Project: Brand development, for Int'l Male

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Int'l Male
Brand development

The tools of corporate marketing, détourned.

For the past seven to ten years, Portland, Oregon has been the Canterbury of earnest, literate indie rock. You can’t walk down the street without bumping into some strummer mumbling heartfelt lyrics about love, loss and the old ennui from behind his beard. That can be a tough market for a clean-shaven, sharp-suited disco/cabaret act (borrowing equally from Bobby Darin, Barry White and Van Halen) to make a living in.

Int’l Male was one such act. Its very name was swiped from the men’s adventurewear catalogue. Its repertoire was a garland of original numbers built around the parodic amorous exploits of Savalas-esque 6′6″ frontman “Moose” E. Lee, AM radio chestnuts (the Commodores’ “Easy”; Rod Stewart’s “Tonight’s the Night,” complete with outro coos and squeals from singer Angela Darrow, who once exhorted Mr. Lee to take out the garbage in breathy French), and the odd re-arrangement (a jump-blues reading of Van Halen’s “I’m the One”), all executed in a seamless, Vegas-style 90-minute set – minus the labored irony one associates with so-called loungecore.

As Int’l Male’s brand stewards, we turned away from the indie-rock world, seeking instead to create a demi-monde: a world of license and glamour open to Int’l Male fans for the price of a cover charge. We never broke character; the comic exploits of Mr. Lee and his entourage, as laid down in the evening’s libretto and in support materials such as the newsletter, edged up to the fantastic, but always contained enough of the quotidian to make them barely plausible. People didn‘t necessarily believe that any of this was true. But they wanted to. Visual materials, as shown below, were executed in as neutral and corporate a tone as possible; if certain of the potential audience didn’t catch the arched eyebrow, it was fine with us. More than enough did.

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Trademark

How to begin? Flip the Pan Am globe on its side, and augment it with an arrow so that it resembles the international symbol for “male”; the technical term for this is “adding a boner”. A pleasant consequence was the revelation of the globe’s center section as a capital “I”. We chose Berthold AG Old Face for all of our communications, as Helvetica medium was being widely used among the young at this point, and as a result was carrying some hipster baggage. A distinction, perhaps, without a difference; but details matter.

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Ladies' sportswear

Int’l Male’s target market was women aged 35–60; the (as it happens, correct) assumption was that if you get women to come out, the men will, too. We prepared five styles of T-shirt in ladies’ sizes only, printed in two colors on American Apparel organic cotton blanks, bearing semi-sequiturish sentiments related to the act. Oddly enough, the style that almost didn’t sell through (describing Mr. Lee’s physical characteristics) ended up being the most popular, followed closely by “I can’t believe we haven’t made love yet”.

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Album jacket

A lavishly-produced studio record, where live cabaret was replaced by set pieces featuring Portland actors. Int’l Male often described its music as “celebrating the sexual primacy of the middle-aged man,” hence the title. (This was a parody, for those who need the help.) Thankfully, Tony Stone still had one shot of a 1980s achiever left in its stock catalogue. You could have your own copy here; iTunes users can look here.

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Newsletter

Int’l Male’s home was Jimmy Mak’s Bar & Grill, a refined jazz club in Portland’s Pearl District. Each guest found a copy of The Docket at his or her place setting. This humble newsletter mixed institutional duties (upcoming shows, etc.) with observations from Mr. Lee on his glamorous life, with a sideline into record and restaurant reviews, ghost-written by us in the three-dot style made famous by San Francisco Chronicle columnist Herb Caen. The Docket became invaluable for distributing the band’s fictive backstory, taking the truth and inflating it to just inside the margin of plausibility.

In its pages, Mr. Lee, a mild-mannered petroleum services salesman in real life, was augmented into a Tony Robbins-quoting rakehell. We drew in friends and fans as well: members of other bands were re-cast as his retainers; a fan who had been a Navy officer and sheriff’s deputy was transformed into a high-stepping real-estate speculator and given the management of a fictitious burlesque establishment sited in the basement of Portland’s most exclusive athletic club.

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Gig posters, 2007–2010

Simple, tabloid-sized gig posters, created in less than thirty minutes each, including copywriting and image research. There’s a lot of Müller-Brockmann in here, of course, though we drew more heavily from early Chermayeff & Geismar, who applied the meister’s lessons to America’s homes in their work for Pan Am and Coca-Cola. Images were sourced variously and used without permission. Posters were printed digitally and thrown away after the gig. They are presented here in order of appearance.

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The Action Suit

Our only long-copy poster; copy here is courtesy of the redoubtable Steve Cox. Image sourced by accident.

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2/18

The New Gentry

“Affordable excellence” (with quotation marks) is a local joke; it’s the slogan of a mid-level motel chain run by a right-wing-leaning gentleman. We don’t know who these self-satisfied folks are.

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3/18

Gather ye Buds

Jenna Jameson and husband, in better days.

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4/18

Toastmistress General

Your toastmistress this evening is Dina Lohan, for some reason. This poster never hung, because that morning …

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5/18

Requiscat in pacem

…the great Robert Goulet passed, and we re-did the poster to commemorate it.

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6/18

New Year's Eve

You can’t really say too much about this picture. Or perhaps you can’t say enough. Anyway, we’re saying nothing.

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7/18

Et in Arcadia Ego

Kim Kardashian, of course; but the best part is the dude to the left, who combines open-mouthed gum-chewing and dirty nails with the distinction of being a member in the entourage of someone who became famous for being urinated upon.

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8/18

Corinthian Leather

The late Ricardo Montalbán. For Int’l Male’s first show with a superb Cuban son band.

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9/18

Night on Earth

The incomparable Serge Gainsbourg and Jane Birkin. But check out the horn-rimmed perv at the upper right. If he were staring any harder, he’d break Ms. Birkin’s ribs.

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10/18

Untitled

Did you ever wonder what the hell Neil Diamond was doing on the cover of Hot August Night?

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11/18

The Player, Part I

Herb Alpert and friend, boosted off an album cover.

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The Player, Part II

Bob Evans. The player’s player.

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13/18

D.I.Y.

Life magazine actually ran a story on pornos in the early 1970s.

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14/18

The Player, Part III

Orson Welles, half in the bag and married to Rita Hayworth.

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15/18

Still the One

The 70s group Orleans, from the cover of … oh, forget it.

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16/18

Consenting Adults

Vanessa Redgrave, in her dewy prime, with her then-paramour Franco Nero.

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17/18

The Player, Part IV

We saved Sir Noël Coward for the release of Anthems of Potency. Note “America’s Best” tagline at upper right, stolen from Larry Flynt.

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18/18

Heaven Can Wait

Warren Beatty, of course. For the final performance of Int’l Male.

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