Published on The Daily Femme – Monday, July 12, 2010
Contributed by Annamarya
After seeing Portland, Oregon’s ad agency Wieden + Kennedy’s new spot for Old Spice featuring former NFL wide receiver Isaiah Mustafa, I got to thinking about how Old Spice’s image has been completely reinvented. It went from the old man’s product to the ruggedly handsome, funny, intelligent man’s product, and I have to say, as a woman, I absolutely love it.
Why? Because never once do the new Old Spice advertisements portray women as stupid (like Diesel’s Be Stupid ads), or as sexual objects (like Miller Lite’s cat fight commercial) for the sole purpose of selling the product. They also do not suggest that women will jump on a man because of the way he smells like all the Axe body spray commercials. Instead, women are given the power of choice and their intelligence is never insulted. As Chicago Sun-Times‘ Lewis Lazare put it in a July 5 article: “…there…is the simple joy that comes from the surprising way the spot unfolds — always keeping the viewer guessing about where Mustafa will wind up at the end of the spot and never resorting to any sleazy or juvenile ploys.”
My friend did make a point that this new spot and an earlier Old Spice commercial featuring Mustafa are demeaning because, in her words, “why can’t guys use fruity body washes?” But where she sees demeaning, I see truth. The commercial doesn’t say men can’t use lady body washes (or that lady body washes make women less powerful) but rather focuses on personal preference, playing on the smells that, as a society, we associate with femininity and masculinity. These two spots are meant to appeal to women (like me) who not only want their men to smell like Dos Equis’ “most interesting man in the world” instead of cherry blossoms but also have a sense of humor about the absurdity of it (no, Old Spice won’t make your man build you a kitchen and make you a cake, but it sure is fun to sniff him and imagine he would).
Still, I have to say, I find it a bit hypocritical for any women to find Old Spice sexist or demeaning. Why? Simple: do you want to smell like a man? (I know I don’t but I also don’t want to smell like bananas or roses, so there’s that). As much as Wieden plays into smell associations with these Old Spice spots, women do too by buying themselves fruity or floral scented products. So, unless you’re using body wash for men, there’s no room to talk.
Additional content on piece written as responses to comments on post:
While I understand your point, the point of the Old Spice commercials, which I specifically make clear in this piece, is to appeal to those women who like the smell of a rugged man. In no way do the adds suggest that men have to BE a certain way or even smell a certain way – the ads are simply asking women what they want and there are women out there who want their men strong, rugged, intelligent, funny and romantic/emotional – or at least to smell like they are. After watching the commercials again, can you really say that the Old Spices commercials are pressuring men to be a certain way when in fact it is appealing to women – specifically, a woman’s fantasy? Really, what is exactly wrong with a little fantasy? Are we not allowed to have that anymore without someone complaining?
Still, with that said, the commercials also appeal to women (and men) who, as I said, “have a sense of humor about the absurdity of it,” a point I believe you missed. Can you really take these commercials seriously? Do you think, after watching these commercials, men out there are hitting the gym, trying to buff up and build a kitchen with their own hands and then making a cake? NO. Why? Because it’s absurd to think that a body wash commercial would pressure a guy to do that. The commercials are meant to be satirical. It’s poking fun at the fact that there are these outlandish associations with smells and femininity/masculinity. My boyfriend looks nothing like Mustafa but he is intelligence, funny, adventurous, romantic, emotional, handsome and I don’t pressure him to be anything else. I just love the way Old Spice smells on him. And so does he.
I will agree that feminism should be about helping men to step out of their gender-trap as well. But, you know, there are more important things to combat that concerns that rather than a Old Spice commercial. I rather spend my time worrying about whether men who are victims of sexual crimes are being treated just as fairly as women and about whether battered men are receiving the same resources as battered women. Those are the things, as a equalist, that I am more concerned about – not a satirical commercial that plays on preference and fantasy.
Also, I’ve use mens shaving cream just as well, and mens body wash when needed but you know what I prefer? The more feminine smells. And that’s what this boils down to – preference. I’m sorry you are disappointed in this piece but I strongly believe you missed the point of it.
In response to Old Spice print ad : http://www.mediabistro.com/agencyspy/original/espn-mag-old-spice-ad.jpg
I find that ad amazing. Why? Because it proves my point exactly. Is that ad trying to sex people up with a woman eating an ice cream cone in a manner that can be interpreted as a sexual or is it poking fun at the fact that some many advertisers use images like that in a blatant sexual manner to sell their product? I say it’s the latter (after all, the tagline is “Keep It Clean”). It does grab your attention but it is up to the viewer to interpret it and if the viewer is interpreting it as something sexual and demeaning, that’s their hang up – not the advertisers, especially since they clearly state what it is: nothing more than a girl eating ice cream.
In the end, Old Spice is MAKING FUN at the absurdity of these associations and fantasies. Maybe I should have made that more clear in my original post.