Male ad icons: What goes around comes around

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Like the periodic reincarnations of the Dalai Lama, it appears Tanqueray's Mr. Jenkins has been recently reborn as Glenfiddich's Brock Savage (see p. 21). There's a male-pattern boldness to the conceit. I can just see the hot tub out back of a bar somewhere. Making room for Brock, alongside the mandatory babes, we might spot the Dubonnet Man, Commander Whitehead, Bartles & Jaymes, Max Headroom, Captain Morgan, Joe Camel and old Mr. Jenkins.

Each in his own way has served in print as the artificial guru for horny young men anxious about women and the ways of adult stupefaction. These aspirational masculine icons all share a positioning disregard for product or consumer as Hero, but there are some important differences between them. A.M. Cassandre's Dubonnet Man sort of started the role in 1935. This beverage's light-hearted continental brand character found himself in broad-ranging settings imbibing the goods, but he never much let on to his philosophical underpinnings. David Ogilvy kicked off Commander Whitehead's Schweppervescence run from 1953 to 1971. The guy was real-a WW II vet who owned the company-but the ad character was pure aristocratic contrivance, whether on safari or delivering the stuff by private helicopter over Manhattan.

The 1980s brought Bartles & Jaymes, Hal Riney's hand-crafted shills for wine coolers. The opposite end of hipster, they were a relatable alternative to the "greed is good" crowd. Hal knew that when you can fake sincerity, your brand heritage is halfway home. Working the other side of the tracks in 1985, pseudo computer-generated Max Headroom (actor Matt Frewer) was hawking New Coke. This uber-hipster icon was "20 minutes into the future" and only moments away from meltdown with the legendary disastrous drink.

Meanwhile, cartoon character Joe Camel remined the turf of the Dubonnnet Man and Commander Whitehead. He didn't jabber on... he was smokin'! Like his precursors, he simply appeared in countless groovy scenarios, often surrounded by babes-a silent-but-studly role model for the immature dude crew of the '80s. In a similar cartoon character vein, Grey tried a Mentos-meets-"Alive with Pleasure" culture-jamming vibe, reinvigorating old Captain Morgan in torturous fashion. He continues to this day, setting the tone for spiced rum drinkers, a pretender to coolness for the post-ironic faux humor crowd.

By 1994, Tanqueray had bad news from the 25-34 focus groups; it seems the sauce was "stuffy, aloof, somewhat irrelevant." Strolling to the rescue was one Ridgley Harrrison, spotted in an issue of Town & Country. Recast by Donny Deutsch & Co., he was reborn by collage illustrator Richard Osaka as the continental Mr. Jenkins, who was charitably described in The New York Times as "a raffish sport who seems as comfortable at a funky downtown club as he is at a tony uptown bistro." Mr. Jenkins was the fully-formed prototype for what we now find in a new century: continental, older, surrounded by hot chicks and wannabe dudes, confidently referencing his colorful past or philosophizing on the current scene. He's the debonair British gatekeeper to a Never-Neverland for college-age male imaginations. He's tongue-in-cheek and overtly artificial. But Jenkins was sent to the rear of the liquor cabinet in May 1999. And since generations now turn in nano-seconds, we open those doors in 2004 to find Brock Savage beaconing us toward the dusted-off Glenfiddich. It's hard not to believe the focus groups and the creative brief were pretty much what Deutsch encountered back in the '90s.

For all I know, 10 years ago Brock was hanging with the dudes in the background at old man Jenkins' party scene. In one Tanqueray print ad back then, Mr. Jenkins toasted the return of the macrame bikini. In print and on Glenfiddich's website now, Brock Savage modestly claims credit for inventing the "string bikini." Same old, same old. So I figure, somewhere in the gang around Brock right now, there's yet another acolyte awaiting his turn to be reborn as the ironically-manufactured alcohol brand-character role model for the generation of boys absentmindedly sucking on juice boxes today.

Ken Anderson is CD at Seven Worldwide in Los Angeles.

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