Right around the time I began watching that suave alcoholic Don Draper crush it on "Mad Men," I inadvertently became an amateur student of the dark arts of advertising and marketing. This has made it almost impossible for me not to notice the way "stuff" is advertised to me.
I was thinking about how one advertises toward young men while I was getting a haircut. For some reason, all the haircut companies have decided to cater to heterosexual guys by incorporating an orgy of sports cliches into their cute little boutiques. Without naming names, I was sitting in the haircut chair at this establishment, surrounded by six TVs playing ESPN. The nice young lady asked me what I wanted. Answer: the same haircut I've been getting since age 6.
"How about the Grand Slam Home Run Package?" she asked. I declined. This is a favorite tactic of Big Trim: selling you on useless grooming shenanigans but dressing them up with names that are so hetero-normative you feel like a sissy girl for not taking them up on the cuticle scrub.
"We also have the Slam Dunk Facialized Big Man," she said. "Or the Fourth Quarter QB Scramble Touchdown Scab-Picking Skinned Knee" (which is like $76 and comes with a massage from this weird little vibrator-looking machine they kind of run over your shoulders).
"No, I'll just take the 6-year-old's haircut," I assured her.
Guys never think about how we're advertised to. We assume that because we've run the planet for the past 10,000 years we cannot be tricked the way women can with their conspicuous consumption of inessential items like purses and shoes and "tampons" (whatever those do). Men, however, are just as pathetic when it comes to advertisement and marketing symbology.
From beer to athletic shoes, it all vaguely calls to us, testing our bounds of masculinity. Have you ever noticed how many ad campaigns incorporate a theme of rugged individualism by asking you to conform to a specific product? Sprite still uses that weird slogan that represents a hybrid between glorification of the self-made man and abject corporate deference—actually using the word "Obey."
Then I'll encounter a product that I enjoy but simply cannot bring myself to purchase (vanilla soy milk singles in a purple package). These products will come packaged with design elements geared toward women attempting to avoid osteoporosis (the decadent vanilla magic of this low-calorie snack!), and my social conditioning, courtesy of Madison Avenue, will not allow me to enjoy them (Activia yogurt, too).
We are all living in one giant ad campaign called America where our leaders conjure slogans that speak to us ("Change" and "Hope" circa 2008), make us scratch our heads ("Forward" in 2012), or roll our eyes ("Restore America"—Mitt Romney presumably hearkening back to the glory days of the Iraq War and the credit bubble).
It's incredible when you think about it: The way glossy ad campaigns have come to shape not only our consumptive habits, our politics and our socialization, but our very psychology.
Not that I'm complaining: Just as long as Leo Burnett or Sterling Cooper Draper Price dresses that vanilla soy milk in a package shaped like a dumbbell ASAP.
RedEye special contributor Stephen Markley is the author of "The Great Dysmorphia" and "Publish This Book."
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