Whatever happened to the inclusive attitude of "Strong enough for a man but made for a woman?" This "manly" ad for Dr. Pepper is part of a trend also taken by advertisers like Old Spice and Miller Lite in recent years to use hyper-masculenity to sell products. And of course, this tactic seems to work, but the overt messaging is controversial. Which begs the question, "Where do you Draw the Line?"
We all work on projects where we are less than enthusiastic about the creative. Or perhaps a project comes in for a brand or product you wouldn't personally choose to purchase. I was talking to a creative director at a big agency recently who had worked for two years entirely on one account: feminine hygiene products. I should mention this was a male creative director. These are the things we do for our careers. And for the love of creating Commercials & Films. Don't misunderstand, this doesn't mean you can't direct, produce, or edit amazing commercials or films if you aren't super-stoked about the product. The aforementioned creative director did ridiculously great work on this account for his agency and his client. These scenarios, while maybe not the most creatively stimulating or enveloping, still are well within the range of acceptable projects.
But what do you do when a project comes across your plate where you ethically, morally, or ideologically disagree with the core values? Can you really contribute fully on a project with which you don't believe? How can you give this client or project your entire focus? Does your employer give you the freedom to say, "Pass" to controversial projects?
I was debating this recently after reading an AdWeek article about Abercrombie & Fitch. The movement against their college sex-appeal image was well under way before, but controversial comments from their CEO regarding the ideal consumer of his products have tipped A&F from a billion-dollar company, to becoming one of the most hated brands in the clothing world. I found myself asking, "What would I do if an agency approached me with boards supporting A&F's position as clothing for only skinny, good looking kids?"
In thinking of where you draw the line, take another look at the Dr. Pepper "Not for Women" campaign, but this time with critique added by LAMPlatoon. Started as a media initiative by The Lamp (Learning About Multimedia Project), LAMPlatoon claims on their website to "put ads on notice" for messages that deceive, objectify women, men, trade on ethnic stereotypes or simply don't make sense.
After watching this ad, I suddenly remembered a course for my Anthropology minor in college. The instructor, like LAMPlatoon a much more socially conscious and smarter person than I, showed a montage of popular videos which were current on MTV. But they were edited without any music or audio. All we saw were image after image of women appearing as needy, over-sexualized, submissive and entirely dependent upon men for their self-esteem. The video blew my mind. Since then, I find every once in a while I need to be reminded of this: what appears funny or cool at face value can often have different connotations when investigated a little deeper. This critique of Miller Lite's Un-Manly ads further sheds light on what the effects on the person who is "unmanly" may be.
Does this mean women can't appear as attractive and confident in advertising? Does this mean all "manly" ads are stereotypical and low-brow? Does all violence or gender, race, or ethnic advertising cross the line? Of course not. But as creators, curators, and purveyors of media, keeping an awareness of where your line is drawn can be incredibly empowering, and of course, can only lift the art of the commercial advertising and motion picture industries to new levels. Take a look at The Critical Media Project for more information on the politics of identity across issues of race and ethnicity, class, gender and sexuality.
Do you have stories of where you had to draw the line? Or maybe you had to take on a project that was awkward, strange, or funny for reasons we need to hear. Please share by tweeting me @jeremypinckert
Jeremy Pinckert is a Chicago Director of Commercial Advertising and Branded Digital Video Content for Explore Media. His work has won over 40 Telly Awards, Best in Show ADDYs, and an Emmy Award. You can follow him on Twitter @jeremypinckert, see him on LinkedIN, or view his reel here.