Advertising and the modern man

A new book traces the evolution of men from traditional to metrosexual and reveals how to market to their latest incarnation, 'M-ness man'.

Well into the 20th century, man accepted the deference of women as his due. His role was that of provider and protector. His authority over his family, workplace, church, mosque and synagogue was absolute.

To what extent he asserted his authority over women depended on the individual man, his culture, and his upbringing, but there was no mistaking the fact his dominion over the female of the species went largely unchallenged.

A lot has changed over the past 50 years and nowhere is this more evident than in relationship between the sexes. For anyone in our business, the attitudinal and behavioural shifts that have taken place among men over the past half-century are of tremendous significance, whether we are looking at the male consumer as a whole or considering how best to target him in any one category.

As codes of dress and behaviour relax, men become freer to push the boundaries of gender, not necessarily seeking greater androgyny but insisting upon a broader definition of what is considered masculine. It is important to note that while men may be doing more of the same things as women, they are not necessarily doing them in the same way. Stay-at-home dads are thought to be more encouraging of their children's risk-taking, for instance, and studies have found that, in general, male shoppers tend to be more brand loyal and goal-oriented than their female counterparts.

The implication is that marketers cannot reach and influence them in the same ways they reach and influence women. Men will respond to different messages, different channels of communication and different incentives.

Consider the health and beauty industry. Product manufacturers, service providers and retailers would do well to remember that even when shopping for beauty products and treatments, men are making their own rules. In the UK, Boots cancelled plans to roll out a chain of male grooming salons after two test sites failed to attract a significant clientele.

For many men, intensive grooming is still seen as pampering, that is, a feminine indulgence. Although they may want the same benefits enjoyed by women (a more youthful appearance, a polished look), men want their grooming choices to be seen as utilitarian rather than self-indulgent.

For this reason, companies targeting men may benefit from keeping product names short and to the point. The US male-grooming specialist Zirh Skin Nutrition, for instance, markets products with names such as Prevent, Correct and Scrub.

Today, the brands that resonate with men do so because they understand the truth about men in this age of evolving "M-ness". In the "post-mass" world, brands are finding success by catering to very specific needs - be they emotion or performance based. As every target becomes more complex, new opportunities are created by evaluating, understanding and addressing consumers' ever-changing constellation of needs.

Consider the example of Gillette. A well-regarded manufacturer of shaving equipment, the brand can easily move into the broader arena of skincare, whether scent, skin protection or even youth potions. It has consumers' implicit permission to do so because of its solid history of helping to care for men's faces.

It is not just the traditionally male brands that can cater to men's new needs. Nivea, which previously focused on women, can find success with its new range of men's skincare because of its heritage in that arena.

Where Nivea succeeds, we suspect, is with its "authentic" and "efficacy" credentials - the stuff works - rather than with the "badge value" of the prestige brands, which continue to operate in speciality and department stores. From its base in the mass chemist/grocery space, Nivea succeeds in making these kinds of products appealing to men who would never think about shopping for them (or paying the prices associated with them) in the "class end" of the retail spectrum.

Among teenagers, girls rather than boys continue to be the economic force across a broad range of products and services. Fashion and cosmetics continue to have a primary focus on girls, even as boys discover that personal appearance matters to them (and to the people they are trying to attract). Conventional wisdom holds that boys' discretionary spending goes on food and entertainment (video games, movies, music). While this may be true, an opportunity exists to target the "new male teen" in categories that have traditionally been single-mindedly female.

Business still seems to be lagging behind the cultural reality of how much gender blurring has occurred in traditional female domains. For instance, products related to food preparation, home furnishing, entertaining and home maintenance (ie. cleaning) are still generally pitched at women, despite the fact that most of these items have become gender neutral.

Two years ago, during interviews with homeowners in Kingston, New York, we were struck by the number of men who told us they were the primary cleaners in their households.

They were also quick to name products and tools they preferred, such as Windex, Old English furniture polish, Whisk detergent, Woolite, Dustbusters and Dirt Devils - all products that have been pitched historically at women but that male homemakers like because they get the job done and have designs with unisex appeal.

Men tend to like packaging (particularly when they are buying a less-than-macho product) that is devoid of frills, and also to be able to buy the product within their own domain (sitting next to the razors, for instance, rather than in the women's beauty aisle).

When Tyler Brule, the founder of Wallpaper*, launched a unisex fashion magazine, he used separate covers for men and women. The content of Spruce was the same but men found a more masculine-looking publication sitting next to traditionally male magazines, while women could purchase their own version next to women's lifestyle magazines. The modern man may be comfortable in his masculinity, but even he has his limits.

Male grooming is an obvious category in which M-ness is having an impact.

But what about cars? There, too, we are seeing a shift. When the Mazda Miata (the MX-5 in the UK) was introduced a decade ago, much was made of the degree to which the engine sound echoed that of the traditional sports car. There's nothing like the roar of an engine to get the testosterone flowing. Today's iteration of an automobile performance machine is found not in the two-seat roadster, but in Nissan's stylish Murano (a name borrowed from the world-famous Florentine glass manufacturer). Traditional male cues, only this time integrated not into a sporty roadster but into the default family car of the early 21st century.

The impact of M-ness can also be seen in the US introduction of the heavily retro-focused Ford Mustang (following on the heels of 2003's reintroduction of the Ford Thunderbird, an unabashed attempt to recapture the iconic 1957 version). What's the imagery? It is a setting borrowed from Field of Dreams, the 1989 Kevin Costner classic, which is described in VideoHound's Movie Retriever as "an uplifting mythic fantasy based on WP Kinsella's novel Shoeless Joe.

An Iowa corn farmer heeds a mysterious voice that instructs: 'If you build it, they will come.' It's about chasing a dream, maintaining innocence, finding redemption, reconciling the child with the adult and celebrating the mythic lure of baseball." Doesn't sound much like a sports movie, does it?

But Ford even takes the imagery a step further. Who is it that emerges from the cornfield to put the Mustang through its paces in the newly carved cornfield driving range? None other than the proto-male Steve McQueen (who was previously used in Europe to promote the launch of the Ford Puma).

Innocence. Father-son bonding. Mysticism. And pure alpha male. All in one package. M-ness means men don't have to settle for less.

The Future of Men, by JWT's Marian Salzman, Taxi's Ira Matathia and Euro RSCG's Ann O'Reilly, is published on 9 September by Palgrave Macmillan, priced £14.99



In the media: John Wayne, Humphrey Bogart, Sean Connery Advertising icon: The Marlboro Man Recognise him by: His non-designer denim and stubble Least likely to say: "Darling, I love your new haircut"

Traditional man is the product of anthropology: according to the laws of nature, men hunted for food while women stayed at home and looked after the children. This history of males as aggressors, hunters and protectors developed into the time-honoured view of a man: physically imposing, if inarticulate, he could fix anything around the house and was loved and feared by his wife and children.

A shift in attitudes began after the Second World War (when more women began to go out to work) but, even as recently as a generation ago, traditional man reigned supreme. According to custom, he responded to three main themes when it came to marketing: sex, toys and freedom. So an ad showing a man getting into a new car and driving off with a scantily clad woman was the best and most effective way to target him.

Times have since changed, but the BBC presenter Michael Buerk appeared as traditional as they come in Radio Times last month, when he claimed life was now lived according to women's rules and a man's role had been reduced to that of sperm donor. Although he has since insisted he was misquoted, Buerk believes that traditional male values such as courage and single-mindedness have now become so unfashionable as to be viewed almost as dysfunctional.


In the media: Johnny Vaughan, Colin Farrell, Robbie Williams Advertising icon: Peter Kay Recognise him by: His pint of lager and cigarette Least likely to say: "Can I borrow your moisturiser?"

Lad culture exploded in the early 90s with the bad-boy exploits of Britpop bands such as Oasis and was egged on by the new generation of lads' mags, which sold thousands of copies by focusing on breasts, beer and bad behaviour.

Some commentators said the Government's decision to change the alcohol licensing laws to allow more bars to open in city centres was behind the lad phenomenon, while others claimed it was a backlash against feminism.

Typical lads spent their time drinking cans of lager, eyeing up birds and being deliberately (or inadvertently) anti-intellectual.

But then things started to change. Loaded, which launched in 1994 and once sold around 500,000 copies a month, lost more than half its circulation (it now sells 213,076 copies, according to the latest ABCs). The media has increasingly turned against "laddish" antics such as binge drinking and anti-social behaviour.

But the lads are still out there. Colin Farrell has been praised for providing a refreshing alternative to the anodyne images of most Hollywood film stars - he drinks, swears, womanises and is not ashamed to say what he thinks. New weekly magazines are taking over where Loaded left off - Nuts and Zoo sell 550,000 copies a week between them and are more in-your-face than Loaded ever was.


In the media: Jude Law, Orlando Bloom, P Diddy Advertising icon: David Beckham Recognise him by: His uber-trendy hair and clothes Least likely to say: "I got a great bargain in Primark last week"

The term "metrosexual" was first coined in 1994 by the US journalist Mark Simpson, writing in GQ.

He defined metrosexual men as having plenty of money to spend and living close to city centres to give them easy access to shops, clubs, gyms and hairdressers. "He might be gay, straight or bisexual, but this is utterly immaterial because he has clearly taken himself as his own love object and pleasure as his sexual preference," Simpson wrote at the time.

The term - and Simpson's derogatory opinion of it - languished largely unnoticed for six or seven years before re-emerging with a more positive spin: the metrosexual male was now seen as a man who was comfortable enough with himself to care about his clothes, hair and personal grooming. The ultimate metrosexual, David Beckham, became the face of Gillette.

The plus side to all this narcissistic behaviour is that metrosexual man is quite happy to embrace many of the qualities typically associated with women - so he is more caring, considerate and kind than Mr Traditional (or at least more willing to show that side of himself).

But doubt has started to creep in (isn't all this being in touch with your feminine side really just a bit wimpy?) and both men and women are now asking why the traditional male values are no more.


In the media: Guy Ritchie, George Clooney, Prince William Advertising icon: Steve McQueen Recognise him by: His air of relaxed confidence Least likely to say: "I feel emasculated by your successful career"

It's become fashionable to portray men as hapless losers, unable to cope when left alone to manage the house - think of James Nesbitt in the current Yellow Pages ads, who can't even work his computer until his niece steps in to help. But man-bashing now appears to be going out of fashion and men are now returning to a position of respect.

According to Salzman, Matathia and O'Reilly, the new M-ness male is reasserting control over his own masculinity after years of pretty-boy metrosexuality.

The interesting thing about the M-ness male is that he does not feel deprived as a result of his changed role in society: on the contrary, he thinks he is better off than his 50s equivalent because he has more freedom to decide how to live his life. Men today have closer bonds of friendship with other men and enjoy more emotive relationships with their wives and children. They combine this emotional side with the best traits of traditional manliness - strength, honour and character.

So what does M-ness man look like? According to Salzman, he is epitomised by the British film director Guy Ritchie. He looks and acts like a traditionalist but he's married to Madonna, one of the most famous women in the world, and he is in no way threatened by her success.