Men not buying what celebrities in their undies are selling

In January, Justin Bieber appeared in a Calvin Klein underwear ad. It was the latest in a long line of underwear ads that sexualize and objectify men. But recently, male consumers have been pushing back against this trend.
Justin Bieber is the latest performer to appear in an ad campaign for Calvin Klein. (Calvin Klein)

In January, Justin Bieber appeared in a Calvin Klein underwear ad. It was the latest in a long line of underwear ads that sexualize and objectify men.

The ad that started it all in 1991 featured  Mark Wahlberg — then known as Marky Mark — in his underwear with a similarly-attired female model.

Calvin Klein almost single-handedly transformed men's underwear from a basic into a fashion item through the use of high-end photography, celebrity models and blatant sexuality.

Soon, almost all underwear brands were running the same kind of sexy ads.

In this 2010 Armani ad, soccer great Cristiano Ronaldo wanders around his hotel room in his underwear, clearly looking for something. A female housekeeper pretends to be oblivious, but when she finds the T-shirt he's looking for, she secretly keeps it as a souvenir.

Now jump ahead to 2015 and we discover Bieber in his underwear.

Unfortunately, Justin's dream was tarnished somewhat by persistent rumours that his anatomy required digital enhancement for the ads.

When Ad Age reported that some of Jon Hamm's Mad Men footage required Photoshopping for the opposite problem, both Jockey and Fruit of the Loom courted him as a model, so far unsuccessfully.

But it turns out that sexily posed, impossibly beautiful men with bulging underwear are starting to make male consumers uncomfortable. So now some underwear ads are moving in a new direction.

In this MeUndies ad, we see a man and woman — both in underwear — riding a tandem bicycle. The tone is playful, certainly not sexy.

Other brands show models turned modestly away from the camera, or not revealing the underwear at all, like NFL star Tim Tebow in Jockey ads.

Aren't men lucky that most ads are still made by men? Therefore, when overtly sexual and objectifying ads offend the delicate sensitivities of male consumers, those ads are discontinued.

Contrast this with female consumers who have manfully shouldered sexist, degrading underwear ads for decades.

Here's how another men's underwear brand reduces the discomfort for male consumers. We see a woman modelling Mark Weldon underwear in highly sexualized poses.

By taking the sexualization away from the male form and putting it back on the female form — even when advertising a men's product — male marketers are able to keep male customers happy. How women feel is apparently irrelevant.

Bruce Chambers is a syndicated advertising columnist for CBC Radio.