The Book of Life
Michael S. Ackman
As you flip through a common magazine, you come across a page of red that catches your attention. On the red page, there is a picture of a group of men gathered around a pool table. The caption reads, “You’ve been friends since getting together for a drink meant the water fountain after recess.” In Jim Beam’s newest advertising series, they show the bonds and friendship common amongst males. This series sends many messages about life, and shows that while a man can stay young with his buds, he can still grow up as a person. I believe that these ads not only reinforce the importance of male bonding, but they can also offer an insight to women as to what men are thinking. The messages are there, we just have to look.
One belief prevalent in society is that it is acceptable for men to have a group of friends or buddies with whom they can hang out and unwind. When men are with their “buds,” there is no discussion of troubles at home or sex lives, only sports and beer. Well, this is the stereotypical view that Jim Beam gives us, but in society the concept remains much the same. Throughout Jim Beam’s series, we see pictures of what appear to be normal looking guys, having a normal looking time. The men are dressed casually, and are usually in a setting which is associated with fun, such as a pool hall or a pub. This is the beauty of the campaign. By showing normal guys, the marketers for Jim Beam are able to relate to all male viewers. We don’t see any supermodel guys with perfectly chiseled pecs; instead, we are shown guys that you could very well see just walking on the street. For instance, Captain Morgan’s Spiced Rum has ads which show “beautiful” people, strong men and gorgeous women, drinking their alcohol. These ads make you wish you could be one of the people in them. Jim Beam challenges society with the opposite approach. They go against normal ads which use models and recruit normal looking people. Rather than wishing you could be a person in the ad, viewers can see an aspect of themselves in the material.
In addition to showing guys the importance of friends, these ads also hint at a code of conduct common amongst males. There is a type of unwritten law, which many men adhere to as a guideline. For instance, in one ad, a picture is shown of what appears to be a bachelor party. All of the guys appear to be cheering on a stripper who has emerged from a giant cake. They all have mixed drink glasses in their hands, Jim Beam Bourbon perhaps. The caption reads, “A picture is worth a thousand words, and these guys won’t be saying a single one.” This falls under a general trust rule; what happens with the boys, stays with the boys. Another ad has a caption that says, “You asked them, her father, and her. In that order,” and shows a picture of four men standing in front of an altar. This ad reinforces the honor code amongst men, because the groom first asked his buddies permission, then sought the approval of the father, and then asked his bride-to-be after clearing it with all the guys. While it is true that none of these rules are binding, Jim Beam does show that they exist in society. There are many more “guy rules” which are not covered in the ads; however, the campaign does a very good job of showing the importance of these codes in male society.
Because this campaign has run now for almost two years, it is important to analyze how the ads have changed over time. I found that a definite evolution is present in the series. In the first ads, we see the building blocks of friendship. We see men gathered around playing games and watching TV. While it may not be particularly exciting, this is what males do with their spare time. They are in the initial stages of bonding, chilling with the buds. As the ads progress, we come to see the “girlfriend angle.” The next series of ads tells of how even though the guys start to get girlfriends, they will never try to change one another or demand more time. They are friends and they will love one another for who they are. As long as men can get together for a drink or to watch the game, they will still be friends. This shows that while girlfriends require time and work in a relationship, males are very low-maintenance and will never want more than what their friends can give them. The next step up from the girlfriend stage is engagement. This is captured in the bachelor party ad which I cited earlier. This ad shows the “last wild party” before marriage sets in. After this, weekly outings to the strip club are going to be replaced with evenings with the wife. Finally, we come to the newest ad showing the wedding stage. There are no wild, cheering guys holding alcohol; rather we see more serious looking men, one of whom is about to be wed. All are dressed sharply in tuxedos and stand tall with their hands crossed resting over their belts. This most recent stage made me realize that even though you can feel forever young when you hang out with the buds, you can still grow into a mature, healthy adult. In the beginning, we see alcohol toting party animals, but that evolves into more serious relationships. The one common thread seen throughout is that even though men change, their relationships with friends remains strong.
As we continue to analyze these ads, it is important to remember that they are still trying to sell their product. Jim Beam is a type of alcohol, bourbon whiskey in the case of these ads. So how does Jim Beam tie itself in with the universal concept of friendship? Well, in every ad, we see the slogan “Real Friends. Real Bourbon.” The very language of this slogan illustrates how Jim Beam relates to friendship. Because both parts of the slogan have real in them, this makes the two parts appear to be similar. It is very subtle, but using subtle terms is how Jim Beam latches on to the viewer. In addition, the people hired to market their product are, normal, or real to the viewing audience. This further associates Jim Beam to the public by showing real people who are real friends having a real good time drinking real bourbon. However, this produces a mixed message. Jim Beam gives us the impression that in order to be real friends and to have a good time, you have to drink their bourbon. This is simply not true. Just because someone doesn’t drink, doesn’t mean they can’t have a good time or be a good friend. After all, everyone loves a sober driver!
What can we learn from this campaign? Well for starters, this can serve as a model for how males should interact with their friends. By showing how guys should be around their friends, perhaps this can help guys to be better buddies. It can also make guys realize and appreciate just how lucky they are to have a group of friends. While it is easy for men to appreciate these ads, that task is probably harder for women to accomplish. A number of the ads could be considered unfavorable towards women. In one ad, the caption reads, “Unlike your girlfriend, they [friends] never ask where the relationship is going." It shows women as trying to change men, and to separate them from their buds. However, this view can be useful to women. It shows us the important bonds that men have with each other, and that rather than trying to break those bonds, perhaps women should take an interest in getting to know her guys buddies. By getting to know his friends, women are strengthening their position in the relationship. Like it or not, a guy’s friends are a part of who he is, and women need to accept that part of him. In addition, these ads can give hope to the thousands of women who are constantly struggling to separate their men from their friends. As the ads show, even though the guys like to have a good time and relax with the buds, that doesn’t mean they aren’t willing to settle down or become involved in a relationship. There is time; women just have to be patient.
As it stands now, we have only just begun to see the potential of this advertising campaign. We have only just seen the wedding stage; there are plenty of messages to be seen in married life. I am excited to see where this advertising campaign will go next. After all, in the book of life, friendship is a very important chapter!