Friday, January 26, 2007

Attention getting cultural excess

What do Clearblue Easy pregnancy testing kit and the Philips Bodygroom have in common? They are both examples of culture excess. We normally associate this term with taking culture to the edge of acceptability or beyond: the new film starring Dakota Fanning is an example out of pop culture; so is Borat. In marketing, I associate the term cultural excess with products like the Burger King Texas Double Whopper, and the Hummer SUV, among many other products that are inherently excessive. This notion of culture excess is associated with a postmodern culture in which products are a reflection of an image that may symbolize something greater than the product per se - a hamburger or a car. Marketers like Clearblue and Philips adapt this postmodern approach to fit their own needs. The Clearblue Easy viral spot (which you can find on has a number of masculine markers, even though the product--one would think--is directed toward a female audience. What do I mean by masculine markers? For one, excuse my frankness, but the pee stream in the commercial is more guy-like as it takes accurate aim at the Clearblue Easy pregnancy testing device; something women tell me is not typical of the way in which women urinate. In other words: guys take aim; women merely pee. And because of the “Star Wars” quality of the visual and the “movie trailer” announcer’s booming voice over, this ad is gendered toward the masculine. And, so we might expect that it is male YouTubers that will circulate this ad; their wives and girlfriends are likely to be secondary receivers of the message. Furthermore, I sense a certain infantile anger at work behind this ad if for no other reason then peeing as a public act is considered lewd behavior (excessive). Indeed in most places (Amsterdam not withstanding) it’s illegal. Peeing in a commercial, a public act, may be considered an infantile way in which to gain attention. Ah ha! Attention - gaining and maintaining it. That’s the ticket to successful advertising for a distracted generation.

In the Philips Bodygroom viral spot, when male viewers see themselves as a reflection of what appears on the screen, such depictions raise questions regarding what it means to be a man. Making masculine gender identity problematic--in other words, forcing male viewers to question who they are--is a way for advertisers to nudge male consumers in the direction of the advertisement’s message. Grooming one’s body--feminizing the male body--may be a way in which a male may recoup his lost social standing - depending on the type of male viewer one is talking about. I say this because a hyper-masculine male is likely to reject or psychologically deflect such images and the message of the advertisement. If you think of masculine gender identity as points on a continuum--with the hyper-masculine male at one end, and the feminine male at the other--you can begin to locate the type of male to which this ad might appeal. I have been writing about this issue (the depiction of masculine gender identity) for several years now. In particular I have been focusing on the depiction of men as wolves (Honda, Quiznos), the depiction of men as caveman (GEICO, FedEx), and the depiction of men caught in public with their pants down (the list is too long). Each of these advertisements represents in its own way cultural excess. Cultural excess encourges consumer participation as these ads are distributed virally through

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