And yet, the Zesty Italian campaign isn’t even Davis’ hottest gig. This year, he also went shirtless for Beam Inc.’s Sauza Tequila in a marketing push by Havas Worldwide Chicago that appeared around the same time as his first Kraft ad.
Sauza’s “Make It With a Lifeguard” spot finds Davis at the beach on a sweltering summer day, suggestively squirting suntan lotion into his palm and rubbing it in, at times in slow motion. He prepares a Sauza-Rita, with time-outs for rescues and peering through binoculars to see his own hunky image staring back. The commercial was a sequel to 2012’s “Make It With a Fireman,” which starred Thomas Beaudoin. “The brand wanted to target women, which was pretty revolutionary for the tequila category,” says Havas cd Ecole Weinstein. “So we figured, what better way … than with a hot, impossibly perfect man?”
“Don’t overthink it,” says Rebecca Cullers, a copywriter and AdFreak blogger. “It means that heterosexual women like to look at fit, attractive men. It shouldn’t be a shocking revelation. I’ve heard that heterosexual men like to look at attractive women, too. And in general, people like to look at attractive people.” (Obviously, there are men who like to look at the hot dudes, too.)
Still, Cullers sees obvious pitfalls. “What should worry men about these portrayals is that there’s really only one kind of guy being held up as ‘hot,’” she says. “It’s dangerous to limit the notion of attractiveness to a single model and, in the case of Kraft Zesty and Sauza, the same exact model.” (While the debate rages, indications are that the ads may be helping cash registers ring. Beam reported an 8 percent gain in global sales to $1.2 billion in the first half of this year, with Sauza a key performer, up 5 percent worldwide.)
Injecting the studly ads with humor may help to offset any controversy—and Zesty Italian, Sauza and Renuzit all do to some extent. The Scent Gents have a light touch but don’t exactly bring the funny. Other hunkvertising campaigns make more of an effort.
“There’s a difference between the Liquid-Plumr daydreaming girl, who swoons over the hardware store man as he drills a piece of wood, and the Zesty Guy who keeps losing his top,” says Wäppling. She views Kraft’s effort as “pure objectification,” but praises Liquid-Plumr as “situational comedy, recognizing that even suburban housewives have an active imagination.” The everywoman heroine of the Liquid-Plumr spot, called “Urgent Clear,” fantasizes about Peter, a handyman who promises to satisfy her with a seven-minute cleaning of her pipes. That effort followed the brand’s similar “Double Impact” commercial from 2012, featuring a pair of hunks.
Some critics find Liquid-Plumr’s push safer and more appealing than the Zesty Italian or Sauza campaigns because it includes women in the silly narrative, clearly establishing that they are the ones indulging in fantasy. “We were able to put a twist on a key insight into our consumer—her take-charge, get-it-done attitude,” says Stacey Grier, chief strategic officer at DDB California. “We weren’t trying to make a statement or lead an advertising trend. We were just trying to use humor to communicate the benefits of Clorox products.”
Elsewhere, a Diet Dr Pepper ad from Deutsch LA pushes the self-awareness envelope and pokes fun at studvertising itself. Josh Button, who rivals Davis for pure pulchritude, frolics shirtless in the sand and surf.
“Millions of guys are born good-looking,” his voiceover begins. “But not many are really good-looking. Even fewer are really, really, really, really, really good -looking. At least, that’s what I’m told. I’m Josh Button, and I’m one of a kind.” A countdown appears on-screen during his spiel, running from 70,611,600 to 1.
“We’re poking fun at ourselves and the trend of hot guys in advertising,” said Dr Pepper svp, marketing Jaxie Alt when the spot launched in May. Deutsch creatives Xavier Teo and Erick Mangali say the spot caught on at least partly because the setup is played as a goof from the get-go.
Davis, appearing more sexually aggressive and subversive (he is one hot dude, to be sure), invites criticism from groups such as OMM; meanwhile, Button’s broader, over-the-top approach is more accessible and likely helped mitigate any complaints, say experts.
Some marketers are digging through the vault to take advantage of this whole sexed-up-man boom. Take Diet Coke, which chose to revisit its famous construction worker spot from the early ’90s that (very) briefly made a star of the hunky model Lucky Vanous.
For the reboot, BETC London cast Brit Andrew Cooper as a hardworking, overheated landscaper who catches the attention of some female onlookers, one of whom rolls a can of Diet Coke his way. Cooper promptly pops the top, salaciously spraying himself with product. And like Lucky Vanous before him, Cooper became overnight watercooler fodder.
“The sexual imagery is obvious to the point of being silly,” notes Occidental’s Wade, pointing out “the sweating Diet Coke can rolling in the grass, the phallic tower in the background, the ejaculation imagery with both the spewing grass cuttings and, of course, the exploding soda.”
Some hunkvertising has moved past comedy into the realm of the absurd.
A 12-foot-tall fiberglass statue of Colin Firth promoting the BBC’s adaptation of Jane Austen’s Pride and Prejudice was erected in the middle of a lake in London’s Hyde Park this summer. (In the miniseries, the actor, who portrays the aloof Mr. Darcy, takes a swim in his shirt and emerges sopping wet.) Even more curious, Dove Chocolate whipped up a sculpture of TV personality Mario Lopez (just his torso, actually) to introduce its Mint & Dark Chocolate Swirl variety. The huge hunk of chocolate was served at an August event in Los Angeles to drive home the message that Dove’s latest confection “tastes as good as it looks.”
Perhaps what’s good for the goose is good for the gander, and does hunkvertising, in fact, amount to equality of the sexes?
“As women gain in education and the workplace and men take on more household and childcare responsibilities, there’s more gender parity” versus a generation ago when Lucky Vanous strutted his stuff, offers Ann Mack, who follows popular culture as JWT’s director of trendspotting. “This trend is symbolic” of a more even playing field, she says.
Then again, maybe it’s all much baser than that. “This has nothing to do with equality—though equality is a good excuse for looking at hot men if you’re the sort of woman who needs an excuse,” argues blogger Cullers. “It had to do with equality back when Cosmo picked Burt Reynolds as the first nude male centerfold. At this point, looking at some abs while drinking Diet Coke is hardly a feminist revolution, particularly when it’s a remake of a popular spot from decades ago.”
Occidental’s Wade concurs. “I wouldn’t call it equality—I’d call it marketing, and maybe capitalism,” she says. “Market forces under capitalism exploit whatever fertile ground is available. Justice and sexual equality aren’t driving increasing rates of male objectification—money is.”