Monday, January 10, 2011

Mantrol and Manghurt?

One of the great traditions of New Zealand advertising is that no portrayal of masculinity can be too over-the-top or too ridiculous to sell beer.

However, recently beer's place as the pinnacle of ridiculous masculinity by some products which are less deeply ingrained in NZ's idea of manhood - such as Yoghurt. Yes the same dairy product that made Sarah Haskins famous:

Ok now we've had that break for the awesomeness that is Sarah Haskins we have to go back to this bizarre new development in New Zealand which is manly yoghurt. What is manly yoghurt, well it's thick, packed with nuts and seeds and comes in flavours such as Apricot Manuka Honey, Mango Coconut Flakes, Lemon Passionfruit, and Apple Blueberry.

So how do you sell the idea that the official food of woman in apricot and manuka honey flavour is manly? Silly question - all you need is to emphasise misogyny, homophobia and the extreme danger of girl germs. This is from their website:

Man. It used to be the best job title in the world.

Man has lost his place in the world and his place in the fridge. There are scarce few products we can call our own. At Mammouth Supply Company, we've decided to do something about this and offer men something for men - non-nonsense, fill-you-up yoghurt, iced cofee and ice cream.
The boxes come with simple instructions about what men do and don't do - they do eat yoghurt but only manly yoghurt, but stay away from all things that might ever have been coded women or gay (although I do recommend reading the packages at the supermarket - they're even more ridiculous than you can imagine).

I find this deeply weird. I can guess the origins of these products. Fonterra was sitting round worrying about what to do with all its milk and thought "Men! We need to get men to consume more milk derived products." But does this really resonate? Who could it possibly resonate with? Do people suddenly forget that apricot honey is a body lotion flavour if there's enough homophobia on the packet?

And that's not even the strangest form of masculinity advertising products let me introduce mantrol:

There's also two shorter versions that makes it even clearer that according to some arms of the state New Zealand masculinity is about pakeha well-resourced homo-social leisure time.

I honestly don't understand these ads (but I am sometimes very slow about some aspects of NZ masculinity - I used to often have to have tui billboards explained to me). Is the point supposed to be MANLY THINGS! MANLY THINGS! MANLY THINGS! MANLY THINGS! DRIVING SAFELY IS ALSO MANLY BECAUSE IT'S IN THE AD WITH THESE OTHER MANLY THINGS! STOP KILLING PEOPLE!

I'd understand that. Even if I don't really understand the association between BBQ, cricket, video games, and not killing people, I can see NZTA's point. I'm sure they have many many statistics that show that the demographic they're targetting (I'm guessing it's young pakeha men) are dangerous drivers, and probably they've reached the time when they want address it head on.

But then there's this line: "If we're not in full control of such a manly thing [as driving] then what does this all mean? [and he gestures to many different depictions of homosocial leisure]"

And at that point I stop being amused, or weirded out, or confused, and become angry. That a government agency would spend millions of dollars reinforcing the idea that to be manly is to be in control sickens me. As if that idea wasn't deeply ingrained enough. As if it wasn't understood by so many women who have been at the receiving end of men's control.

That's the problem - each piece may not seem like much. Portrayals of masculinity can seem ridiculous and insignificant - it's just an ad, just a piece of packaging, just a beer company. But each piece normalises an idea of what it means to be a man that is so damaging for men and women and for men who conform to it and for men who don't. And those who want to use it to sell their products seem to be winning over those who want to tear it down.


  1. Yes. Yesyesyesyesyesyesyes. Very well said. I try to engage with TV and radio as little as possible but I've seen the Mantrol ads around Wellington and the ridiculous yoghurts in the supermarkets and they baffle and annoy me. It's enough of a challenge redefining what it means to be a man without all this bullshit.

  2. Anonymous1:03 pm

    Yes, it is ridiculous. Such an obvious ruse to get men like myself to buy yoghurt. I like and eat yoghurt and haven't ever felt ashamed of eating it, perhaps other men are? If so, they are terribly insecure, illustrated by this ad campaign.

    I drive safely and I think the driving ad for mantrol is a bit useless. I haven't noticed any homophobia in the ad.

    However, attacking these ads for proposing an idea of manliness, for striving to identify with men and identify men - is a bit ridiculous. How many ads out there for womens' products have featured an emasculated portrayal of men? More and more often I see ads where the man is some stupid 'mere male' and this is apparently totally acceptable. If we men have to put up with Homer Simpson type characters in advertising to boost women's egos, then the rest of you can put up with a bit of mantrol. Its hardly that unsettling.

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