The ADgenda: this week's most offensive advert

Captain Morgan rum.

While it's easy to huff and puff over countless ads that portray woman as nothing more than a pretty, smiling shell hell-bent on her next Botox fix, we should spare a thought for man – who is routinely subjected to advertising stereotypes so Neanderthal that it's a wonder the menfolk of this world don't up sticks and shamble into the wilderness on all fours.

The sharp branding brains behind the rum brand Captain Morgan had a good old think about their latest ad, drawing inspiration from such modern visual masterpieces as WKD's "Missus Alert" (the gist: women are the enemy, go to ridiculous lengths to deceive them), and have come up with a particularly muddled little number.

So worn thin is this man v woman territory that the exec brainstorming session clearly got a little confused. As a result, we're left with an advert that is suffering from a massive identity crisis, the lad equivalent of bringing your best female friend down the pub on a Friday night.

A group of men are standing in a bar, smiling and congratulating each other. What could they have done? Found a cure for cancer? The brand's need to explain exactly what they're drinking by printing it in big letters on the glass – "Captain Morgan and cola" – suggests that these guys aren't concerning themselves with the knottier conundrums in life. No, they've successfully managed to slip out from under their girlfriends' watchful gazes for the evening, eluded the ol' ball and chains. So far, so predictable.

But here's where it gets a little muddy. The camera cuts to "the girlfriends", one of whom is in a bikini carrying a tray of cocktails back to a hot tub only to find that her man has gone; the next is about to cheekily slip into the shower to join her guy for soapsud frolics; finally, the last girlfriend is watching in a concerned fashion out of the window as what she presumes to be her boyfriend (but is actually a straw replica) goes round and round the garden on one of those sit-on lawnmowers, only to receive an almost heart-attack-inducing shock when "he" falls off and is mown to smithereens. As far as I can tell, all these women are beautiful, attentive and fun – yawn, get off my back with your delicious cocktails and constant desire to have sex with me.

Perhaps the message is that even if you're in an idyllic relationship, Captain Morgan will always tempt you away back into the arms of your brotherhood. It's "bros v hos" and these guys are definitely winning, the ad is telling us. So as the camera switches back to the men in their brightly lit, cheap and sterile surroundings, grinning inanely as they drink a toast – a drink so teeth-achingly sugary that it stays suspiciously still when the glasses are clinked – it's with an affectionate smile that we say to ourselves: "Ah, the male ideal." Men of this world, tune out.

A still from the Captain Morgan advert
Getty.
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Andy Burnham and Sadiq Khan are both slippery self-mythologisers – so why do we rate one more than the other?

Their obsessions with their childhoods have both become punchlines; but one of these jokes, it feels to me, is told with a lot more affection than the other.

Andy Burnham is a man whose policies and opinions seem to owe more to political expediency than they do to belief. He bangs on to the point of tedium about his own class, background and interests. As a result he’s widely seen as an unprincipled flip-flopper.

Sadiq Khan is a man whose policies and opinions seem to owe more to political expediency than they do to belief. He bangs on to the point of tedium about his own class, background and interests. As a result he’s the hugely popular mayor of London, the voice of those who’d be proud to think of themselves as the metropolitan liberal elite, and is even talked of as a possible future leader of the Labour party.

Oh, and also they were both born in 1970. So that’s a thing they have in common, too.

Why it is this approach to politics should have worked so much better for the mayor of London than the would-be mayor of Manchester is something I’ve been trying to work out for a while. There are definite parallels between Burnham’s attempts to present himself as a normal northern bloke who likes normal things like football, and Sadiq’s endless reminders that he’s a sarf London geezer whose dad drove a bus. They’ve both become punchlines; but one of these jokes, it feels to me, is told with a lot more affection than the other.

And yes, Burnham apparent tendency to switch sides, on everything from NHS privatisation to the 2015 welfare vote to the leadership of Jeremy Corbyn, has given him a reputation for slipperiness. But Sadiq’s core campaign pledge was to freeze London transport fares; everyone said it was nonsense, and true to form it was, and you’d be hard pressed to find an observer who thought this an atypical lapse on the mayor’s part. (Khan, too, has switched sides on the matter of Jeremy Corbyn.)

 And yet, he seems to get away with this, in a way that Burnham doesn’t. His low-level duplicity is factored in, and it’s hard to judge him for it because, well, it’s just what he’s like, isn’t it? For a long time, the Tory leadership’s line on London’s last mayor was “Boris is Boris”, meaning, look, we don’t trust him either, but what you gonna do? Well: Sadiq is Sadiq.

Even the names we refer to them by suggest that one of these two guys is viewed very differently from the other. I’ve instinctively slipped into referring to the mayor of London by his first name: he’s always Sadiq, not Khan, just as his predecessors were Boris and Ken. But, despite Eoin Clarke’s brief attempt to promote his 2015 leadership campaign with a twitter feed called “Labour Andy”, Burnham is still Burnham: formal, not familiar. 

I’ve a few theories to explain all this, though I’ve no idea which is correct. For a while I’ve assumed it’s about sincerity. When Sadiq Khan mentions his dad’s bus for the 257th time in a day, he does it with a wink to the audience, making a crack about the fact he won’t stop going on about it. That way, the message gets through to the punters at home who are only half listening, but the bored lobby hacks who’ve heard this routine two dozen times before feel they’re in the joke.

Burnham, it seems to me, lacks this lightness of touch: when he won’t stop banging on about the fact he grew up in the north, it feels uncomfortably like he means it. And to take yourself seriously in politics is sometimes to invite others to make jokes at your expense.

Then again, perhaps the problem is that Burnham isn’t quite sincere enough. Sadiq Khan genuinely is the son of a bus-driving immigrant: he may keep going on about it, but it is at least true. Burnham’s “just a northern lad” narrative is true, too, but excludes some crucial facts: that he went to Cambridge, and was working in Parliament aged 24. Perhaps that shouldn’t change how we interpret his story; but I fear, nonetheless, it does.

Maybe that’s not it, though: maybe I’m just another London media snob. Because Burnham did grow up at the disadvantaged end of the country, a region where, for too many people, chasing opportunities means leaving. The idea London is a city where the son of a bus driver can become mayor flatters our metropolitan self-image; the idea that a northerner who wants to build a career in politics has to head south at the earliest opportunity does the opposite. 

So if we roll our eyes when Burnham talks about the north, perhaps that reflects badly on us, not him: the opposite of northern chippiness is southern snobbery.

There’s one last possibility for why we may rate Sadiq Khan more highly than Andy Burnham: Sadiq Khan won. We can titter a little at the jokes and the fibs but he is, nonetheless, mayor of London. Andy Burnham is just the bloke who lost two Labour leadership campaigns.

At least – for now. In six weeks time, he’s highly likely to the first mayor of Greater Manchester. Slipperiness is not the worst quality in a mayor; and so much of the job will be about banging the drum for the city, and the region, that Burnham’s tendency to wear his northernness on his sleeve will be a positive boon.

Sadiq Khan’s stature has grown because the fact he became London’s mayor seems to say something, about the kind of city London is and the kind we want it to be. Perhaps, after May, Andy Burnham can do the same for the north – and the north can do the same for Andy Burnham.

Jonn Elledge edits the New Statesman's sister site CityMetric, and writes for the NS about subjects including politics, history and Daniel Hannan. You can find him on Twitter or Facebook.