Friday, 21 February 2014

Vodka for MEN

A few days ago, I was sneaking a teeny bit of winter sun in Florida, stopping off for a couple of days in Miami. In between drag racing on Miami beach in a yellow Lamborghini, hanging out with drug barons and otherwise partying in the place where the heat is on, I found myself in a taxi after a cocktail or two en route to a night club.

Sitting in traffic, I noticed the ad on the taxi next to mine, for Ketel One vodka: 'Gentlemen, this is vodka.' Now, it may have been the lychee martini taking effect, but I found myself feeling quite hurt by this gender-specific advertising. I like my V&T and martini as much as the next person - hell, I enjoyed it neat in my heyday - and I earn good money to spend on it. What's wrong with me as a vodka-consuming consumer??

Now, I do understand the mechanics of marketing, target demographics and so on. I might not approve, but I understand why Baileys, Ryvita, Cadbury's and the like target women and Lynx targets men. But why vodka? It strikes me as poor commercial sense to exclude women totally, and it wouldn't have changed the impact of the ad to say 'Ladies and gentlemen, this is vodka' - it doesn't lose the announcement feel, the idea of the exclusive high-end product, the definitive statement.

Of course, I also know why whichever agency did it did it. Because they're trying to make you feel part of a very exclusive members' club - so exclusive, in fact, that you can be disbarred from membership because you lack a Y chromosome. One where the members wear tailored suits, smoke cigars and talk authoritatively in deep voices about Serious Things, about Politics and Business, one where Real Power and Influence can be found and where, naturally, these Leaders of Men (not women, they don't count even to be led) drink only Ketel One vodka. Sounds like something Don Draper would come up with in an episode of Mad Men, doesn't it? But just look at the Government's PMQs Front Bench and weep.

I really just find it so sad that these stereotyped gender roles are seen as necessary in the advertising world. My co-Hussy, DF, questions whether these traditional perceptions of male vs. female roles exist outside the world of advertising and the media, and whether by trying to dispel stereotypes advertisers like Pantene in the Philippines are doing more harm than good. I thought about the answer for some time, and unfortunately, I think I found it here - yes, because for every Pantene there's a Ketel One, or a Weetabix etc etc etc ad nauseam.

Which is why it's heartening to see even small steps in the right direction. Like the Sheryl Sandberg/Getty Images collaboration to get representative images of women into stock photo libraries. This is a subtler approach than the Pantene one; it's just subliminal messaging to reinforce and normalise what is (mercifully) increasingly a reality in our households. So that we can actually recognise the media's standard family as our own real life one. I know it's no silver bullet, but let's give credit to what is a real, tangible step in the right direction.

Right, you'll have to excuse me now, I'm off to make myself a martini. Please pass the non-gender-specific vodka.


This great image comes courtesy of Power of Image. Check them out! - Ed

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