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It all begins with a muscular man in a towel who beams at the camera; “Hello Ladies”. In the next few furiously paced seconds we’re transported to a world where horses appear and jewels flow like water. Why wouldn’t you want to smell like a man so cunningly retro and ridiculously absurd that sailing on a yacht was all in a day’s work.
When Portland based agency Wiedon+Kennedy, famous for their work with Nike, released ‘The Man your Man could Smell like’ in 2010 they shattered one key advertisement trope of the nineties and early noughties: pseudo realism. In an advertisement that draws on realism (see: 2000’s beer commercials) everything is plus sized – the beers, the women, the parties, the narration (who wants a cold one), but the spot still holds at least a reasonable amount of believability.
The Old Spice ad starts with the same tone and principles, but as the set rises from behind the protagonist it’s clear that any notion of realism has been pitched out the window, in favour of absurdism. Taking clear inspiration from YouTube paced comedy (frenetic and without explanation) the ad also draws on the ‘dissemination-of-manhood’ type humour popularized by the SNL class of the late 90’s (see: Anchorman, Talladega Nights). Instead of simply propagating manly stereotypes, like muscles, moustaches and fast cars, the absurdist angle takes these and presents them with such intensity that they lose any threat and become simply comedic objects – the audience laughs as they wonder, could someone really be that 80s? While probably a gutsy pitch at the time (“Wait…and then he does WHAT?”), advertisements that employ absurdism have become one of the industries safest bets, especially when trying to sell products to men.
Dairy Queen’s mass-market version, the ‘So Good its ReDQulous’ was the next campaign to try out the formula. Here the protagonist (who you guessed it, has a moustache) fences, rocks, or explodes his way from normalcy to an absurd conclusion, in quick, segmented ads. Toronto based agency TAXI2 probably hit the nail a little closer to the head with their MIO ‘Squirt Some’ commercial, where the characters shape shift casually from office workers, to 70’s archetypes, to finally persons resembling absolutely nothing of their original form (a black cowboy, and an Asian…janitor? I think?).
As our internet society becomes a repository for everything that’s come before, comedy is becoming increasingly post-modern, looking to exaggerate the old and create humour out of difference. Furthermore, as consumers have the ability to mute a commercial with ease; ad producers have to resort to more and more drastic plots to retain attention. Considering this, ‘The Man Your Man Could Smell Like’ campaign may have worked better than anyone ever anticipated. The original spot, currently with 44 million views on YouTube, is less of an advertisement now and more of a piece of iconic sketch comedy. Any time I’m walking down the aisle at the drug store and see a scented body wash I laugh – “HA! Actually, I’d rather not be on a horse”.
By Aaron R
And then there’s this….