Basketball fans looking for relief from the oppressive reign of the Los Angeles Lakers might find it by thinking back to the oppressive reign of Michael Jordan. Actually, you don't have to think very hard, since Jordan never really went away—whether in retirement or mounting his latest comeback, he's lingered on in an endless string of endorsements, exhorting us with various degrees of subtlety to "be like Mike" by purchasing this or that consumer good. Even underwear. Which brings us to today's subject, a Hanes ad, which you can see here by way of Ads.com.
The ad: The scene is a locker room, where four guys are yakking away in their white briefs. They spy Jordan. He's fully clothed but unpacking his gym pack—and pulling out a snazzy pair of red Hanes underwear. The four guys fall silent and stare at possibly the greatest basketball player of all time and his undergarment of choice; several of them look down and seem to be contemplating some kind of … inadequacy. Cut to the same locker room, at some unspecified point in the immediate future. All four guys are now wearing the red underwear. Just like Mike. Just then their idol walks in again, and the group looks over with cocky glances. But Jordan pulls from his bag … a polka-dotted pair of Hanes. The others look chagrined and in various ways seem to be trying to hide their outdated undies. One (the only black member of the group; the others are all white), actually crosses his hands over his crotch. Jordan struts out, and as the Hanes logo appears on screen, he comments, "Hey, as long as they're Hanes."
Unmentionable: Do I really need to point out the obvious racial and sexual tensions hovering just below the surface here? Is there anything fresh to be said about a mostly white, and mostly naked, group of guys looking from Michael Jordan to their own nether regions with an air of wistfulness and inferiority? I didn't think so. Just draw your own conclusions on that.
Strange brief: What's really puzzling about this ad is that Hanes' message to potential customers is so confused. Sure, the company is having some fun with the idea of mindless Mike-worship. But isn't this ad also sort of, you know, depending on the exact same thing? It seems to me that anyone who sees this spot and decides to rush out and buy a pair of red or polka-dotted Hanes underwear finds himself joining these four bozos in spirit. The whole ad seems to be sort of underscoring the idea that Hanes is the brief of choice for interchangeable lemmings.
And whatever the spot is implying about the, oh, I don't know, potency of these four wannabes, it certainly isn't good. If anything, their experience of trying to imitate their hero seems to have resulted in thorough humiliation. Is that what Hanes promises its products will deliver? If so, I think I'll avoid them. And in the meantime, one can only hope that this ad won't evolve into a series: The last thing I want to think about is Shaq in his underwear.