Head & Shoulders’ homoerotic ad with Troy Polamalu

I’ve been fascinated to see marketing with a homoerotic subtext enter the most macho of realms: the National Football League.

Head & Shoulders shampoo has tapped as its celebrity spokesperson Troy Polamalu, an All-Pro defensive back who’s won two Super Bowls with the Pittsburgh Steelers.

Polamalu is an apt choice. As has become vogue in recent years among players with a Pacific Island lineage, he wears his hair long, cascading in glossy black waves from under his helmet.

He’s also known as one of the hardest hitters in the league — a tough, fast game-changer.  Yet in current ads, both TV and radio, the married-in-real-life Polamalu almost seems to be flirting with male interviewers.

Here’s a partial transcript of one TV spot. The interviewer asks Polamalu about his on-field play, but Polamalu only wants to talk about all the great things Head & Shoulders does for his hair.

Reporter: Didn’t ask about your hair, Troy.

Polamalu: You asked with your eyes, Trent … you asked with your eyes.

Watch it below.

There are several other Polamalu shampoo ads in the same vein, and I find them immensely amusing. The idea of a macho NFL star telling an interviewer that he “asked with your eyes” turns on its head the sweaty, gruff, manly persona we invariably see in ads starring pro sports stars.

I’m fairly certain that Procter & Gamble, the nation’s biggest advertiser, didn’t set out to portray an NFL star as a same-sex flirt. And others may not have the same reaction to the ad, viewing it as tongue-in-cheek humor.

Whatever the intent, the mere fact that a national TV spot is even mildly open to that interpretation is, to me, a fascinating departure from business as usual in the world of sports celebrity endorsement.

I hope it sells a lot of shampoo. Otherwise you can expect the brand’s next campaign to feature a nasty, gap-toothed linebacker shouting, “Head & Shoulders is TOUGH on dandruff!”

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Comments (4)

  1. Submitted by tom moore on 01/11/2010 - 11:10 am.

    seems more homophobic than anything. in stereotypical straight-guy speak: “dude, he called you out on checking out his hair. you’re so gay.”

    i think (straight) guys are supposed to watch this ad and think “ha ha, he totally called that reporter gay.” (and thus associate head-and-shoulders with what tough guys are cool with using – as in, “it doesn’t make me less tough that i have dandruff shampoo in my shower”). but there’s nothing homoerotic about it – calling other guys “gay” as a bust is just what straight (and/or straight-acting) guys have done forever.

    so, my vote is “homophobic” over “homoerotic”, which by even chiming in with such babble would make me “so gay” to any of my fellow, straight guy friends, of course.

  2. Submitted by John Reinan on 01/11/2010 - 12:10 pm.

    How interesting, Tom — 180 degrees from my reaction. There’s a certain coyness in Polamalu’s acting that led me to my view. Mileage varies, I guess.

    Although you’re more likely right than I am — as I said, it hardly seems likely that Procter & Gamble is sending gaydar signals.

  3. Submitted by Gary Caldwell on 01/11/2010 - 10:01 pm.

    Are you kidding, Mr. Reinan?! More like homophobic!

  4. Submitted by Michael Menege on 01/12/2010 - 03:22 pm.

    I think you’re reading too much into the ad.

    One of the other commercials has Polamalu answering a question about the game with a spiel about Head & Shoulders:

    Reporter: That’s not what I asked about…

    Troy: Isn’t it?

    Reporter: No.

    Troy (glaring): Isn’t it?

    Reporter: (pause)….yes….

    As far as the “you asked with your eyes” thing…the huge amount of hair cascading out of Polamalu’s helmet is what first drew attention to him. It’s very noticeable, to say the least.

    The commercials are a humorous way of grabbing your attention and hyping a product. I don’t think there’s any deeper context than that.

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