The Idiot Man in Advertising

For examples of the “men as idiots” commercial genre, simply turn on your TV and watch the vast majority of commercials for household products, over-the-counter analgesics and health aids, automobiles, financial services, and a host of other product categories. Men are often characterized as less-than-capable idiots who can’t possibly measure up to a female’s ability to do even the simplest task.

The list of dumb men in advertising is lengthy and includes companies that market everything from throat drops to credit cards. Some groups are speaking outagainst the collective advertising world’s treatment of men. Glenn Sacks, an attorney who focuses largely on gender rights, has successfully launched campaigns against companies that depict men in a less-than-positive way. Perhaps most notably, Sacks persuaded Verizon to pull its 2004 ad about a dad who was overwhelmed trying to help his daughter with a homework assignment. Sacks has also led successful campaigns against reality television shows that cast men in a bad light and large advertising agencies that he says are responsible for anti-male advertising. Other groups like Stand Your Ground and The MasculineHeart seek to bring awareness of the way men are portrayed in advertisements and the media.

A classic men-as-idiots campaign that blended seamlessly with the “men prefer the company of other men” theme was the “Whassup?” Budweiser commercials at the turn of the millennium. A group of guys talked aimlessly on the phone to one another, saying nothing other than a rapid exchange of the one-word question "Whassup?" While the concept may sound dumb to some (and hilarious to others), the commercials were an immediate hit and contributed to an increase of 4.8% in the beer’s supermarket sales. More than adecade later, it’s hard to imagine how “Whassup?” captured the male zeitgeist of the time. From kids as young as elementary school to middle-aged adults on the golf course, it was not uncommon to be greeted with a "Whassup?” While some guys may have scoffed at the portrayal of the poor communication skills in the “Whassup?” ads, others either welcomed it as a simple way to communicate ormerely deflected it with humor. Communication between men has not always been sophisticated, or even fluent, but the “Whassup?” commercials reflected ageneral acceptance of men as idiots.

It’s always easier to look back in retrospect and see how different something was. In the case of men a decade ago, all you have to do is watch one of the "Whassup?" commercials and compare it to more recentBudweiser commercials. The commercial that aired during the 2013 Super Bowl depicted the bond between a horse trainer and a young Clydesdale that eventually grew to be one of the official Budweiser horses. This sentimental ad reflects a shift in the openness of men and their willingness to be both rugged and sensitive.

Next Chapter: The Beer Commercial: A Barometer for Sexism