OPINION: I can still remember the look on my brother’s friend’s face as he took in a 10-foot tall image of Eva Herzigova staring down in delight at the perfection of her own lace-clad orbits. “Hello Boys.”
I was 19 with a crush and I wanted him to look at me that way. I can remember laughing along with my dad to the Hamlet cigar barcode-hair man and the catcalls that rang out in my all-girls college common room when the world’s hottest window cleaner cracked open a Diet Coke.
How anything as cynically motivated as adverts can prompt the same visceral nostalgia as music, I don’t know. It’s that they’re little life markers, I guess, neuro-dynamic cues reminding you of what you found covetable, funny and sexy way back when.
And sometimes just the brand name is potent enough to bring it all back.
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I see grooming brand Lynx, for example, and I think of armies of supermodels chasing uniquely dry-pitted but plain men across rough terrain (why they kept running I never understood). I think of glamour models in underwear toiling over hot ovens, angels falling from the sky and smashing their own halos in pre-coital ceremonial defiance at the merest whiff of cheap deodorant – and I think of nineties laddishness, with all the glorious bad taste and good humour that came with it.
Well the laughing had to stop, didn’t it?
So last year, Unilever – which owns Lynx as well as Magnum icecream, Persil detergent and Knorr stock cubes – vowed to “advance its portrayals of gender” and do away with sexist ad campaigns. Never mind that self-promotional campaigns like the ones put out on social media by Kim Kardashian and Emily Ratajkowski are infinitely more crude and reductive – or that it’s simply not possible to improve upon the poetry of “pocket pulling power” and “get the scent that gets the girl”.
And oh how I would have loved to see Lynx to fail in their efforts, thereby proving that this generation’s sweaty young men hadn’t all been beaten down by the PC police into a pulp with all the substance and sex appeal of kale juice.
But no, the opposite has happened: thanks to Unilever’s “radical and progressive view on masculinity” Lynx deodorant is now apparently Britain’s fastest growing brand, with a value that’s up by 90 per cent in just a year.
I’m going to go out on limb here and say that I quite liked men as they were. I’ll admit to missing the old, regressive, Loaded magazine kind of masculinity.
I can’t remember the last time I heard a dirty joke (that wasn’t told by me), I can’t remember the last time a man complimented me (now either too risky or offensive in itself) on a dress and I can’t understand why men are forever apologising for things they haven’t said or done.
Anyone would think a giant from the Gender Equality Committee had reached down from above and filleted the lot of them.
Are we really no longer allowed to be entertained by – or even acknowledge – any differences between the sexes?
Adverts have always built on stereotypes. Stereotypes sell products because they’re true, and sexual stereotypes are funny because they’re so true. But if we’re all now too sensitive to laugh at ourselves or each other, then we’re condemned to sit through a series of “progressive” and preachy broadcasts that couldn’t elicit a hollow chuckle if they tried.
Which they won’t – what with humour being phased out and all.