Race, Gender & Media: Old Spice

This is the last of six weekly blogs for my J375 class, Race, Gender and Media. This week I will offer my thoughts on gender in advertising.

This week’s blog post is going to be difficult for me, because the two things I could write about are about race and gender in reality television, and race and gender in advertising. I don’t watch reality television (at all), and my group presented its project on race and gender in advertising. I don’t know much about the former and I’ve already discussed the latter!

Instead, I’m going to go off the beaten path a bit. During our group’s presentation, the ad that seemed to get the most response was an Old Spice commercial, part of their advertising campaign “The Man Your Man Could Smell Like”:

Because I’ve always used Old Spice, I thought it would be interesting to look at how Old Spice has advertised its products over time. I’ve decided for this week’s blog post to take a brief look at some of Old Spice’s advertising campaigns, and see how gender has played a role in its ads.

The first ad I’ll examine is from 1957:

The ad opens with a jingle featuring a cartoon of dancing sailors, followed by a demonstration of a man using the product. The female presence in the ad is through singing cartoon mermaids, showing Old Spice’s nautical theme.

The next ad is from 1971:

This commercial obviously focuses on the sex appeal that Old Spice can bring a user of the product. A bespectacled young man follows around a suave sailor in order to learn the sailor’s secret for attracting women, made apparent by the attractive brunette at the sailor’s side. The sailor eventually takes pity on the man, and tosses him a bottle of Old Spice aftershave, with the tag line “Perhaps it’s one reason women have always impatiently waited for their men to return from sea (playing off Old Spice’s historically nautical theme).

This next commercial is from 1990:

This ad again plays on the theme of sailors and the sea, showing a woman waiting for a sailor to return to shore as another man learns that he needs to be more adventurous (and use Old Spice) if he wants to ever live his life “outside of the harbor.” In this commercial, the sailor’s face is never seen clearly, giving him a mysterious aura that attracts women to him.

These next two commercials from 2007 feature Bruce Campbell:

The first commercial starts to show a more humorous side of Old Spice, which seems to be making fun of its old “suave sailor” stereotype, who is pontificating over what it means to have “it,” which is apparently the allure that using Old Spice brings. The second commercial shows Campell playing the piano while singing “Hungry Like the Wolf” to several attractive women in front of a roaring fireplace. The women find that they can’t resist Campbell, eventually crawling on top of the piano with a suggestive “Ahoy.”

Here is another commercial from the current “The Man Your Man Could Smell Like” ad campaign:

This ad campaign ratchets up the humor, showing an idealized masculine character with complete confidence, addressing the “ladies” in the audience directly while subtly deriding their men for their use of “lady-scented” body washes.

Old Spice has adjusted its advertising style well over the years, promoting itself as a product that helps men to attract women. The men in Old Spice commercials have always been portrayed as suave, confident and “experienced,” while the women have always preferred Old Spice men over their non-Old Spice-using competitors. Old Spice has managed to avoid the overt hyper-sexed nature of modern media. It has been more subtle when addressing sexuality, avoiding the more overt tone taken by other products such as Axe Body Spray, using satire to get its point across. I admire how Old Spice has been able to give homage to its history while still remaining attractive to a modern consumer base, illustrated in the tagline for its Classic scent: “The original. If your grandfather hadn’t worn it, you wouldn’t exist.”

Old Spice has discovered that humor and subtlety can be more effective than blatant sexuality, turning the crass “sex sells” adage on its head. It does this despite the fact that its product is inherently sexual, serving as a means for men to be attractive to women. It would be nice if more aspects of our advertising and media culture could adopt this approach.


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