gander, says Garfield, the author of Cant Buy Me Like, a recent book about social-media marketing. But in a weird way, I welcome this particular adver-trocity. It is so repugnant that hitherto oblivious men will finally understand what it feels like to be told you arent good enough, or attractive enough, or sexy enough the way you are.
Gillette wont talk in detail about consumer reaction to its campaign. But its actions suggest Garfield may be on the right track. Come fall, the pouty supermodels will be gone. New ads for the body razor will feature those old macho standbys – NFL players.