Man vs. Emotion: Phone booths, Bear Grylls.......and pants
They’re only pants.
It’s just a bunch of fabric sewn together to cover off somebody’s legs, butt and crotch in one easy garment – aka pants. It’s no wonder Dockers has to shoot a little higher when it comes to creating the necessary desire to purchase them. How do you set your brand of “pant” apart from all the other brands of “pant” out there? You could try cool but that’s a pretty tough one to maintain. First off, if you’re trendy it only lasts for a blink before you’re headed for the discount bin plus the ads you have to employ almost always feature way more skin than actual pants anyway – and really, who wants to see the average Dockers owner naked, or even without a shirt on? Yeeewwww..... Now obviously outfits like Diesel, Billycock and Lucky are willing to play these games but Levi Strauss and Co. have actual, grown up shareholders they have to answer to. Stability matters. So if of-the-moment trendy is off the table pitch-wise what’s left? How about sincere, moving emotion? Check – so Dockers made some ads. One hits the mark, the other, not so much.
The first ad features Bear Grylls. Now you must have heard of Bear Grylls. The Man vs. Wild guy? That urine-chugging lunatic that routinely has himself dropped into all manner of inhospitable locales around the globe so that he might educate us all on how to survive with little more than a buck knife and a truncated gag reflex. Well he’s Dockers new go-to guy (even though Discovery just cancelled his show – whoops) and while the decidedly over-the-top nature of his character might seem a stretch at first for a brand like Dockers, his personal story is actually pretty compelling.
The spot opens with Bear sitting on a rock and untangling some climber’s rope. He’s talking to camera, reminiscing really, about a poster his father had given him years ago. It was of Mt. Everest and it adorned the wall in his room, and young Bear was captivated by it. His monologue continues as he recalls years later being in the British Special Forces in Southern Africa and doing a parachute jump – a jump that apparently went horribly wrong. He ended up breaking his back in three places and spending the next 18 months in rehab back in the UK. And here’s where the commercial really pulls you in. He speaks of how dark his mood was, how hard it all was and how the focus of his recovery became that poster his father gave him – Everest. Those close thought he was crazy but he persevered and Bear Grylls, at the age of 23, went directly from his hospital bed to Nepal and ended up becoming one of the youngest men to ever climb Everest. The commercial effectively drives home the raw power of following one’s dreams in the face of setbacks and challenges – and wraps the whole wonderful mess in a rather fetching pair of Dockers khakis. Perfect tone, perfect pitch. That ad makes me want Dockers pants.
Unfortunately, the other ad did not. This one had no star or personality. It featured a phone booth, several in fact. Now for our younger readers a phone booth was where you once went to make a telephone call when you were away from home. It was a tiny little glass room that often smelled like urine or feces (in the city) where those with a pocketful of change or a willing contact who would accept collect charges could go to make a call. Today these anachronisms are disappearing thanks to cell phones and the entire Dockers spot features stunning images of run down, dilapidated, abandoned telephone booths. All are photographed with great care and (yes) much emotion as sparse, and slightly depressed, piano notes play in the background.
As the sight of all these broken down phone booths finally comes to an end, the voiceover asks a question “When the very last phone booth crumbles into dust where will all the superheroes change their clothes?” Cut to a very typical Docker-ite wearing the modern business-casual khaki uniform of Dockers, checked shirt and tie leaving his home. “Probably at home” is the answer. Ah, yes. We normal folk are the true superheroes and we all change at home now. Great, great. But what about all those dying phone booths?
That ad made me invest in the death of phone booths and literally made me want to cry – and then they end it by acting like it’s no big deal? No big deal? We should have a telethon, or a walk to save the dying phone booths! It actually made me feel crummy – and left me feeling nothing about pants, which is what I thought this was supposed to be about. It’s like some ad guy filmed all these cool phone booth images and then tried to find a use for them after the fact. Seriously, this commercial just so totally tone-deaf to what Dockers appears to be trying to say. If they had handled the Bear Grylls version this ham-fistedly Bear wouldn’t have ever climbed Everest – he’d have learned to love his new life as a forensic accountant who makes taffy on weekends – or some other idiotic thing that has ABSOLUTELY NOTHING TO DO WITH WHAT HE WAS TALKING ABOUT.
So here I sit – contemplating my pants. Do I want to dress like Bear Grylls so I might better attack challenges and climb the many mountains I face or do I maybe want to laugh at the dying telephone booth secure in the knowledge that I get changed at home – and that I am actually a superhero versus some numbnuts in twill? I thought I knew but now I’m so confused. Maybe I’ll just skip the pants and wear shorts instead. Or Speedos.