Macho Dockers: Awkward Fit

Given the anatomy of a mess that Tiger Woods’ life is fast becoming, the most obvious phrase for men these days (or at least those who hope to maintain a career in the public eye) would seem to be “Keep your pants on!”

That said, I do like Dockers’ new slogan, “Wear the pants.” It’s got a simple, arresting three-word/three-syllable rhythm, the same as “Just do it,” with a similar call to action. But unlike the Nike phrase, it’s recycled: an old-fashioned phrase from a pre-feminist vernacular (as in “who wears the pants in the family?”). It’s now used with a comic wink as a post-metrosexual manifesto to men. According to Dockers’ brand research, levels of male testosterone have been dropping for the last 20 years or so and, sadly, men have also suffered 80 percent of the net job losses in the last two years.

Obviously, buying a pair of Dockers’ khakis is not going to fix those complex problems. But the wearing of the pants could also be interpreted in a gender-free way, as in an exhortation to take responsibility and grow up.

On the surface, the print and outdoor boards via Draftfcb look great. (A TV spot is being readied for the Super Bowl, and there’s also radio, social media and digital work.) I like the use of the rough-hewn backgrounds on the billboards. In print, the words are hand lettered, in type of all different sizes, to form a silhouette of a man’s head and torso (his bottom half wears the new, tighter-fitting, cooler-looking khakis.) The combo is visually intriguing, and the outline of a shape allows for a more everyman-ish vision while still showing off the merchandise. (There’s a lot of hand lettering in ads these days, e.g., Levi’s and HTC. Perhaps it’s a response to the coldness of digital everything — the contrast of the bendy letters is comfort food for the eye.)

The trouble starts below the surface, however, with the copy. “Once upon a time, men wore the pants, and wore them well. Women rarely had to open doors and little old ladies never crossed the street alone. Men took charge because that’s what they did. But somewhere along the way, the world decided it no longer needed men.”

Um, uh-oh. This is not quite smart enough, and starting to get a bit martyr-y, which is the last thing we all need.

The copy goes on to suggest putting down the plastic fork and stepping away from the salad bar, which seems kind of dated. (Real Men Don’t Eat Quiche came out in the 1980s.)

Since then, many beer, razor, jeans and all-beef advertisers have covered this territory with varying results in the humor department.

The other problem with the strategy is that, at heart, it’s at odds with the latest version of the pants, which are softer, more stylin’ and less staid, standard-manly man than they previously were.

It will be interesting to see how the campaign progresses — how to link khaki wearing with the idea of manning up. In the meantime, both the Dockers brand details and Tiger are a bit in the rough.