It’s Just A Manly Thing

From the archives: I wrote this for Brandweek in 2006 and thought I’d share it.

WHILE there’s always been money to be made preying on men’s insecurity, it seems to have reached truly ridiculous proportions of late. How else to explain the prevalence of the Hummer or "nutraceuticals," whose only effect is to enlarge the seller’s wallet? Since Brokeback Mountain broke, this trend seems bigger, firmer and more pronounced than ever.

Brokeback forced us to face the fact that the more "manly" a man is the more he will enjoy the company of other manly men. And, if the classic American cowboys—who spent all day in the company of other guys also wearing crotchless leather pants—aren’t paragons of heterosexuality, who is? This painfully obvious realization has been a huge boon for marketers. Any product now is ripe for man-lification. A kind of straight eye for the straight guy process that allows us dudes to convince ourselves that when we thought, "Hey, Heath Ledger is kind of cute," we really meant "WOOAH ALL RIGHT! Another Jenna Jameson tie-in!" Male anxiety is so rampant these days that no product is safe from being drenched in Y chromosomes.

Now there’s a more manly brand of branded meat. Specifically, Nascar officially licensed hot dogs, bologna and smoked sausages. Lord, how I wish I was making this up. Let me see if I can get this, pardon the word, straight: The way to sell more pounds of pork-related products is to associate it with large cars and overpowered engines? Dr. Freud, Dr. Freud, the dry cleaner called, apparently your slip is ready. Exactly how far in the closet do you have to be before you realize what it means to ask, "Hey Jake, would you like some of Jeff Gordon’s sausage?"

If we have reached a moment when the popular culture has a need for a butch-er butchered animal carcass, then it can come as no surprise that there’s a macho merlot to go with it. California vintner Ray’s Station is selling Sonoma County Merlot and Cabernet Sauvignon, and calling them "Hearty Red Wines for Men." They are sold in extra thick glass bottles and a black label embossed with . . . wait for it, wait for it . . . a stallion. Should that not be enough to get the message across, the accompanying ads show a rugged 19th century "wine country pioneer" doing a little hunting and fishing. Of course those two activities mostly involve men spending time with other men while using devices that are shaped like . . . well, you know.

Wine has always been a sexually ambiguous topic for guys. Showing off your knowledge about wine is a good way to impress women which makes it a virility enhancer. But wine also is made from crushed grapes, is associated with France and requires you to use words like "bouquet" and "clean glasses." This definitely makes it less than Cro-Magnon friendly. Perhaps it explains why most liquor stores keep wine in its own special section—so it’s easily avoided by guys who aren’t sure if there’s a difference between Miller and Miller Genuine Draft.

What’s next: would you believe, candy bars. Yes, Nestlé ran ads in the U.K. last year proclaiming that its Yorkie brand Footie candy bars were "not for girls." The campaign played off the idea that football (aka footie, aka soccer) is only for guys. Packaging contained slogans such as, "It’s definitely not for girls," "no passes to lasses," and "no wenches on the benches." Per a Nestlé rep, "The spirit of this is to reclaim chocolate for men, based on the consumer insight that there are not many things that [a man] can look at and say that it’s just for him." That’s because Three Musketeers and Pay Day are just too damn effeminate.

This year, Nestlé is moving its alleged consumer insight from the U.K. to Russia with "Nestlé Classic for Men," a dark chocolate candy bar made with "whole almonds." Dr. Freud, Dr. Freud, call on line two . . . The line is in keeping with a Japanese manly candy called Men’s Chocolate Pocky, available at most grocery stores. What is it? Why it’s a long, cylindrical cookie covered with chocolate, of course. Hard to get more heterosexual than that.

Why is it that the more desperately us guys try to prove we only are interested in the opposite sex, the more we look like we’re trying out for parts in the Village People reunion tour? Not that there’s anything wrong with that . . .


Amazon unveils homophobic computer software

Over the weekend Amazon seems to have broken through the Turing barrier and unveiled an artificial intelligence that is predisposed to homophobia. At least that’s how I read their explanation for why the sales rankings for books with gay, lesbian and other non-heterosexual “adult” topics.

“We recently discovered a glitch to our Amazon sales rank feature that is in the process of being fixed.  We’re working to correct the problem as quickly as possible.”

That’s one highly selective glitch. As Peter Kafka (who is skeptical of both sides) points out: “Amazon’s listing for Annie Proloux’s “Brokeback Mountain” doesn’t have a sales rank. But the author’s newest book does have one.”

The story of the glitch or suppression is one of those twitter-nightmares marketers now live in fear of. #Amazonfail is the #1 trending topic there at the moment.

While the sales rank for Brokeback had been restored by this morning( #18,894 far ahead of “The Shipping News” which I love), the damage has been done and it’s going to be interesting to see how Amazon tries to fix it. As yet no official press release from them on the topic.

If this was an attempt to hide gay content it was doomed to fail. The High School Musical DVDs are the top 6 bestselling DVDs for tweens on Amazon. Nothing could counter that.