Workwear retailer Duluth Trading Company demands you "get a pair" of their tough clothing. Men's clothing retailer Bonobos, on the other side, asks not whether you wear their skinny jeans, but whether you’ve evolved your definition of masculinity.
No? Well, you’d better get with the program, suggests its 90-second #EvolveTheDefinition video spot. A toxic brand of masculinity may be keeping your true male self from emerging, Bonobos’ campaign says.
Just a year after the hipster retailer’s purchase by Walmart, Bonobos is taking on the age-old macho notion of masculinity. This is deliciously ironic, because a "bonobo," according to the dictionary, is a kind of ape. Not just any ape, though. This ape wants us enlightened men to catch the gender-ethos evolutionary wave.
Bonobos’ spot shows men of various races – with funky hair and beards – being handed smartphones off which they read various definitions of masculinity: "Macho, manly, muscular, well-built, red blooded, strapping, strong, brawny, powerful..."
"My goodness," exclaims one man, clearly horrified. "None of these really sound like me," sniffs another. All subjects – except for one man, who seems comfortable with the trait of "powerful" – appear dissatisfied with the gender description on the screens. Bonobos’ conclusion: "You define your own masculinity." Being a man is "more a question of what it means to be human."
Yet the retailer leaves nothing up for debate. Men will now be defined in opposition to the masculine mythos.
Hold up, big Walmart brand. Haven’t we been redefining enough things these days? Most men know we’re not all Navy Seal bad-asses. The majority of us are aware we no longer live in a hunter-gatherer society.
Perhaps Bonobos had in mind the epidemic of school shootings and backlash against the Harvey Weinsteins of this world. What about the fact that one of the only Hollywood actors to stand up to the vile producer was a macho Brad Pitt, who ordered him to leave Gwyneth Paltrow alone or endure a pummeling? (Not advocating violence here, but a real man takes on Goliaths when necessary.)
After viewing 90 seconds of unironic virtue-signaling – devoid of any scintilla of irony, humor, and awareness that the online definitions that pop-up when a person Googles stuff merely reflect a mythical archetype – one wonders whether we’re going to change mythology itself. For starters, how shall we rename the Greek gods?
Disclosure: I usually wear J. Crew clothing. I’m not averse to funky socks or jeans with tapered legs (though I don’t like skinny ones, as I no longer run marathons).
I do prefer, however, to start conversations unburdened by preordained conclusions. How about we #EvolveTheDefinition of social media debate? A campaign could initiate conversation rather than digging in for extended trench warfare, which is dirty and means millennials’ rolled-over pant cuffs would get dirt in them.
Peter Burger is a marketing and communications writer and consultant in New York City.