Label-obsessed marketers dig themselves into a hole

Marian Salzman has killed off the metrosexual in one fell swoop and discovered the happy nappy-changing ubersexual. Let’s not poo-poo the work of advertisers

You may recall the infamous case of Piltdown Man, but did you know that much the same thing goes on to this day in the world of advertising and marketing?

Back in 1914, an amateur archaeologist by the name of Charles Dawson was poking around the mud in Piltdown Common in Sussex when he unearthed a sensation, the fragment of a skull that proved man was indeed descended from the apes. The discovery caused wild fluttering in the dovecots of anthropology and archaeology, where the “missing link” between primates and humans was the Holy Grail – belief translated into something real and tangible.

Sadly, it was a hoax. Piltdown Man, like John Prescott many years later, was half orang-utan and half man. But the fraud did nothing to arrest the ceaseless quest for the key that would unlock the mystery of humankind, its origins, its nature, its purpose. Archaeologists still ply their trowels in desert and plain, and occasionally the bleak terrain echoes a whoop of excitement when the femur of a long-lost relative turns up. But their progress is faltering and slow. The real action takes place not amid ancient ruins, but in the glass towers of Madison Avenue, the US, where new men are discovered almost daily. But, like Piltdown Man, these creatures are an amalgam of different varieties of ape and exist solely in the imagination of their creators. The trick is to breathe life into these monsters by giving them a name, preferably something that trips easily from the tongue.

The latest, hot from the perspiring brow of Marian Salzman, executive vice-president of JWT, is the “ubersexual”. This lumbering hominoid, part clichéd prefix, part bad joke, supplants the “metrosexual” who, we are told, has gone the way of the Neanderthal and whose remains can now be seen only in New York’s least fashionable bars. Metrosexual man became extinct, says Ms Salzman, because he was just too feminine. He took longer to get ready than his girlfriend and wore cosmetics more fragrant than hers.

By contrast, the ubersexual “marks a return to the real man of yesteryear – strong, resolute, fair”. He is, says Ms Salzman, “poised not only to change a nappy but to discuss how he feels about it”. In this respect he is closer to the missing link than the Piltdown Man. For only a creature with an imperfectly formed brain would pause before changing a nappy and, while the infant still mewled and puked, declaim the innermost feelings aroused by the impending union of padding and pudenda.

Though Ms Salzman may not know it, advertising itself regularly throws up recognisable types who may be readily categorised, itemised, filed and banished from memory.

There is the Feminist Fantasist, a woman advertising executive who, taking the witterings of focus groups at their face value, retires to her executive suite to mould the findings into a wholly new kind of male different from any that has gone before.

There is the Socio-Stigmatist, who takes an entire sex or class and attaches a label to it, hence yuppies, preppies, dinkies, and so on.

There is the Desperate Doodler. a common type, this adman (or woman) is bereft of the Great Idea that will catapult him into Adland’s Hall of Fame. There he sits, plastic coffee cup in hand, feet nervously tapping amid endless screwed-up balls of paper littering the deep-pile carpet, Caran d’Ache worn as low as his nails. He is quite likely to invent ubersexual man.

There is the Batty Behaviourist. He, poor soul, truly believes that sociology, psychology and similar pseudo-science carries genuine meaning. He is just as likely to come up with ubersexual as the Desperate Doodler, the difference being that he really believes his creations exist.

There is the Crazy Categoriser. Again, similar to the Desperate Doodler and the Batty Behaviourist, but with eyes that swivel and a lip that foams. His office carpet is not only littered with paper but also chewed at the edges.

The Acronym Anorak is less interested in creating human types than in inventing clever names with which to describe them. His is called on by the Socio-Stigmatist in order to make the commonplace memorable.

Then there is the Alliterative Allegorist. Every one of the examples cited above owes a debt to this species. The alliterative phrase, though often not as effective as the acronym, serves a similar purpose, ie to catch the butterfly attention of the popular press and thereby bring some publicity the way of the agency. God willing, it may also further the career of its creator. It is to the Alliterative Allegorist that we owe the labeling of the Ubersexual Upchucker – the man who tried to change a nappy and failed. â¢

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