Scorned as artifice in the 1960s, as middle class in the 80s, and as earnest, clueless, and irony free in the 1990s, these brands were in free fall. (Our cultural concepts of maleness were under reconstruction, and brands were struggling to stay in touch.)
Both brands are now struggling to make a comeback, and together they serve as a nice case study in matters of meaning management.
Aqua Velva is now running a campaign that features fathers and sons playing catch in the back yard, and the slogan "Men Get It."
This is actually a pretty good time for slogans. Home Depot uses "You Can Do It, We Can Help" which still strikes me as a masterpiece. (I believe The Richards Group gets the credit.) Someone is using "You, Happier" which is pretty good.
There is lots of good work a brand can treat as precedent: Live in your world, play in ours (Sony Playstation), Rip. Mix. Burn. (Apple), Impossible is nothing (Adidas), Just Do It (Nike), Obey Your Thirst (Sprite), Think outside the bun (Taco Bell), So where the bloody hell are you? (Australian Tourist Commission), You are now free to move about the country (Southwest Airlines), to name a few.
"Men get it." This is not very good. First, the "best before" date is just now expiring on "get" as a metaphor for comprehension. Second, the second meaning isn’t really a meaning so much an imperative, an ill mannered imperative at that. Slogans are not supposed to shill. That’s the rule.
Old Spice on the other hand, this is Wieden and Kennedy at their effortlessly capable best. Here is Bruce Campbell for Old Spice making fun of the style of speech that afflicts some men when they are trying to be especially manly. Here is Will Ferrell (as Jackie Moon) wrestling with the metric system in that "ofter wrong, never in doubt" gender performance that many men have made a stock in trade (cf. Ron Burgundy). Here is Neil Patrick Harris as a "former make believe doctor" making fun of the puffed up authority that afflicts some male doctors (and not just on TV). "Chronic body odor ruins lives!"
It’s as if Wieden and Kennedy just decided, listen, the idea of masculinity in our culture is under construction. There are lots of ideas and none of those ideas is now regnant. What we do know is that there are several choice ideas of masculinity in the bow wave of contemporary culture. These ideas are discredited and ludicrous. And this makes them easier targets.
But it raises a larger problem. What happens to contemporary culture when we run out of these semiotic "remainders"? This advertising campaign, as clever and interesting as it is, is running on ideas that have entered their twilight. It won’t be long before Will Ferrell and Neil Patrick Harris’ characters have jumped the shark. And where do we go from there? We will have run out of shared ideas, and it is hard to imagine an advertising industry or a popular culture thereafter.
Glenn, Blake. 2008. Pass the Doogie. Brandweek. August 11, 2008, p. 33.