I’m a little late to the party, but this sketch tells you everything you need to know about America’s attitude to tea – it’s luke-warm quaint effeminacy, which is never ever brewed in a pot. And also, more particularly, America’s Hummersexual advertising to men.
Remember Just For Men? Or ‘JFM’ as it likes to call itself now. Well, it never went away – and it’s all over social media. Though perhaps it’s just my social media – because those pesky algorithms know how old and grey I am now.
Launched in the late 1980s by Combe Incorporated of White Plains NY (who also market Grecian 2000), Just For Men was a pioneering mainstream male vanity brand. If incredibly cheesy. They became a byword for camp in the sense of failed seriousness. And that quasi religious American style of a life transformed by a slightly shonky product.
Middle-aged men popped up on our TV screens concerned about their grey hair – but also concerned about dyeing it. About being inauthentic and feminine and fussy. What a dilemma!
Just For Men to the rescue! As the name suggested – nay, insisted – it wasn’t at all feminine. And it ‘naturally’ ‘shaded’ away grey hair. So you wouldn’t look Too Gay. Even better, your wife – and let’s be sure to emphasise here that every single man who used JFM had at least one – gave you permission!
‘I REALLY didn’t want my husband to colour his grey hair!’ exclaims the over-excited wife in the ad below from 1993. (Why? Because people might guess he’s an actor?)
Husband: ‘But then I discovered this, the hair colouring called Just for Men!’
And lo, with no fuss or faffing – in just five minutes! – the grey is ‘blended away’ in the privacy of your own family home for a ‘totally natural look’.
Cue hysterically happy heterosexual couple.
Just For Men Commercial 1993
As a final heterosexual reassurance, we’re told ‘Eight out of ten women prefer the Just For Men look to the grey look.’
Things have changed in the Just For Men universe in the intervening decades, just as cultural attitudes to male beauty and ageing have changed. They’re now also targeting men in their late 20s and 30s concerned about the appearance of a few grey hairs. That I can’t even see.
Just For Men: AutoStop is Hair Dye You Can't Mess Up
Though of course they are still emphasising that JFM isn’t ‘hair dye’ – and isn’t ‘fussy’. Hence manly names like ‘Autostop’, and applicators designed to look like garage tools.
A big ‘growth’ area recently has been beards, of course. Though again, euphemisms are still in fashion: ‘fuller’ is manvertising for ‘dyed’.
Just For Men: How to Use Mustache & Beard
But the wife has gone. She, along with the endearing naffness of the original ads, has been replaced by a spotless hipster kitchen – with really cool chemistry lab style coffee filters! ‘The Husband’ is as attractive and cool and singular as his fittings. If Patrick Bateman had a beard – and you just know that he would today, and that it would be the best beard ever – I guess it would be getting a bit grey now.
I also initially read PREP with a lowercase ‘r’. I guess Just For Men are no longer so anxious about appearing like they’re just for men, after all.
On the subject of beard fetishism, the quest for a ‘fuller’ beard seems to be something of a widely-shared obsession. You can even buy supplements like the one below ‘Man Up’ from ‘Beard Daddy’ that promise to make your pride and joy thicker. Buying it may or may not make your beard ‘fuller’ but it will definitely make you look like a bit of a prick: ‘Fear the daddy beard’.
It’s exciting to see that at last, male grooming is getting up close and personal. And also that now possibly the most important but hitherto most overlooked male consumer of all is stepping out of the shadows and finally being given a voice.
Men’s skincare commercials can be the pits. What’s the point of ‘all natural’ ingredients if the ad brings you out in a rash?
This one from the butchly-named Bulldog currently airing on UK television, is one of the most irritating I’ve seen – in a very competitive field.
In it two bearded elves beavering away in Santa’s workshop talk about how much they ‘love Christmas’. Then the one on the left announces: ‘We spend all year making gifts for people all over the world but we don’t get anything for each other. I mean who says guys can’t give other guys gifts, right?’.
His chum doesn’t answer. He just looks terrified.
‘So… I got you something,’ continues the chirpy one, bringing out a tube of Bulldog. ‘It’s moisturiser! For men!’
But they’re elves, not men. American elves. No wonder his chum doesn’t know what to do with the moisturiser for men.
Of course, that’s not the real reason for his strange behaviour. It’s because his buddy has failed to recognise the ‘man rules’ that dictate that men don’t give other men presents. Let alone moisturiser! Even moisturiser for men! Ho, ho, ho!
Bulldog is a UK brand that has had a lot of success in the US, probably in part because of that butch name – America likes its metrosexuality with manly strap-ons.
Though quite why anyone would spend their hard-earned cash on a moisturiser named after a dog with a wrinkly face I have no idea. No matter how reassuringly ‘fierce’, ‘alpha male’ and ‘big penised’ the brand connotation is.
This ad though is airing on UK television and seems to have been made by a British advertising agency. So I’m not sure why the elves are American, or why the ad is based on ‘man rules’ that I suspect are a bigger deal in the US than the UK.
Exploiting the ‘comedy awkwardness’ of men giving presents to other men is retrograde enough in an ad for male cosmetics, but this ad milks the ‘awkwardness’ to the point where there is almost a sense of homo panic about it.
The giftee appears unable to actually accept the gift, or even acknowledge or process its existence. It’s like his buddy just slapped a giant tube of anal lube on the desk.
Though that would actually be funny. Unlike this ad.
Then again, maybe I’ve been played. Maybe there’s a follow-up ad in which the awkward elf gets over himself and gives his chum a big manly hug and some ball antiperspirant gel.
Mark Simpson has a sniff around a classic men’s deodorant ad that reveals how far we’ve come – and also how some things never change
Back in the 1960s the mass-market ‘grooming’ of men by advertisers wanting to sell them vanity products was only just beginning its warm-up.
This rare and pristine copy of a 1968 UK cinema ad for men’s deodorant with the reassuringly martial name ‘Target’ (a brand that seems to have gone missing in the intervening half century) recently posted on the BFI website is a little gem of a gender time-capsule.
Starring working class hero and footballing legend Geoff Hurst, the ad points up how much has changed – post Beckham and Ronaldo. But also how some things haven’t very much. It contains some of the now tiresome tropes that can still be found in (bad) advertising aimed at men today, however the passage of time has rendered them so absurd here as to be rather endearing.
A couple of years earlier Hurst had scored a hat-trick for England in the 1966 World Cup Final – defeating West Germany. It was VE Day all over again, but without the rationing. Hurst became a national (war)hero overnight, passionately admired by millions of men.
Hence Hurst was the perfect patriotic package for pitching a hitherto sissy product like deodorant as heroic and masculine. (1960s heavyweight boxing champion and Cockney folk hero Henry Cooper would later be deployed in a similar fashion for Brut aftershave in the blokey bruiser’s famous “splash it on all ovah!” 1970s TV ads.)
Note how the “GOOD and STRONG” – the opposite of sissy – deodorant bottle is the same no-nonsense colours as the bandages in the locker-room first aid cabinet its kept in. Today, players’ changing rooms have had to be rebuilt to make their lockers big enough to accommodate their cosmetic-filled manbags.
Target is not sold as a cosmetic, heaven forfend, but as ‘protection’ – it’s the off-pitch version of the martial shin-pads Geoff wears before he heads onto the pitch and pretending, endearingly badly, to be hard-tackled on what seems to be a pitch made mostly of honest, manly mud.
In fact, the ‘protection’ angle is emphasised so much you wonder whether Target made prophylactics as well.
Note also the modesty-saving towel velcroed to Hurst’s chest – today the camera would be zooming in on his oiled, shaved, pumped pecs, and following him into the shower. And note the visit to the local boring boozer instead of a poncey bar selling them there dodgy foreign lagers.
And it would be impossible to miss the hysterical insistence by the fruity voiceover on the MANLINESS of this deodorant and the “MAN-SIZED protection” it offers: “With a fresh clean smell that could ONLY BE MASCULINE! … For men and MEN ONLY!”
Because of course most men in the UK in the 1960s didn’t use deodorant and were slightly suspicious of men who did.
Hurst is a man’s man from a man’s world of manly, smelly locker rooms, pitches, barracks, terraces and factories. But in case we still thought that there might be any ambiguity about his use of deodorant, despite the voiceover’s insistence, as the BFI website blurb points out, the ad is careful to show us that Hurst’s MANLY deodorant is definitely not for the benefit of MEN. Target is to be used ONLY after the match and locker-room towel-flicking is over – because it has a heterosexual aim.
Scrubbed-up, suited and booted and sprayed with the fresh clean MANLY smell of Target, Geoff has three ‘dolly-birds’ throwing themselves at him down the boozer (and maybe a fourth at the bar getting another round in). I hope he kept the shin-pads on.
Then again, for a previous generation of men such as some of the older ones we glimpse cheering on the MEN ONLY terraces in their cloth caps – who definitely aren’t the target market – young Geoff’s hanging out with all these women, with his hair all nice and his armpits ‘protected’ would likely have been seen as the height of effeminacy rather than a reassuring proof of heterosexuality.
He’ll be drinking from a stemmed glass next!
(Even worse, in just a couple of generations, he ended up swinging it around like this.)