Sunday, July 22, 2012

What Men Want More than Sex…a Surprising Insight Brought to You by the Makers of Fine Whisky

In the years before Hulu Amanda and I consumed visual media almost entirely through DVD’s.  This meant that my exposure to commercials was limited to my occasional trips to sports bars to watch the Badgers, Sox, Kings, Sabers or Dolphins.[1]  So for years I had a very skewed sample of the kind of 30 second spots that the industry was generating.  Let’s just say, I’ve seen more than my share of beer ads.  And it became clear, pretty quickly, that if you are marketing alcohol, and the appropriate unit of measure for cleavage content in your commercial isn’t meters,[2] you’re just not trying. 
As ‘they’ say, sex sells.  And it turns out ‘they’ are right.  A spate of new (and sometimes disturbing[3]) research demonstrates that association of mundane objects with sexual arousal induces the same arousing brain chemicals (and reduces willpower) when the mundane objects are introduced in a sexually innocuous setting. 
Bottom line.  Sexual marketing is effective.  Which is what made this commercial[4] so striking:
The most striking thing about this ad is what it lacks: Women.  There is a single brief exchange with a woman.[5]  The alcohol in question is not offered as some sort of sexual elixir, but as a catalysts of friendship.  It makes me wonder….As our culture grows more alienated and alienating[6]…is there something that men want more than sex?  Is there a desire that marketers are tapping into that is more powerful than our procreative impulses? 
I think the answer is yes.  I think you could argue that substantial community and authentic friendship are the more fundamental (or at least the more neglected) human need.  In his recent survey on the science of human flourishing[7], David Brooks cited a study which concluded that “joining a group that meets even just once a month produces the same happiness gain as doubling your income."  The sexualization of our culture and our obsession with romantic narratives[8] has led to a glaring lack in our platonic connectedness, and has left us poorer for it.  The Christian narrative could have told us this was how that would play out.  But in lieu of listening to ancient wisdom, a whisky commercial tells the same story.
[1] One of the advantages to growing up hundreds of miles from the closest pro or D1 sports team is flexible loyalties.  I was not tied to childhood choices by the laws of sports bigamy.  In some cases (Red Sox, Dolphins) I kept my childhood teams chosen for childhood (enjoyment of mascots) and adolescent (contrarian annoyance with Yankee and Bills fans growing up in upstate NY) reasons.  In other cases, I was free to take on the teams of the various towns I lived in (Madison, Buffalo, and Sacramento). 
[2] Or yards if you must…but, really? 
[3] In Predictably Irrational Dan Aierly describes a study (that he needed to get European sponsorship for because US funding sources were not comfortable with it) that involved…let’s just say, providing the male subjects with ‘special,’ protected, laptops that were not vulnerable to damage from stray…‘fluids.’
[4] Which turns out to be a trailer for a short film, but I didn’t catch that from my first couple viewings, so I am treating it as stand alone content.
[5] That could be described as warm or even respectful
[6] Mainly because entertainment has become increasingly refined and individualized…but the workplace is also moving in those directions.
[7] The Social Animal, I used this quote a couple years ago when it showed up in his NY Times column and used it again in a recent talk. 
[8]I also think that focusing our romantic narratives on sexuality and ‘falling in love’ (or a peculiar 18 month dopamine surge at the beginning of relationships) has exacerbated this…because many marriages are not built on substantial friendships. 

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

The mention of 'alienation' in relation to marketing really really intrigues me. Marx spoke a lot about alienation in capitalist societies and how it drains human beings from opportunities to be social and live in organic, creative spaces. I am no Marxist or socialist, I personally think alienation is a human problem (a perfect vehicle to enact the process discussed in James 1:14-15) more than a political problem and it is rampant and dangerous in so many different ways.

Your analysis of this commercial really made it more and more evident. Sex sells, but the simple relational stimulation may be just as compelling.

Thanks for sharing.