The Effects of “Hunkvertising”


In the past few months there have been a number of ads featuring men wearing next to nothing.  Adweek is calling this new phenomenon “Hunkvertising.” Anderson Davis, who stars in the new Kraft Zesty Italian salad dressing ads, is wearing less clothing with each newly released commercial or print ad. Renuzit is using partially dressed men to sell their air freshener and even Liquid-Plumr has gotten in on the act. The more obvious observation is that none of these products are inherently sexy, so it is odd that nearly nude men would be used to sell them. The second observation is that in addition to the men’s missing clothes, the backlash that typically follows over sexualized ads is also missing.

Where are the boycotts, the morning and evening news coverage, and the issued statement of apology from the company after said backlash? Organizations like One Million Moms and Parents Television Council have raised concern, but their concerns appear to be falling on deaf ears. Compare this response - or lack thereof, to similar ads from Go Daddy and Carl’s Jr. in which women were in equally compromising positions. These ads made national news, they were re-edited to be less sexual, and in some cases they were pulled from airwaves. Why are we so lax when it comes to the sexualization of men in advertising?

According to ad experts and social critics who were asked to weigh in on the subject in an article for Adweek, objectifying men is okay because it is seen as a joke.     When it comes to the objectification of women it is no laughing matter. Studies have shown that when women are objectified it can lead to body shaming, eating disorders, poor mood, and poor performance in school and work. Are we to believe that sexualized ads can have such adverse effects on women, but leave men completely unfazed? According to research from Cele Otnes, a University of Illinois marketing expert, the answer is no.

One of the most argued points against the objectification of women in ads is the profound effect it can have on a women’s body image. Yet Otnes’ research revealed that men who compare themselves to male stereotypes in advertising experience feelings of inadequacy and vulnerability. Furthermore, research conducted in 2012 revealed that more than 4 in 5 men (80.7%) talk in ways that promote anxiety about their body image by referring to perceived flaws and imperfections compared with 75% of women. Some going so far as to say they would sacrifice a year of their life in exchange for a perfect body.

Unfortunately, in the case of this new round of “Hunkvertising,” what’s bad for the male psyche is good for the bottom line. The click through rates for Renuzit have reportedly increased by 25% and the company’s Facebook likes have also increased significantly since the new “Hunkvertising” ads premiered. Likewise, the latest commercial for Kraft Zesty Italian salad dressing, in which model Anderson Davis has his shirt burned off, has been viewed nearly 2.5 million times on YouTube.

While we may be getting a laugh out of the recent invasion of shirtless men, it is dangerous for advertisers to glorify only one type of the male body as ideal. As much as we have called for responsibility in messages that target women, we must also pay attention to how messages affect men.

To read Adweeks’s take on “Hunkvertising,” click here: