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The Compromised Man & Superbowl Ads

February 8th, 2010

The commercials during the Superbowl have become tiny cultural vignettes at least as entertaining as the game itself. These marketing one-liners are cooked up by teams of ad creatives most often made up, from my experience, of the same 20-to-30-something males that, in theory, the Superbowl is most popular with. However, also judging from my experience, many of the men that work in these agencies are anything but the type of men that are most likely to watch the Superbowl. They are pop cultural anthropologists whose goal it is to identify stress points in the culture that they can take advantage of. They are salesmen dramatists, putting their heightened intuition for human needs in service to creating stories that help corporations sell more product.

This may explain how we ended up this year with a large group of commercials that the New York Times and many others are calling misogynistic. However these ads may signal anything but a trend towards male dominance. If most expressions of aggression come from a place of insecurity, then ads that lash out at the world in the name of Men most definitely indicate a weakness in the squarer sex. I have read countless articles lately about how more women than men go to college, how it is becoming more common for women to earn more money than their husbands, and how young men are increasingly without ambition in general. If I were working in an ad agency eager to channel the minds of young men and identify where they are feeling vulnerable, I suppose the realm of gender dynamics might be a good place to start.

Does our gender really feel this compromised, though? Should we all be worried? The problem clearly isn’t that women are feeling more empowered to pursue their interests, but that men somehow feel divested from wanting any sort of responsibility at all. What happens when people follow their dreams, as they’ve been encouraged to do their whole life, and their dream is to hang out and watch TV? Even worse, do modern men feel like they are sleepwalking through a life of job, family, and responsibility, only to be temporarily reinvigorated by recreation, sex, and spending? I can only hope that these advertisements are off base — that they don’t really resonate with their intended audience — because they truly paint a bleak psychological picture of the American male. This first ad, for Dodge, presents what is perhaps the most depressing of all messages: life is one giant sucking compromise, but at least you can drive a fast car.

Dodge: Man’s Last Stand
Wieden + Kennedy, Portland

Bridgestone: Your Tires or Your Wife
The Richards Group, Dallas

Budwieser: Women’s Book Club
Cannonball, St. Louis

Dockers: Men Wear the Pants
Draftfcb, San Francisco

Dove For Men
Ogilvy & Mather, New York

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