Mop-wielding men in ads make most women roll their eyes and tut. But so do those ads where women appear to get their own back. Is there a solution that doesn't involve Benicio del Toro rippling his muscles, Pat Doherby wonders.

I am a woman. I may have a man's name. (In fact, at one job interview, the guy interviewing me admitted that he was expecting an Irish navvy.)

So, given the opportunity, I wholeheartedly and shamelessly admit that I like to see handsome blokes doing manly things. Call me old-fashioned ... well, I am. I don't particularly want to see some bloke mopping a floor or being teased for not knowing how to cook or keep the place tidy.

So why are we now seeing it in advertising on television?

We've had "new man", holding the baby and being sensitive. Now, it seems we have "girl power", where the ladeez get their own back on the boys for the sexist portrayal of women in the media.

But, men licking out toilets (Carling), wimpy guys mopping floors (Flash)? Is this what we women want? Surely that's just scoring points, a bit of tit (no pun intended) for tat after years of women pictured as sexy bits of fluff or nurturing drudges whose choice of washing powder made them a better mother/wife/lover.

We haven't striven for equal rights, equal pay and all the rest of it simply to cock a snook at wicked men and their wicked ways. Truth is, society is changing. We women are out there earning our own crust. We buy our own flats, drive our own cars and even have our own babies as sperm banks are becoming a more viable option.

So where does that leave men? Displaced and vulnerable. But that is no reason to emasculate them, or to reduce them to complete dullards.

I wouldn't want to be the bloke in the Direct Line ad. He takes the trouble to pick up his besuited beloved from the train station, only to be belittled in front of millions of viewers. First she can't believe he's managed to sort out the scratch on the car after his clumsy prang. Then she positively guffaws at the possibility he could clean the car himself. Blimey. What are they doing together?

One of the most level-headed portrayals of men was the Yellow Pages ad where the girl comments on the mess in the guy's flat and he pretends he's been burgled. A simple truth: single men on their own can be messy. It's not patronising, it's well-acted and he sensibly gets himself a cleaner.

So why doesn't the woman in the Flash ads? They've got a reasonably nice place that cost a few bob, so surely her affable chap doesn't have to search out the fastest way to clean the floor? And these days I've heard there are male cleaners too.

At least Karl in the Flash ads isn't being a sex object. According to Advertising Standards Authority statistics, 53 per cent of people were offended with the portrayal of men as sex objects in 1998 as opposed to 41 per cent in 1996.

And some women might cry: "Great, about time we got our own back." But it is not about that. It's about equality and fairness for all.

So I say, let's stop hitting back. I suspect that such ads are written by blokes attempting to capture the psyche of women today and empathise - but women, I think, are bigger than that.

Now, as for my perfect portrayal of a man in an ad? Well, Benicio del Toro in the Mercedes ad comes pretty close. A sexy guy doing a bit of wheeler dealering, driving a flash car? Not bad.


From advertising for cars (Ford Focus) to alcohol (Archers), it seems that, during the commercial break, men are being belittled and girls are coming out on top.

Everywhere, that is, except the current Yorkie campaign where the girls are struggling and the guys are setting the rules. The latest ad shows a girl masquerading as a man to buy a Yorkie. Indeed, the shop owner makes her go through a Q&A (which she fails) to prove she is bloke enough to buy the chocolate bar.

Yorkie's brand image has always been strongly associated with men, right from its launch in the 70s as the lorry driver's chocolate bar of choice. In new advertising designed to reinvigorate the brand, Nestle and its agency, J. Walter Thompson, took this tough, virile brand heritage one step further: Yorkie is not just the chocolate bar for men, it is also forbidden fruit for girls.

Men fighting back against women who seem to have colonised everything: would this concept be a turn-off for women? And would men warm to the idea of barring Yorkies to the opposite sex? Here was an advertising idea that would certainly stand out, but would it do so at the expense of alienating sections of its target market?

To find out, Nestle researched the ad idea using a qualitative research company, The Nursery, which specialises in brand communication research.

As is often the case in qualitative research, people don't necessarily say what they think. In this case there were some respondents (men as well as women) who displayed just such a contradictory approach- they laughed out loud at the ad when watching but then, in discussion, professed fierce disapproval of such a sexist positioning.

Many of the men began the research session by taking an ultra-politically correct stance and then, relaxed in the company of other men, let their guard down and began to let their truer feelings emerge. It was clear they liked the idea of advertising that didn't show men as underdogs and seemed to reclaim chocolate from women (compared with the ultra-feminine approach of Galaxy and Flake).

Many of the women, while professing themselves to be unhappy with the idea of chocolate forbidden to girls, still enjoyed the idea of a woman proving herself resourceful enough to rise to the challenge to get a Yorkie.

The key take-out of the research was that the humour was everything. It deflates the outrage and enhances the appeal (and memorability) of the idea. - Lucy Bannister is a partner at The Nursery.

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