Wednesday, May 27, 2009

The Most Interesting Man in the World

My friend Doug Hyland recently turned me onto the Dos Equis campaign and I thought I'd post some of the ads here (below) simply because this is now one of my favorite campaigns. I think that "The Most Interesting Man in the World" is a superb idea for this campaign for many reasons - and it hearkens to a little part of the James Bond that lies within many men, that unfortunately imitators often overlook, he's deadly, classy and brilliant. He's an intellectual that wields unparalleled social skills, charm, poise and a dry wit you hate to love. These ads really hit that idea home for me, and I think it will for a lot of other guys as well.

Similarly, I also enjoy the new Ketel One campaign that plays on a related theme - it's good to be a put together man, you know the way men used to be. It's most recent ad (below) showing a group of very well dressed men playing cards and drinking around a table in a mysteriously dark room, begins with a voice over saying, "There was a time when substance was style," and ends with the tag line "Gentlemen, this is vodka." Further, not long ago a campaign done by Canadian Club's also plays off a similar imagery. With ads that were about "Your Dad," it was predominantly a print campaign and ran with headlines such as: "Your Mom wasn't your Dad's first," and "Your Dad gave out the nick names." The accompanying pictures were of men in the 1960s and 70s, very classy (for the time) and in control. After thinking about these three campaigns, it dawned on me that, in addition to being pretty good, what I liked about them was the way they portrayed what it means to be a man.

Similarly an article in Esquire last month, titled "What is a Man?", also explored the idea of what it means to be a man today. To quote it briefly: "A man welcomes the coming of age. It frees him. It allows him to assume the upper hand and teaches him when to step aside... A man listens, and that's how he argues. He crafts opinions. He can pound the table, take the floor. It's not that he must. It's that he can." All of these qualities of manliness paint a picture of someone who is strong (physically and mentally) but also in control, organized, intelligent, a bit refined and fiercely independent. Not bad, right?

Poking around however, I came across some interesting, and mostly negative, comments about the Esquire article on, with one person calling it: "Pr aspirational lifestyle hogwash" - and I had to laugh as I guess that's true to an extent. But, what I like about the Esquire article and all of these ad campaigns is that they redefine the image of what it means to be a man that I feel I've been fed most of my life - something that I think our culture might need very badly right now.

This vision of a man is a far cry from what my generation is shown daily on MTV - it might be PR aspirational stuff, but at least it's not the manufactured stereotype of the "mook" (eg. Jonny Knoxville) that Frontline's report "Merchant's of Cool" discusses; so maybe, just maybe PR aspirational bull isn't all that bad. Overall, much of the imagery out there about men right now seems to be anti intellectual, disrespectful and focuses on physical, rather than emotional strength. In contrast, these pieces paint a picture of manliness that values education, critical thinking and courtesy. And aren't these among the best qualities we would like a role model to demonstrate? I think that in large part I'm alright with that.

I wish i didn't have to write this part, but I think I do. To clarify my position on the message of these ads - while part of their power rests in the nostalgic feeling of the way things used to be, I don't believe they are promoting a return to misogyny, and neither am I. We're steadily and deliberately heading in the right direction with regard to gender equality, and this is a beautiful thing. Further, I cannot wait until the GLBT realizes and enjoys similar success. In many ways the old ways of doing things is nothing to miss. Though, along with our purging of misogyny I believe men may have lost a bit of their identity, as we attempted to throw out all the old ways of doing things because they were bad, right? - but maybe all the old values and ideas were not awful.

But back to the beginning. I like these ads for many reasons, but ultimately because they speak to me. They are clever and funny and (debatably) have a great message that goes along with them. I'm not sure what this image of manliness will mean in the larger scope of things, and I'm not saying that it doesn't have problems (see Don Draper). But, from much of what I've encountered in my life it seems that boys and men are facing a bit of a cultural identity crisis - and these messages fill a much needed gap in the spectrum of our culture tells us it means to be a man. The expectations and images of our society are very powerful, and they deserve our attention. These images of men are certainly not the end all be all, and there is certainly much to be debated. But for now, I like this.