The bloggers at Overthinking It came up with a word that has crept its way into my vocabulary, since it's so perfect at describing a very 21st century phenomenon: earony. Earony is when someone strikes an ironic pose about something, but actually they love it earnestly, even though they can obviously see the silliness of it. That's what I thought of when I read Holly's post about Campbell's Fully Loaded Chunky Soup ads. Here's one:

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The message of the commercial is, "Yes, we are trying to sell you soup with over-the-top manly man sales pitches, and we know that you know that's silly, but eat the soup. It's for men." Classic earony. My guess is that their market research showed that they had a huge customer base in the young bachelor set, particularly with young men who shy away from doing feminine things like cooking or washing dishes, and were eager to consume 100% of their meals from items you could microwave. That, and older married men whose wives don't have the time to feed them lunch on the weekends. I'm not trying to bash all men, by any stretch---I'm just saying that this sort exists and I suspect they're the audience for the ad.

While I was in England, I had a revelation about what kind of products get the manly man sales pitch, though all credit goes to the London resident we stayed with for a night, who told me about how cider companies had hit on the perfect pitch to sell cider to men there. Cider has always been seen as a female beverage, and so men shy away from it (true enough in the U.S., too, though I don't think cider's all that popular to begin with for women, either), so the cider companies, according to my friend, had started pushing the idea that men can pour it over ice and get that manly man refreshment, because as advertisements tell us, men are always doing some strenuous activity that demands constant refreshment. And, according to my friend, it was a successful campaign with the sad effect of people pouring cider over ice. The flaws in this pitch were quite evident to this Texan, seeing as how I was wearing a light coat in May while hearing this story and had no desire to see an ice cube anytime in the near future. Americans may think it's weird that you can go for days and even weeks in England without consuming a beverage poured over ice, but to me, that's just common sense, once you take the weather into consideration.

But I digress. The point is that sometimes when you see something like that with a slightly different culture's tweaks to it, it can be eye-opening. Now I'm acutely aware whenever I see a product that's getting the Manly overhaul, because now I suspect that the market research shows that men don't buy said product, because they think it's feminine, and the advertisers are trying to get around the problem of anxious masculinity.

Obviously, this isn't true for all the products out there that are sold with the Real Men Buy Me pitch. Some products have been advertised that way forever, because they were already associated with masculinity. Beer comes to mind as the most immediate example. But at some point in time, advertisers for other products started to borrow the tropes in order to convince men that their masculinity is not in question because they bought this product.

Grooming products, even ones like razors you think men could buy without shame, are some of the worst offenders. Sometimes you get the impression that men are supposed to be shaving with breaking edge technology culled from jet engines when watching razor ads. The Axe body spray ones are so bad---their pitch seems to be, "Use our body spray and no one will ever mistake you for the sort of pansy who knows how to read"---that I think they broke the mold. In my imagination, whoever came up with the admittedly hilarious Old Spice ads that veer off into the truly ironic was sitting there watching an Axe body spray ad, and thought, "Well, that's the end of the road for the 'our perfume will make your cock bigger' pitch." However, I have to wonder if the Old Spice ads have been successful at all in increasing Old Spice sales. Watching the one with Bruce Campbell, I couldn't shake the impression that they're hoping to get a resurgence with young hipsters, who could wear it with earony, much like the way they drink cheap beer like MGD. My guess is no. Visual representation of droll hipster humor is one thing, but scent is so evocative, and there's not really a way to get around the fact that smelling like grandpa is going to make potential sex partners think of grandpa. But what do I know?

Watching these soup ads, then, makes me realize that someone probably thinks that eating soup is girly. Which makes sense. Few foods are more associated with Mom than soup, since it's something Mom produces when you're sick, and feeling weak and vulnerable. In fact, the association of soup with weakness probably also inspired this ad campaign. That half explains this ad campaign, with the other half being the target demographic of bachelors and occasionally stranded married men. Because despite decades of feminism, most food ads are aimed directly at women. Interesting, then, that when marketers target men to sell food to, they stick with foods that they assume are temporary holdover ways to feed yourself until a woman can come in and do it properly.

Sarah Haskins should do a handful of "Target: Men" episodes to break the whole thing up.