Macho men - a marketing stunt too far?

Update: July, 02/2017 - 09:00
VNS Illustration Trịnh Lập
Viet Nam News

Bảo Hoa

If you were a small business owner, would you rather be known for the quality of your service or some flash in the pan marketing stunt?

There are millions of ways to promote a product or service – that’s how advertisements and discount coupons came about – but the really creative promotions relate to the nature of the product or service, and elevate it in such a subtle way that makes consumers fall for it without being aware they are doing so.

That’s my opinion on advertising, marketing, and PR – all that promotional stuff. And that’s why a recent, ‘shocking’ marketing stunt – repeated shamelessly at three service businesses in the capital city – distresses me greatly.

Gone were the days when a hotdog business hired someone to wear a funny hotdog costume, standing in front of the store and inviting customers to come in. In an attempt to get more exposure to customers, a hair salon, a restaurant and a nail salon in Hà Nội recently hired some buff male staff to, well, expose themselves to customers by strutting around topless, save for a tie.  

On June 6, a video of bare-chested male staff in a Cầu Giấy hair salon went viral. Wearing nothing on their torsos except a black tie, and with the salon’s name written on their chests, the staff were filmed greeting customers and doing simple tasks like washing and drying hair.

Two days after it appeared, the video attracted 27,000 ‘likes’, 26,000 comments and was shared 129,000 times. The video itself was liked 140,000 times and received some 2 million views.

Most female viewers appeared to appreciate the marketing move. A number of social media users from Thailand, China, South Korea and Laos also watched and shared the post.

Photos and videos of two similar stunts were posted on social media on May 30 and 31.

One took place at a restaurant on Thái Hà Street, in which a group of male staff with the words “These are ribs” written on their naked torsos brought trays of grilled ribs to customer, and another at a nail salon where three well-built Vietnamese and foreign men – wearing nothing but briefs – painted the nails of female customers.  

Seriously – what in God’s name is this?

I mean, is there the slightest resemblance between half-naked men and hair, food or nails?

Clearly, they need to create some impressive, explosive stunts to “wow” customers and pull them into the stores – I get it – but to me it’s just weird and gross. The stunt says nothing about the expertise of the business owners, and to be honest, it even feels a bit unhygienic around food.  

But did it work? Probably.

The photos and videos not only turned into virtual sensations but actually attracted customers to visit the hair salon. Kim Anh, a marketing executive at a company in Thanh Trì District decided to call the salon and book a hair appointment by one of the male staff despite the distance between her workplace and the salon.

“I called them up and asked about their charges, but they said those male staff will not be serving again anytime soon,” she told Vietnamnet online newspaper.

Trần Thái Linh, a twenty-something from Đống Đa District, actually came to the rib restaurant to experience service by the half-naked male staff after seeing videos of them online. To her disappointment, she was told they only appeared on that particular day to present their restaurant’s latest dish.

“The restaurant seems to have hit the bull’s eye, because, what woman does not love beauty?” Linh said.

“Most of those who share photos and videos of the male staff online are women. They even asked each other to go to the restaurant together,” she told Vietnamnet.

The owner of the hair salon in Cầu Giấy District said the staff are only allowed to show their bodies like that on a number of special occasions. On regular days they appear in decent clothes like pants and white shirts.

“We threw the event just to create a fun, relaxing atmosphere for customers. It wasn’t a promotional trick,” he told the Zing online newspaper.

Nguyễn Minh Hoàng, in charge of marketing for the restaurant on Thái Hà Street, said it was a private event held to introduce new dishes for 120 young customers aged 18-35. However, he did not anticipate them giving tickets to family and friends, which resulted in children and elderly people showing up at the event, he said.

“We couldn’t ask them to leave, so the show must go on,” he told the Vietnamnet. “This promotional idea has been implemented in several countries, and we also intended to make it a private event, but we couldn’t foresee everything.”

I don’t know what psychological effects these marketers aimed to have on customers, and I don’t know whether they would last in the long run.

But I will remember the unnerving sensation upon seeing photos of those naked torsos flying around the internet.

And I would probably cover my eyes if I happened to arrive at that hair salon on the days those half-naked men were there.

Creativity and cutting-edge ideas are important to society. So is common decency. — VNS