Milk Tray Man does nothing to save men’s equity from all-time low


It’s a pretty shit time to be a man, right now.

Donald Trump has reached some real lows with his outdated, old-fashioned and unrepresentative views but plunged new misogynistic depths last weekend with the groping tape scandal.

Regrettably, as a man, it’s another nail in the coffin; another event in our day-by-day diminishing.

In entertainment, we’ve been sickened by Saville, Rolf Harris and Max Clifford.

In sport, we’ve been cheated by Lance Armstrong and corrupted by Sepp Blatter, Fifa and the IOC.

While in politics, where do I start… deceived by Tony Blair, abandoned by David Cameron. The list goes on and on.

All in all, our equity as men is at an all-time low.

Imagine my disappointment then at another X-Factor premiere last weekend which saw Fallon and Cadbury’s – such a formidable and culture-defining force back in 2007 with ‘Gorilla’ – relaunching the Milk Tray man.

The film shows the new Milk Tray Man descend at speed over the Mongolian Steppes in a wing suit, parachute into a camp and mount a white stallion before breaking-and-entering to leave behind his familiar calling-card of a box of chocs and a selfie (I mean, who on earth prints their photos any more…?).

The film, while cinematic in production values, is utterly archaic in every other value going, a throwback to the 1970s that offers nothing new or relevant to the narrative of what a modern man is and should be.

How did they miss such a big opportunity?

How did they land on such tired storytelling?

How did they end up in such a cultural cul-de-sac?

On the flip side, women are embracing a new age, stretching new horizons and definitions of who they are and their role in society.

In our industry, we’ve seen the Cannes award-winning campaigns Like a Girl(2014) and This Girl Can (2015). And most recently, we’ve seen H&M redefine what ‘Ladylike’ means by sticking two fingers up at female stereotypes and redefining what society considers feminine.

In wider culture, at the cinema this week two major new releases have been fighting for attention: Bridget Jones’s Baby and The Girl on the Train – two box-office favourites with female characters in a leading role.

The Girl on the Train, based on the best-selling novel that’s sold 11 million copies worldwide, follows Gone Girl (7 million copies sold worldwide plus $400m grossed at the box office) and the literary phenomenon the Girl with the Dragon Tattoo trilogy (80 million copies sold worldwide).

The point is that – from a storytelling point of view – women are in an exciting social and cultural space at the moment – they have momentum. We are finding fresh, new ways to tell their stories, because their stories make great stories.

But the same can’t be said for men. Like the Milk Tray Man, we are stuck in an old world of tired stereotypes.

Men’s current all-time nadir should give women the purpose and encouragement to press onwards and take over. Move beyond equal rights and equal opportunities and look beyond men, full stop. We should be no benchmark whatsoever to the advance of women in culture and society. Leave us behind and stride out and make your own path.

Don’t look for equality; surpass us.

Don’t accept parity; better us.

Men have been in charge for way too long. And like any great superpower, we are collapsing.

Looking ahead to 8 November and the US election, this shift in power is beautifully encapsulated in Trump versus Clinton. As ever, the US presidential election is rarely won or lost on policy: it’s about the force of personality and often who is surfing the dominant zeitgeist.

With Obama, it was about race: the first black man to be president.

With Hillary, it’s about gender: the first woman to be president.

But to win that battle means overcoming more than just the male opposition in front of her. It’s about overcoming the colossus of patriarchy. And the great thing is that we are ALL rooting for her. We want her to win. We want her to beat him. Because hand-on-heart we just can’t let another man in power let us down.

So back to Cadbury’s and Milk Tray.

When such an iconic character is brought back to our screens, I expect much, much more than this lazy, indulgent, retrospective bullshit. Advertising is dead. It’s no longer enough to buy media and advertise a product to a watching audience.

We have a duty to do and say more.

In a report published earlier this year, Mintel highlighted that over the last few years the representation of men in marketing campaigns has become out of step with reality, and that as a result, “Half of all men admit that they are largely apathetic towards advertising … unable to identify with the men they see in ad campaigns.”

Surely there are brands out there with an appetite to change the status quo, do something different and take the opportunity to properly connect with powerful storytelling that engages men in a new and relevant way.

Tom Ellis-Jones is client director at ZAK.

Read the full article in The Drum.