Old Spice Man. Kraft Zesty Guy. Have We Reached Peak Ad Hunk?

What Women Really Think
May 21 2013 11:49 AM

Old Spice Man. Kraft Zesty Guy. Have We Reached Peak Ad Hunk?

120001156
Old Spice Man Isaiah Mustafa and the original ad hunk, Fabio.

Photo by David Livingston/Getty Images

Have we reached Peak Hunk? USA Today examines the trend of “sexy guys—not gals—featured in racy TV spots” since a shirtless Isaiah Mustafa first mounted a horse to promote Old Spice in 2010. In a recent ad for Kraft salad dressing, a hunk’s T-shirt spontaneously combusts when his kitchen preparation gets too “zesty” (Kraft is selling him as "The Zesty Guy"). A pair of Liquid-Plumr hunks arrive at a woman’s home to “snake her drain.” For Diet Dr Pepper, hunk Josh Button rolls around shirtless on a beach; in a Zoolandery voiceover, he announces that he is "really, really, really, really, really good looking."

Hunks are now such a well-worn advertising trope that “the ‘surprise’ factor is kind of used up for now," ad consultant Allison Cohen told USA Today. “Seems like it's time for a break from this approach.” But marketers have been ramping up the use of sexual imagery in advertising over the past 30 years, and the vast majority of these ads have featured women’s bodies, not men’s. Babes are forever. Why are hunks just a passing trend?

Maybe because these advertisers are really selling jokes, not hunks. In a marketing landscape accustomed to offering up female bodies for the hetero male gaze—see 1 in 3 alcohol campaigns—these ads reverse the equation. Men performing sexuality is a “surprise” that advertisers push to absurd lengths (poof: Old Spice Man is on a boat! Salad Dressing Guy is suddenly shirtless!) to comment on the ridiculousness of the gender switch. A marketing rep for Dr Pepper defended its hunk to USA Today, saying: "We're poking fun at ourselves and the trend of hot guys in advertising.” But the entire ad hunk trend relies on that winking attitude. When faced with a guy like Old Spice’s Mustafa, viewers can indulge in the man candy while the commercial conveniently excuses us from acknowledging that man candy as seriously sexy—and even potentially threatening. As the Old Spice ad team explained, the goal of its campaign was to create “a character who is not only loved by ladies, but equally loved by guys. A woman's man that was okay for men to love.” (Not to mention that it may be more comfortable to poke fun at female desire than to embody it unironically.)

Advertisement

Of course, ad babes are also leveraged for absurd humor—take Ali Landry’s famous Doritos commercials, where the fire sprinklers spontaneously erupted from the ceiling as she chomped away at the chips, while a horde of men wagged their tongues after her. But when jokes like those get old, the babes remain. The "surprise" factor of a scantily clad woman is apparently perpetual. The real test of the longevity of the ad hunk: Will we ever take Zesty Guy seriously?

Amanda Hess is a Slate staff writer. 

TODAY IN SLATE

Foreigners

More Than Scottish Pride

Scotland’s referendum isn’t about nationalism. It’s about a system that failed, and a new generation looking to take a chance on itself. 

iOS 8 Comes Out Today. Do Not Put It on Your iPhone 4S.

Why Greenland’s “Dark Snow” Should Worry You

Three Talented Actresses in Three Terrible New Shows

The Human Need to Find Connections in Everything

It’s the source of creativity and delusions. It can harm us more than it helps us.

Jurisprudence

Happy Constitution Day!

Too bad it’s almost certainly unconstitutional.

The Ungodly Horror of Having a Bug Crawl Into Your Ear and Scratch Away at Your Eardrum

My Father Was James Brown. I Watched Him Beat My Mother. Then I Married Someone Like Him.

  News & Politics
Weigel
Sept. 17 2014 12:02 PM Here It Is: The Flimsiest Campaign Attack Ad of 2014, Which Won’t Stop Running
  Business
Business Insider
Sept. 17 2014 1:36 PM Nate Silver Versus Princeton Professor: Who Has the Right Models?
  Life
Outward
Sept. 17 2014 1:59 PM Ask a Homo: Secret Ally Codes 
  Double X
The XX Factor
Sept. 17 2014 1:26 PM Hey CBS, Rihanna Is Exactly Who I Want to See on My TV Before NFL Games
  Slate Plus
Slate Fare
Sept. 17 2014 9:37 AM Is Slate Too Liberal?  A members-only open thread.
  Arts
Brow Beat
Sept. 17 2014 1:01 PM A Rare, Very Unusual Interview With Michael Jackson, Animated
  Technology
Future Tense
Sept. 17 2014 12:35 PM IOS 8 Comes Out Today. Do Not Put It on Your iPhone 4S.
  Health & Science
Bad Astronomy
Sept. 17 2014 11:18 AM A Bridge Across the Sky
  Sports
Sports Nut
Sept. 15 2014 9:05 PM Giving Up on Goodell How the NFL lost the trust of its most loyal reporters.