Skip to main content
Responsible Marketing

The American male is an idiot

By April 17, 2008October 27th, 20218 Comments

The American male is an idiot
That’s what some major advertisers want you to think, according to a recent article in Ad Age.

In Advertisers: Men are Not Idiots, Glenn Sacks and Richard Smaglick argure that advertisers often default to men as “irresponsible fathers and lazy, foolish husbands,” and that’s a bad decision.

They cite a number of sources including a 2005 Leo Burnett “Man Study” that found that 4/5 of men surveyed felt they were portrayed incorrectly (where’s the ‘authenticity we keep hearing about?) and an incredible response to a host of articles and campaigns on the topic.

Sound like a Responsible Marketing backlash?

Smaglick is an advertising critic and the founder of the media-watchdog organization Fathers and Husbands. His advocacy group was founded in 2003 “in response to the increasing prevalence of negative representations of fathers, husbands and men in the mass media.”

Last year, it turned its attention to Arnold Worldwide claiming their ads for Fidelity bashed men. You’ve probably seen the Fidelity ads, as well as advertising for Radio Shack, Royal Caribbean, Nicoderm CQ, Truth and Jack Daniel’s. I know, interesting client mix.

For the most part, I haven’t had a problem with Fidelity’s advertising over the years. They are usually humorous, but not over the top.

Then I watched this video that combines a number of Fidelity’s ads:

I admit, seeing these ads end-to-end reveals a theme that isn’t flattering if you are father or a husband.

The last ad in the series features a woman in the lead role. It’s empowering on a number of levels, and taken on it’s own is worthy of real praise.

The contrast is palpable, isn’t it?

I know, we men are easy targets, but has Fidelity (and many other advertisers) taken it too far? Considering some of the challenges you men face today, is portraying fathers in this way socially responsible?

Or is this just innocent fun?

I’d love to hear your thoughts on this.

Please comment below to weigh in.

Join the discussion 8 Comments

  • Wow–that IS some contrast. We’ve come pretty far in 30 years. In the 50s through the 70s, these roles would have been reversed. IF you don’t believe me, watch old reruns of I Love Lucy.

    Still, now that they’ve got a clue about women…there is that other half of the population.

  • Shel,

    Though I’m 42, I’ve seen a lot of Lucy, Leave it to Beaver, Father Knows Best, etc. growing up. I don’t know what’s worse, “Suzy Homemaker” or “Rob the Rube.”

  • I notice that we’re suffering from what I call the “emasculation of America” in which, somehow, to be a guy (masculinity) is not acceptable and somehow morally wrong. I see this not only in advertising, but in film and television. Shows such as Everybody Loves Raymond and Home Improvement tend to make men out to be buffoons.

    I think that’s why I like films such as The Patriot, which depicts a flawed father as lover of his family, protector, provider, and willing to lay his life down for the people he loves and the cause he believes in.

    As a woman, I miss the strong guy-hero-loving dad-competent male figure. We’ve relegated guys to the role of the fool for too long, and its consequences are showing up in the lack of respect between the genders and even the lack of a moral compass, if you will.

    My friend (a guy) jokes, “If a guy speaks in the woods and there’s no one around to hear him, is he still wrong?” I find that funny but sad. We’re way out of balance, and I see evidence of our society starting to crumble because of it. Guys give up because they can’t do anything right, and women are frustrated because guys don’t do anything. We need to get back to empowering both women and men as filling different but equally valid and valuable roles in families, in the workplace, in the marketplace and the public square.

    Masculinity and femininity are meant to be complementary, with neither being subjugated to the other. It would be wonderful if marketers and filmmakers would create work that depicts men and women in truly mutual relationships rather than the one-up-one-down scenarios that are so common today.

    So there’s my not-at-all-politically-correct two cents’ worth.

  • Alvalyn,

    What a thoughtful post. When it’s articulated that way, I don’t see how anyone could possibly consider it “not-at-all-politically-correct.”

    Thank you for adding great thinking to the conversation!


  • MemeSmith says:

    I too find Alvalyn’s comment and ideals inspiring.

    But there are some related complexities we should consider. Hypergamy, the phenomenon of women marrying men of higher status, is universal throughout human cultures and history, and has deep instinctive roots. (That’s one of the reasons marketers push this button so often.) When a society affords equal status to men and women, men on average can’t provide the relative status differential that women seek in their mates.

    So, in such circumstances, women will need to share high status mates, settle for the frustration of an equal or lower status mate or go it alone. In any case, the family unit is seriously destabilized at a societal level.

    According to the Clinton and Bush administrations, fatherlessness is so strongly correlated with crime that adjusting for family configuration ELIMINATES the relationship between race and crime AND the relationship between low income and crime. The U.S. has 5% of the world’s population but 25% of its prisoners.

    Patriarchy was the answer, and it came at a price. Now that it’s dead, I think those who did away with it need to come up with an alternative. They can compete harder and harder for the dwindling pool of higher status men, but that doesn’t address the societal issue… because there simply aren’t nearly enough to go around. Their alternative needs to answer this question. How are tens of millions of you going to make men out of your tens of millions of sons when they don’t have fathers you respect, or don’t have fathers at all?

    This is based on the premise that women in general are not capable of being satisfied with men of equal status. As offensive as some of you might find this remark, this I believe is the most central truth to the broader question, and one that must be dealt with.

    But the problem’s much bigger than that. Review this chart and you’ll see that young women today have surpassed young men by such a large margin that the problem may be irreversible. The direct economic impact of men’s shortfall in post-secondary education exceeds $100 billion per year and will persist for decades even if the education gender gap is closed today.

    If this blog doesn’t block URL’s, the link is here:

  • ART says:

    Media and ads. make men into buffoons to make money pure and simple. Making women look silly and incompetent made the public laugh in the 1950s and 60s, but now it’s the men. Laughter equals revenue. One difference, however, between the two periods of time is that in the 50s and 60s media was much less influential in shaping public mores and behavior. Now, it’s very influential–something that has not gone unnoticed by radical feminism (RF). Another difference is that the male dominated society of the past did, in fact, celebrate females who accomplished successes. Amelia Airheart, Catherine Hepburn, Mary Tyler Moore are just three examples of such support of strong women by men. RF will do no such thing because they fear men in power–any celebration of masculinity is seen as threat or even an attack on women. Also, men in 50s and 60s were frequently criticized by women and society, but generally took this as constructive if the shoe fit. Now, women will take no criticism, no disagreement, no questions, no judgment–all of which makes me believe that their position is hollow and not well founded. Although I would say that most US women don’t actually hate men, most also do nothing to support men’s or boy’s rights. There is a great deal of passive aggression in the US focused on men by women. A large proportion of US women will node their heads in agreement, titter, laugh, or give knowing glaces to each other when witnessing men being made fools of, belittled, abused, or even verbally or physically attacked. Reverse roles here and imagine the RF outrage. From the time I was an young boy, I was generally told that women ‘don’t know what they want’. All these years later, it seems this was and is the case. For instance, RF has manage to create an entire generation of incompetent men and boys–males who aren’t very good at relationships and who don’t have the confidence it takes to accomplish things as adults. This is the perfect RF hypocritical scenario–attack and belittle males for 30 years and then take a great deal of satisfaction in decrying these fait accompli dolts when they have grown up. Simply put RF has created and continued to foment a vicious, solipsistic, calculated, manipulative and poisonous war against men and boys. These women will stop at nothing to have a completely feminize world in which the goals include being endlessly critical of men for ‘having an easy life’ and being endlessly unhappy. I believe that women are prone to a cognitive state of dissonance in which there is depraved satisfaction in finding fault with everything. In part this is evolution–women need to be more vigilant for things that threaten offspring and the family. In part, this is a product of too many choices and a society that brainwashes women into believing that one can have everything, with no downside. In the US we have nothing short of arrested adolescent development. No one grows up, but women dominate just as they do in adolescence because of sexual politics, and sexual politics is the major conduit for communication in US couples, meaning he will always lose. As long as RF can keep sexual politics as the primary form of communication, the US will continue to decline on all levels. I fear that the US will cease to be a nation within 60 years.

  • Woody says:

    I produced an event for Arnold Worldwide last week. It was the 4th WORST PLANNED event that I’ve been a part of in 30 years! The agent didn’t/wouldn’t listen, screwed up the power requirements, and would have totally blown the entire event had the good people at the charity not been prepared and so accommodating. Their Vendor forms were ridiculous, and now they’ve missed THREE PAYMENT DATES, with MORE EXCUSES and direct misrepresetations. I’ve NEVER told a client to GO SOMEWHERE ELSE. I told Arnold TWICE. That says it all. They call it ‘Experience Producing.” Yes, a TERRIBLE EXPERIENCE. And getting paid? Like pulling teeth. I’m posting this everywhere on the Internet till they honor your part of the contract. Arnold MUST be worldwide because they couldn’t last in my city for a week!

Leave a Reply