The New Lad was a real man, not an ideal image. But no more. The birds,
beer and footy consumed character has now turned into a caricature,
affirms Andy Edwards
There has been an awful lot of talk about the New Lad in the past few
And I mean a lot. Even my mum’s got a view on it.
The recent Men Behaving Normally conference at Chelsea FC was the
culmination of this. Isn’t it a bit of a bore?
We may be able to talk about footy, birds and beer endlessly, but
talking about talking about them is a different bag of chips.
The New Lad is, of course, a media term that is open to criticism as yet
another empty label used in marketing for convenience rather than for
But, in many ways, the New Lad label differs from many of its
predecessors in the way it offers more than a passing glance at reality.
In the past, marketers have understood and defined young men in a number
of ways; the unemotional macho man, the go-getting brutal yuppie; the
caring, pullover-wearing new man.
Each of these was an ideal, something that consumers should aspire to.
And by implication, therefore, something consumers were not.
Only by buying Brand X could you begin to be this ideal male. These
labels were about putting the brand - and its consumers - on a pedestal.
When the New Lad label emerged, however, it represented the other end of
the marketing spectrum. This was the marketing approach that is firmly
rooted in reality, or at least closer to reality, and not in illusory
dreams that consumers may or may not have.
New Lad was not about an ideal. It did not seek to create something to
aspire to. This wasn’t a glorious view of men, it was a more honest view
It knew previous male labels were unattainable role models and were
increasingly rejected. It knew that women, footy and booze were still
important to young men - as if we needed reminding - but we did.
As such, New Lad was part of what has become one of the most dominant
themes in marketing: the complicit approach. Nothing new, perhaps, but
more and more brands are taking this approach. Brands such as Virgin,
Body Shop and Ikea.
In some way they all imply there’s been a ‘marketing conspiracy’. And,
like the consumer, so the argument goes, these brands won’t join in.
They won’t join in the excesses of marketing hyperbole, they won’t join
in the assumption of understanding consumers’ most fundamental dreams,
they won’t join in the use of perfect, one-dimensional role-models.
They challenge the conventional approach. And this is what the label of
New Lad did to previous definitions of men.
But now the label of New Lad has lost its way. It still challenges the
notion of an ideal role model, but it has become a caricature. It was
based on a more realistic view of young men but has focused on the
superficial aspects of young men.
In doing so, it is in danger of becoming yet another one-dimensional bit
of marketing nonsense.
The reality of young men is, of course, more complex. The
birds/footy/beer bit remains relevant but it has been over-exploited
while the other bits have been under-exploited.
This is what the New Lad was all about to start with: a recognition that
we were not as perfect as Real Man or New Man but that we could be, in
our typically flawed way, bits of both of them.
For all the talk about marketing working harder and more demanding
consumers, there is still a tendency to follow the crowd and focus on
the easy bits.
I hope all this talk about New Lads encourages a broadening of our
approach to targeting young men.
Andy Edwards is an account planner at GGT