Looking for “Real Men”

Ashton and Demi start bold comedy Web video campaign for a serious cause: Stopping child sex slavery. But will the message seep through the laughs?

Real men can make you laugh – and cry. Ashton Kutcher and Demi Moore are waging a bold bet that real men also can combine laughter and tears to make a difference.

The Web-savvy celebrity couple just launched a comedy Internet video campaign for a serious cause: stopping child sex slavery. They’ve enlisted big-name pals like Jamie Foxx, Justin Timberlake and Jason Mraz in goofy, guys-will-be-guys spots with a sobering tagline: "Real men don't buy girls."
But will the message make it through the laughter?

Kutcher and Moore, who command a total 10 million followers on Twitter, run some risks in juxtaposing comedy and a heartbreaking scourge. With other campaigns already using celebrities in humorous Web videos to fight everything from cancer to malaria, it becomes more difficult to distinguish one movement from another. Every new effort also increases the possibility of compassion fatigue.

There's perhaps a greater risk that the message gets lost, as in the recent Groupon Super Bowl commercials that spoofed celebrity charity efforts while seeking money for causes. The confusing ads raised far more ire than funds, and were quickly scrapped.

It’s too early to know for sure, but clarity doesn’t seem to be an issue with the "Real Men," spots, which are short, funny and to the point.

We're treated to watching Bradley Cooper prepare breakfast by pouring milk into a cereal box (“Real men know how to make a meal”). Foxx gives us less reason to get off the couch with his innovative beer bottle-opening technique (“Real men know how to use the remote control”). We see Timberlake employ a chainsaw in the bathroom (“Real men prefer a close shave”). Each time, we’re also reminded: "Real men don't buy girls."

The spots end with a “real men” hall of fame with pictures of the likes of Bruce Willis, Tom Selleck and Harrison Ford. Eva Longoria is on hand to point out new additions to the "real men" list. "Conan O'Brien is a real man," she notes in one video. "Are you?"

The videos link to Kutcher and Moore's Demi & Ashton Foundation website, where there are harrowing accounts of survivors of child prostitution, along with some alarming statistics on human trafficking and a call to action.

Check out some of the videos below – and, more importantly, take a look at foundation site. Real men and women need to be seen and heard, though both laughter and tears:

Hester is founding director of the award-winning, multi-media NYCity News Service at the City University of New York Graduate School of Journalism. He is the former City Editor of the New York Daily News, where he started as a reporter in 1992. Follow him on Twitter.

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