Last week Pot Noodle launched Chez Bloke, a pop up man lounge in London, to support the introduction of its new range, Piri Piri Chicken. Lucky winners of a place at the lounge can expect to recline in a Lazy Boy, wearing a onesie, being served by their very own waitress – every boy’s dream, right?
Well, if our view of the world were formed just through TV commercials, then yes, it quite likely is.
Recently, we have a seen a resurgence of the type of gender advertising for men which began well before irony was invented and was reimagined in the early noughties. Yorkie was perhaps most committed to this genre with the polarising ‘not for girls’ campaign in 2006 which unashamedly banned girls from buying its chocolate. In homage to their classic truck driving, villain confounding, king of the road, it was for men, real men. I liked these ads; controversy works but only when served up with conviction and this decidedly was.
However, Yorkie has more recently softened its stance and its new men are more cruelly drawn caricatures. The latest ad sees the Yorkie chap proudly carrying a car full of shopping to the house in one go – to be welcomed with a look of pure derision from his girlfriend. “Man fuel for man stuff” says the voiceover, and it might be just me, but I don’t think he’s being sincere.
Similarly the latest work from McCoys shares with us a scene of typical male idiocy as our three heroes pore over a map with no clue of the right direction. A suggestion from one that they ask for directions causes stunned silence (confusingly, apart from a talking dog) and for him to be stripped of his McCoys. He’s subsequently teleported away – presumably to a sanitary protection ad – for not being man enough.
These ads are harmless enough, and I am not naively suggesting that they are making a huge social statement, but it is interesting to note this new version of manliness being played out. Broadly the same character pops up again and again – there seems to be a ready shorthand for men in advertising today, and that is of a lazy, boorish man-child lacking both wit and charm. It is gender stereotyping and clearly that is both damaging and, frankly, a bit tiresome, but it is also a slightly worrying comment on the way in which we are navigating the pitfalls of sexism.
Perhaps we feel more comfortable lampooning the failings of men because it’s easier to do so in such a way that makes it clear we don’t mean it? Whereas when we stereotype women, it could all so easily be true – or, at the very least, be more likely to be taken seriously and protested about.
These are interesting times in the gender debate – Jane Austen has never been so contentious, and social media has very recently thrust feminism (in its very broadest terms) into the spotlight in a way that we have not seen for a number of years. At the same time women in their 20s, the sisters and girlfriends of our McCoy munching, Pot Noodle swilling morons are consistently out-earning their male peers. So maybe these ads are tapping into an undercurrent of uncertainty and displacement with their key targets.
I think it is more likely that these ads are about plain and simple fun uncomplicated products with enjoyment at their heart. But would a good old heroic truck driver be too much to ask, just for old times’ sake?
Jo Arden is head of strategy at 23red