Close-Up: Cashing in on modern-day man's identity crisis

Is '4D man', Bauer's description of the new young male consumer, a compelling insight or mere gimmick, Kunal Dutta asks.

Society has never been short of a defining label for the archetypal man. Indeed, the 80s and 90s became synonymous with the beer-gut-busting "lad" while the noughties saw the emergence of the gentler and more refined "metrosexual".

Now, as 2010 unfolds, there is a new label that marketers are eager to stamp in a bid to cash in on the lucrative youth market. The so-called "4D man" refers to the male that harbours the best of both worlds: essentially a confident individual - or a "toned-down" version of the 80s lad - taking a slice of themselves from the metrosexual, with a varied range of interests and passions.

Perhaps it is no surprise that this new male consumer was identified by the FHM, Zoo, Q and Mojo publisher, Bauer Media, which commissioned a study interviewing more than 1,500 men between the ages of 15 and 40 and is now selling the data to agencies and clients.

So what, exactly, is the 4D man? Despite proclaiming a wealth of consumer insight gathered through focus groups, online blogs, video diaries and online tracking studies, the precise definition remains fuzzy. Described as not as tribal as his predecessors, the 4D man is supposedly interested in culture and is more health-conscious.

Indeed, Bauer has identified an "increasing gender crisis which is affecting the way that men view their identities and masculinity". This, it says, is driven by the fact that men are "drawing out their youth", giving them more time to consider their masculinity and define it exactly for themselves.

The 4D man will pursue activities that cultivate a sense of identity, while having a penchant for motorbikes or cars and retaining his own interests and hobbies. According to the study, 4D man finds himself under greater pressure from women's expectations: namely "a man who can shine on the rugby field, bring home top quality bacon and change a nappy".

It is a point that Lucy Jameson, DDB's global strategy director, believes is indicative of changes in our perceptions of the modern male: "It is not unusual to see grown men crying at Toy Story and fathers reminiscing about black-and-white war movies. Everyone is more open about their emotions these days. There is more fragmentation and everyone wants to pick and choose their identity and change it, rather than being pigeonholed."

But is adland buying it? Initial responses suggest there is a lot of scepticism within the industry. "Planners tend to hate this stuff," Craig Mawdsley, the joint head of planning at Abbott Mead Vickers BBDO, says. "It's ever so common to hear people say 'can we pretend that we've found a trend?', in order to sell something to advertisers or to stand-up a new publication."

Indeed, there are now 6.5 million men aged 15-30 in the UK and commentators believe they are perhaps the first generation of consumers that have had real choice in their media consumption.

David Bain, the planning partner at Beattie McGuinness Bungay, goes further. "We've just undertaken a study about what social media is doing for young men. You now have men updating each other on their thoughts and feelings. What would be female values of empathy, sympathy and social connection is male behaviour now," he says. "Masculinity is changing and there is less neat labelling - that's where the contradiction lies. You can tell by the nebulousness of the label that it doesn't really capture the individual. We depict younger men at Carling who are neither lads nor metrosexuals. I don't think the term 4D will be that helpful in developing compelling consumer insight."

Whatever happens, don't expect this to be the last of the male labels. According to Mawdsley: "We are in a place where people are pragmatic. The days of having it all have pretty much gone and masculinity is in crisis. Everyone has been trying to work it out, but no-one has yet put their finger on anything particularly meaningful."

HOW TO SPOT A 4D MAN

- Still considering the essence of his masculinity as he hits 30 without being married or having kids

- More likely to be seen scoffing bananas than burgers

- Has a diverse range of passions, from opera to old Aston Martins

- Under pressure to comply to various types of male traits, from tender and sensitive to outwardly macho and successful.

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