Tuesday, February 23, 2010

Keeping it clean. In whatever way you choose. Fine by me.

Quietly, without much fanfare, a new era for men seems to be emerging. Drumroll, please: According to an article in Advertising Age, body wash outsold bar soap in 2009. This is the first time this has ever happened in the history of body wash vs. bar soap statistics. The reason? Marketers have discovered that more men buy body wash than cakes of soap. Market leaders like Proctor & Gamble and Unilever are among the industry leaders in the category, with brands that include Old Spice (P&G) and Axe (Unilever.)

One of the newer entries in the category is Dove, introduced during the Superbowl and endorsed by winning quarterback Drew Brees. Yes, Dove. For men. This is quite a departure for the Dove brand that up until now has been marketed specifically to women only. But have no illusions or fear of metrosexuality (remember metrosexuals?) creeping in: their commercial makes it clear that you can still be a man and use Dove.

In fact, they protest a little too much if you listen to their commercials. Yes, they’re sort of entertaining but still. One of them basically runs through a man’s life in a matter of seconds, from birth until he reaches adulthood, with a family of his own. It’s accompanied by a soundtrack featuring the most famous movement of The William Tell Overture, a.k.a. The Lone Ranger theme. Can you get more manly?

There’s another spot that focuses mainly on the requisite adorable, ripped guy in the shower, who appears to be having a cleansing experience like no other since he’s discovered Dove Body Wash. The voiceover mentions something called micro-moisture that activates on contact. Activating on contact sounds like a guy thing, right?

The narration in both commercials contains some variation on the following theme: “You’ve reached a stage where you’re comfortable with who you are. Shouldn’t your skin be just as comfortable?” “Now that you’re comfortable with who you are, isn’t it time for comfortable skin? At last, there’s Dove for men.” The tagline gets repeated: be comfortable in your own skin.

I get it. For God’s sake, we all get it. Indigenous people in the Australian Outback would get it if they saw it. Buying Dove doesn’t make you less of a man. It celebrates your very comfortable nature and the fact that you’re comfortable with who you are because you feel comfortable. In your own skin. With exactly who you are. And that feels very comfortable. Or something like that.

On the other end of the spectrum – focusing on the idea that not all men feel quite as comfortable in their own skin as the Dove buyers – we find the Old Spice commercial. This one is unapologetically directed toward women and features another adorable ripped guy, this time talking directly to us, as he stands outside his shower with a towel wrapped around his waist. Without naming Dove, it clearly refers to it by calling out guys who use “ladies scented body wash.”

The scene dissolves to him standing on a boat, still shirtless, this time walking across the deck in his terrific white pants with a shirt draped casually over his shoulder. Still talking to the women in the audience, he’s opening an oyster shell that holds tickets to same unnamed event “that you love” and then like magic, the oyster is dripping with diamonds. The shot pulls back to reveal him now sitting atop a white horse as he makes his final point: “Anything is possible when your old man smells like Old Spice and not a lady.”

I get this one, too. Hilarious, by the way. If you’re a man who finds himself in the market for body wash, you can’t really go wrong with a reliable, macho, unmistakable guy scent like Old Spice.

According to emarketer, mothers control 80% of a household’s discretionary spending so what the men think may be very nearly irrelevant. But let’s just say that at least some men shop for their own body wash and make their own purchase decisions. (They tipped the sales ratios, didn't they?) They’re the mavericks who disdain the traditional bar soap route and blaze their own trail to cleanliness. They’re the titans of the personal care aisle, who break all the rules.

So what’s the better choice? Do women want a man who is so comfortable he’ll buy and use Dove or a man who is so cautious and entrenched in 1954 that he will buy and use only the safe and familiar Old Spice?

For God’s sake, it’s soap. Liquid soap. Choosing a type of body wash is not exactly a revered, long-practiced ritual of manhood. Creating a commercial about a man who spends time calculating his self-worth, or worse, his masculinity, based on a type of soap sums up our culture just perfectly, doesn’t it?

But maybe this will help even things out a little, in an effort to reach equilibrium. I mean, finally, it’s not just women who think about this nonsense.

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