Brand Communication Diaries - Neutrogena commercial uses humour to sell “Guys’ Guys” on a “Metrosexual” product.

Sarah Jane Johnson

OK, first of all this ad – by Toronto’s DDB – is just pretty darn funny, and deserves to be seen.  So that would be reason enough to share it.  But the reason it’s so funny is because it cunningly uses a great insight about men’s relationship to grooming and their appearance in order to reframe a product so that it can appeal to a wider audience.

Marketing Challenge:

Yes, the market for men’s grooming project is growing, especially amongst younger men.  But, Metrosexuals are still a small segment of the male population.  And for many “guys” out there, a “facial cleanser” is just way too, well, girly.   Plus, “guys” like to keep it simple.  Why mess around with a bunch of tubes and jars, when a nice bar of soap can do it all?

So the marketing challenge is…  How to overcome these barriers and tap into the big market of mainstream “guys”?   Neutrogena’s answer is to find a way to get them to rethink their approach to grooming.


The ad taps into the insight that, for many guys, too much concern about looking good is not manly; on the other hand, avoiding “grossness” is key.  Many men have a deep-seated fear that they might be disgusting in some unknown way – sweat, B.O., bad breath – these are the by-products of living a “manly” life.  So, for these guys, washing is not about looking better, but about “de-grossing” themselves.  If they’re confident they’re not gross, they’re all good.


To challenge their current approach to grooming, the ad slyly points out that if you really think about it, using one bar of soap for EVERYTHING is actually REALLY gross.  It forces the viewer to feel literally squeamish about a behaviour that has long been ingrained in most men.  Then Neutrogena Facial Wash becomes the hero, saving guys from grossness.

Engagement Factor

Much of the ad’s ability to engage comes from its exploitation of cultural taboo: “Junk” is not normally a topic for TV commercial, so this instantly grabs the viewer’s attention.  Plus, there is a bit of surprising misdirection, because based on category conventions, “Junkface” suggests acne.   Then, the constant repetition (a classic advertising device) reinforces the message that “Junkface” is an issue for ALL guys.

Local Wisdom:

Right from the top, this ad roots itself in a specifically Canadian context.  From the national map to the depiction of a range of Canadian “hoser” stereotypes, this ad makes it clear that is explicitly speaking to Canadian men, and letting them in on a joke all of them will get.

Lessons for Brands:

Although the best ads are driven by a single, highly focussed consumer insight, often there is a set of supplementary “micro-insights” that boost the ad’s impact, often rooted in rich cultural understanding.  Here, while the primary insight is about “avoiding grossness” (a perhaps universal male fear), that insight is reinforce by symbolic representations of “Canandian manliness”.  This kind of “secondary” insight helps deepen connections with your target.  It’s almost always worth asking, “Beyond the main insight, what else is going on here?”