Ad Rant: Dockers ads claim "soft" khakis will make men more manly

Evidently, men's testosterone levels have been dropping, and so have sales of khaki pants. Coincidence? Dockers thinks not.

Dockers, the clothing manufacturer that once put the "casual" in casual Fridays, sees a connection-at least the kind you can use to fuel an ad campaign. They're planning to reverse society's terrible double trend by teaching today's men how to be men and how to dress with a slogan that flirts with being sexist: "Wear the Pants."

"It's time to answer the call of manhood," proclaims one of the new ads. It's nice to know that answering the call of manhood no longer has to involve winning at arm-wrestling when all you have to do is buy more khakis from Dockers.

Manning up has never been simpler.

The campaign debuted in early December, and the roll-out will include print, TV and billboards, plus a return to airtime during the Holy Grail of manly-man spectaculars: the Superbowl.

Here's the full "Man-ifesto" posted on the Dockers website:

"Once upon a time, men wore the pants, and wore them well. Women rarely had to open doors and little old ladies never crossed the street alone. Men took charge because that's what they did. But somewhere along the way, the world decided it no longer needed men."

Oh, goodie! A return to the grand old days when women weren't allowed to vote! It also sounds suspiciously like the successful media campaign after World War II that sought to convince women that it was more feminine (not to mention patriotic) to give up their jobs to men returning from war, and go back to doing more womanly things, like vacuuming the rug.

Just because the Docker ads are tongue in cheek does not mean they're not sexist. It's one thing to encourage men to man up, another to tell them to "wear the pants" -- an expression that taps directly into the old question: "Who wears the pants in this family?" There are only two possible answers: the man of the house, or the woman who has been stealing his thunder. "Wear the pants" is a call to arms, even when used jokingly, that says the only way to be a man is to put women in their place. That's right, women are too weak to open doors for themselves!

The ads also take an unnecessary swipe at gay men through the use of common wink-wink stereotypes. According to Dockers, a real man doesn't eat at salad bars or order non-fat lattes.

If Dockers is going to make he-men of their customers, they certainly have their work cut out for them. They have launched a new line of "soft khakis" to compete with runaway sales of jeans. They'll have to find a way of linking hot-blooded masculinity to "soft" fabrics "in a sophisticated palette of colors," including "Cottonwood" and "Oregano." (True, they also have "Marine" and "Leather," but it sounds as if "Oregano" is meant for the sap at the salad bar.)

In an interview with Brandweek, Jennifer Sey, the company's vice president of global marketing, listed the traits of "the modern idea of a man," the kind who really should be stocking up on several pairs of khakis in a sophisticated palette of colors. She put "sensitivity, chivalry, ambition, decisiveness" on her wish list. She also said that the new promos are meant to "inspire today's men to be men." This may prove worrisome to the company's female customers. What will Dockers do with their women's line of "Metro pants" that come in that feminine hue of "Cavalry"?

Dockers already has a lock on a certain kind of customer, those middle-aged men who, in Sey's words, "want to look good, but not stand out." Now they're going after younger men, "more style-involved, not style-leading."

In other words, Dockers has no desire to be cutting-edge. They just want a few good men to step up to the plate. In khakis, of course.
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