IT’S 11.30am, which means it’s time to ogle. Or at least it is if you remember that ‘Diet Coke Break’ ad from the early 1990s.
An ad that featured frenzied women in an office informing each other it was 11.30am before rushing to the window to leer at a bare-chested beefcake on a neighbouring building site.
It was an ad where the camera lingered on the hunk’s smouldering good looks and rippling muscles and on the effect these had on the women, all of whom are eating him with their eyes as he drinks his can of Diet Coke.
It was also an ad that marked the beginning of a new era. No longer was it only men who ogled women. Women were now encouraged to openly ogle men. And if the ads since then have proved anything — ads that have showcased some of the sexiest male bodies of our time — once we start ogling, we simply can’t stop.
Brad Pitt set our pulses racing in an ad for Levis in 1991. Stubblefaced Brad is released from prison into the desert. A mean prison guard has withheld his jeans, which means that Brad is semi-naked in the sunshine. It’s cruel for Brad but oh so kind for his female viewers.
Even when his girlfriend turns up with a pair of 501s for him to wear, the focus doesn’t switch to her. The camera knows what we want to see and it’s all about Brad. More than 20 years after that ad was shown, the success of his recent Chanel No 5 ad proves Pitt still has what it takes to make female knees knock.
Levis caused even more knee trembling in 1985 with a young heartthrob called Nick Kamen. Set in a laundrette in 1950s America, girls are soon gasping and giggling as he strips to his boxer shorts.
Many more brands have followed in the wake of these popular advertising campaigns. David Beckham is rarely seen on a billboard these days with his clothes on. He has flashed his honed body for Armani, showcased his strapping muscles for his own fragrance and stripped for H&M, among others.
Women have continued to drool as handsome men in various states of undress have been paraded before us. When we saw Mark Wahlberg modelling Calvin Klein boxer shorts, we saw his rippling muscles and the bulge in his pants long before we paid any attention to the pants themselves.
Cristiano Ronaldo was another hit with the ladies in his advertising campaign for Armani. Abs of steel, thighs that could crunch nuts at a hundred paces and a knowing look that seemed to read our naughty little minds made him a man to fuel our fantasies.
In fact, there’s a fantasy man out there for all the ladies. If muscular types don’t do it for you, there are others to choose from. There’s seductive George Clooney playing on his reputation as a charmer to sell coffee, all roguish eyes and cheeky comments. Or there’s Daniel Craig striding out of the sea in a tight pair of swimming trunks as James Bond — instantly winning over a generation of women to the franchise which had previously been only for boys.
What does all of this mean? Some of the messages being conveyed by such advertising are positive ones. Women are seen as being just as sexual as men and just as likely to appreciate the sight of a beautiful body. It could also be said that these ads are a sign that women have become emancipated enough to be able to revel and rejoice in their sexuality.
But there are negatives, too. Social commentators have long argued that decades of portraying women as sex objects have resulted in all sorts of problems for women, ranging from eating disorders and low self-esteem to a rise in rape culture and sexism.
Instead of addressing the issue of female objectification, have we merely transferred the problem to men? Some commentators have already claimed that this is causing poor body image and similar problems in men. Women have suffered at the hands of the media for long enough; do we really want our men to suffer too?
As you decide on the answer to this question, Diet Coke Man is back. This year is the 30th anniversary of the launch of Diet Coke and the brand is celebrating by treating its female fans to a new hunk. British model Andrew Cooper plays a sexy gardener mowing the lawn in a park. He gets soaked by a jet of Diet Coke and gives a gang of nearby girls a steamy show when he removes his T-shirt and reveals his chiselled torso. It’s already clocked up 0.5m hits on YouTube, in a few days.
Get set to ogle all over again, ladies. It’s almost 11.30.
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