Aerie’s body positive underwear campaign for men was actually an awful April Fool’s Day prank
Traditional advertisements sell underwear by featuring stunning humans with symmetrical faces, long limbs, and asses you could bounce quarters off. Nothing against models, but they’re not representative of the average population – neither women, nor men. So when underwear line Aerie announced AerieMan – a campaign featuring a group of diverse men in all their normal, paunchy glory – people were thrilled. Because believe it or not, it’s still novel to advertise to average men using average men.
But before you leap off the couch, fist in the air in solidarity with the full-figured gents in your life… this ad campaign was a joke. It turns out that this was an attention-seeking, poorly-conceived April Fool’s Day publicity stunt… that started on March 24. WTF, Aerie?
— InStyle (@InStyle) March 26, 2016
— The Cut (@TheCut) March 26, 2016
— BUST Magazine (@bust_magazine) March 29, 2016
It’s not that the general populace is irrationally gullible: this is the company that ceased Photoshopping their images two years ago and began featuring women of a variety of shapes and sizes in their ads, so the phony campaign was totally believable. It launched with a series of silly videos featuring men who’re comfortable in their own skin and aren’t afraid to show their “un-retouched” selves in underwear:
Both the videos and the dudes are a little offbeat, sure, but what American Eagle, Aerie’s parent company, didn’t count on was how positively people would respond to them. InStyle reported the campaign “made its case fairly effectively: ‘The real you is sexy.’” Blogger Perez Hilton covered the launch, saying it was refreshing to see a label embrace diversity, and that he hoped it wasn’t one of the brand’s infamous April Fool’s Day pranks.
His sentiment was shared by a rage-filled internet, as people swarmed to Twitter to share their disgust with American Eagle:
Male👏 body 👏 positivity 👏 is 👏 not 👏 a 👏 joke. #AerieMAN
— DJ @ ECCC 1214 (@OhHeyDJ) April 1, 2016
— Melissa A. Fabello (@fyeahmfabello) April 1, 2016
I don’t get what’s funny about the #AerieMAN “prank.” I’d LOVE to see more body-positivity campaigns for men.
— Ponta (@typicalfeminist) April 1, 2016
Can you imagine if American Eagle had pulled this shit with their “Real Women” campaign, launching to fanfare and then, a week later, saying “Just kidding?” They’d have a veritable maelstrom of unabashed hatred on their hands, followed by a boycott. Why should it be any different with men? Is it because there’s a perception out there that men generally feel better about their bodies than women, or that they’re immune to the disingenuous media portrayal of what a strong, capable man should look like?
In a press release, Chad Kessler, American Eagle Outfitters Global Brand President stated, “We aren’t afraid of being bold in how we engage our customers, whether through a video that makes you think twice, or challenging the norm in how a brand markets to men. We are an all-inclusive brand and we know our male customers respond to humor.” If this is what you think is funny, American Eagle, then I really don’t want to see what you find depressing.
What’s more, how is it possible they didn’t recognize the gold mine they had unwittingly uncovered with this launch? They already knew that body positivity translated into higher sales from the female campaign, so a natural conclusion would be to try it on the male side. You’d think that a few days into the AerieMan stunt, amid phenomenal reviews, some executive would call a meeting in a huge fancy room and say, “This is no longer a prank, employees! We are rolling with this!”
The company donated $25,000 to the National Eating Disorders Association, which seems like a half-assed, unspoken apology. Body positivity isn’t a joke, and is a very real issue for both men and women. We were rooting for you, American Eagle. You blew it.