For years now, advertisers have employed the notion of ‘extremeness’ to woo that tricky demographic of males aged under 30.
As any Chad, Griff or Corey can tell you (through a miasma of Lynx, between epic gulps of Mountain Dew and Pepsi Max), extremeness is the language of Jackass, Ultimate Fighting Championship and parkour, of Michael Bay movies and amps turned up to 11.
Extremeness is an appealing way to sell stuff because it’s spectacular and, when done well, sublime in the philosophical sense, inspiring in the beholder a dizzying feeling of reverential respect mixed with fear and wonder. Or, as the target market would say, “Awesome!” You want to associate your product with that.
However, when it’s done badly, it’s the TV series Extreme Dinosaurs. (“Veloci-tossin’ to the max/They’ll fossilise ‘em in their tracks!”) Or check out Powerthirst — a pisstake of every energy drink pitched at the same age bracket. You do not want to associate your product with that.
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And then there’s BBDO New York’s current online campaign for Gillette Fusion Power razors. Gillette is encouraging men to shave more than just their faces to attract the ladies — and it’s couched in a rhetoric of extremeness. Quite a clever pun, really: “Go further with body shaving”.
Yep. In a series of instructional videos, dudes can learn how to shave their heads, armpits, backs, chests, and what Gillette delicately calls the “groin”. Hilariously, they’re rather coy about exactly what’s being shaved – we hear about “hair down there” and “the area”, and the stylised cartoon man in the ad gets a pixellated groin.
In women’s depilation, extensive bikini-area hair removal is known as the “XXX”. Shaving your own balls? Now that’s eXXXtreme.
But don’t balls it up! “Think about the unique topographical features under your hood,” the ad urges, adding ominously that to “avoid putting your equipment at risk”, “short, light strokes” of the razor will “minimise nicks, cuts and scratches”. Eyes on the prize, fellas — “When there’s no underbrush, the tree looks taller”.
This might seem like extremeness done badly, but it’s no worse than the nonsense spouted in feminine hygiene commercials. And perhaps Americans have a high tolerance for horticultural body-hair euphemisms – see Schick’s rather distressing “Mow The Lawn” TV commercial for women’s bikini-line shavers.
And this isn’t even the first ad campaign to bring up the prickly topic of male intimate shaving. A rather more urbane tutorial is provided by Nivea For Men’s Active 3, a three-in-one shampoo, shower gel and shaving gel. “Start at the hairline and shave to the base using single strokes,” says a grave, James Bond-esque voiceover. “Never shave any area more than twice, unless you happen to enjoy razor burns.”
Meanwhile, back in 2006 Philips created the website ShaveEverywhere.com to advertise its Bodygroom shaver. Ad agencies Tribal DDB and Struck Creative won a swag of industry awards for the site, which included the “Bodygroom Manalogues”. Men could submit their grooming war stories to this parodic support group to “take comfort in knowing they are not alone in the struggle against unwanted body hair.”
Yet Gillette’s campaign has managed extremeness — even if only in the number of derisive blog posts and the stupidity of the discussion on YouTube. “I think they went a little extreme by including the groin,” Boston beautician Judy Fogarty told The Boston Herald. “But they’ve created lots of buzz. Lots of people are talking about it and that’s exactly what they want.”
Mel Campbell is publisher and editor of The Enthusiast.