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Before he was a well-known, popular actor—even before his short-lived rap career really took off—Mark Wahlberg gained a name for himself as an advertising model, posing in his Calvin Klein underwear, abs toned and flexed. The underwear brand quickly posted the salacious shot on massive billboards, and the madv2014063rketing of men’s underwear changed forever. Or at least until recently, that is.

After the massive success of the Marky Mark campaign, marketing communications for underwear brands, whether in advertisements or on the packaging itself, consistently came to highlight incredibly cut men, usually with shaved chests, prominently featuring the personal areas covered by the underwear themselves. The target market for such communications appeared to be mainly women who might purchase briefs, boxers, and t-shirts for their husbands or partners.

But in making this appeal, underwear marketers appear to have forgotten about men as their main target market. Some recent marketing research showed that many male shoppers felt uncomfortable in stores, reaching for a box featuring a nearly naked man. Rather than being aspirational, the models had become so outside the norm that they seemed like a cruel taunt instead.

Thus a recent advertising campaign by the men’s underwear brand 2(x)ist shifted its focus. The model in the campaign was certainly handsome and thin, but his abdominal muscles did not appear painted on. In addition, for much of the televised advertisement, he wore a robe, covering most of his body. Another campaign by the Mack Wheldon brand offers up another handsome but slightly goofy model, one who trips while trying to take off his pants to reveal his underwear.

The packaging has changed too. Several brands have instituted rules against, ahem, stuffing practices. Many brands use models who wear t-shirts in addition to the focal underwear. And in some cases, the men even sport hair on their arms or chests.

Source: Eric Wilson, “Less Ab, More Flab,” The New York Times, May 22, 2013

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