Kurtis ‘mancation’ ads bear scrutiny

Bill Kurtis and a bear

Bill Kurtis and a bear

Chicago’s beloved anchorman emeritus Bill Kurtis is back to doing funny commercials again. But this time not everyone is laughing.

JWT Chicago (formerly J. Walter Thompson) this week unveiled a series of seven digital videos for the Illinois Office of Tourism featuring Kurtis waxing rhapsodic about supposedly masculine vacation pursuits across the state. All have been posted on EnjoyIllinois.com.

Kurtis delivers his spiel in the mock-serious persona he perfected as narrator of Will Ferrell’s two “Anchorman” movies and in a series of commercials he did for AT&T. In the latest campaign, he touts the virtues of vacationing “with the guys” in Illinois.

“Start your engines. Place your bets. Double down and play ball. It’s time to vacation like a man,” Kurtis intones with grave sarcasm. “It’s time to mancation.”

Early reviews have been mixed.

From Steve Hall’s Adrants: “There's nothing more hilarious than dropping an elderly, statesman-like gentleman perceived to be reserved, conservative and, well, ordinary into a crazy ad campaign touting vacations for men. But that's exactly what J. Walter Thompson did. . . . In a series of videos laced with very guy-like explosions, trumpet playing bears and stock cars, Bill encourages men to vacation like men during a mancation in Illinois. There are seven videos in all; each filled with an much testosterone as you would expect from a very manly campaign such as this.”

But Erik Oster of Media Bistro’s Agency Spy, branded the whole campaign “slightly misogynist,” adding: “In the spots, such 'manly' activities as stock car racing, golf, horse racing, and casino gambling are highlighted,” Oster wrote. “It’s hard not to feel a little bit insulted watching the ads, which appeal to and reinforce outdated stereotypes while implying that a vacation can’t be gender-neutral.”

Kurtis, 73, whose last anchor gig at CBS-owned WBBM-Channel 2 ended in February 2013, has been the voice of Illinois tourism since last July when he signed on with the Illinois Office of Tourism.

“Bill Kurtis embodies all that is great about Illinois and Chicago,” Jen Hoelzle, deputy director of the Department of Commerce and Economic Opportunity, Office of Tourism, said at the time. “His unmistakably recognizable voice will be an asset to our efforts to drive more people to enjoy Illinois.”