This is not the time to be a man. While women have been empowered
and liberated by shifting gender roles in the latter part of the 20th
century, their male counterparts have been left dazed and confused, not
knowing whether to play the warrior or the wuss. Insecurity is
heightened by the fact that jobs-for-life are becoming increasingly thin
on the ground, and it’s no longer a given that the man of the house is
the primary breadwinner.
Many men lack the imagination and flexibility to cope without a clearly
defined role in society, some stubbornly clinging to outmoded value
systems, others abdicating their masculinity altogether for the sake of
perceived political correctness. Changing cultural mores have allowed
women to become financially independent, socially confident and even
sexually predatory - privileges that, until recently, were exclusive to
men. Men, meanwhile, are undergoing an identity crisis - New Man or New
Lad? New Dad or Gay Dad? The choices and permutations are baffling.
Are men really expected to change a tyre with one hand, while rocking
the baby to sleep in the other? Is it possible to be caring, sensitive
souls during the day, but voracious sexual animals at night? Given the
opportunity, we’d no doubt complain about the injustice of shifting goal
posts, only it seems women have taken it upon themselves to become more
knowledgeable about football than we ever were.
Men of different nationalities are now squaring up to many similar
issues, though we are reacting to them differently according to
particular cultural and familial circumstances.
In some parts of the world the advancement of women is less apparent
than in others, some societies are more enlightened and accepting of
And the health of the local economy certainly plays a part. For
advertisers, tapping into the aspirations, attitudes and anxieties of
contemporary man on an international basis is a complex, thorny
This country-by-country guide to their foibles, compiled using Euromale,
a qualitative study of European men aged 18-45 by the research company,
RDSi, should get you on the right track.
Italian men are notorious peacocks who favour sculpted facial hair and
designer pastel sweaters draped casually over their shoulders. If
Chelsea’s manager, Gianluca Vialli, had any hair, you could almost be
sure he’d have pointy sideburns. To an uomo, they fancy themselves as
ladies’ men and with some justification - Italy is still very much a
matriarchal society, where women of all ages are venerated and
respected. As a result Italian men are comfortable relating to women
socially, though perhaps less so in a work context, particularly in
cases where women are their superiors.
Aspirational ads go down particularly well with Italian men, who are
slaves to their labels and generally well attuned to matters of taste
and aesthetics. They react favourably to advertising for skin and beauty
products, which appeals to the latent narcissist in them, and are also
more accepting and less threatened than most nationalities of images of
partially naked men.
The family is still very much at the heart of Italian life, and many men
have an idealised vision of a beautiful wife, beautiful children and a
beautiful home. Unsurprisingly, portrayals of domestic bliss are
popular, though they do have to be well judged rather than
In Spain, levels of unemployment are relatively high compared with the
rest of the EU, which compounds feelings of insecurity among men. In
addition, since the death of General Franco in 1975, the whole country
has been adjusting to the rights and expectations of the kind of modern
democratic society most of us take for granted - it’s almost as if
Spaniards have jumped a generation. There have been some high points,
such as the 1992 Barcelona Olympics, but generally morale among men is
The onus on fatherhood and family is similar to that in Italy, and there
is still a macho tendency, as epitomised by the continuing popularity of
bull fighting - apart from dwarf throwing this is probably the most
un-PC sport in the world.
The family-oriented society brings with it a healthy respect for the
elderly, so advertising showing cross-generational bonding finds favour,
along with adrenal extreme sports spots accompanied by heavy metal
There is always an element of truth in stereotypes and Spanish men tend
to fall into one of two camps: the ’Latino smoothie’, as epitomised by
Enrique Iglesias and Antonio Banderas, and arty pervy types such as
Pedro Almodovar and the designer, Javier Mariscal, who conceives
restaurants in the shape of giant, phallic lobsters.
It may pain us to admit it, but research fingers France as the most
sophisticated nation in the world. It also has them down as the most
smelly, so that’s some kind of compensation. Educated ABC1 Frenchmen
appear confident about their future, they are well aware of rapidly
changing employment practices and have enough self-assurance to believe
they’ll have the skills and flexibility to prosper out there, perhaps
even enjoy it.
Frenchmen can take the slings and arrows life throws at them in their
sassy stride, or perhaps with a toss of their well-conditioned locks,
because inside they know they’re worth it.
They are also - surprise, surprise - the most relaxed about their
sexuality, intrigued and even attracted by gay imagery in advertising.
This is a stark contrast to their British counterparts who run a mile at
the merest hint of gay shenanigans. As for female equality, middle-class
French men appear prepared to take a positive view of it, looking at
ways in which it might benefit them by, for example, allowing them to
spend more time with their children.
Poorer French men, however, are less enthusiastic - they feel threatened
by the onward march of women, and are unsure of what they are supposed
to be. ’They feel as if they are on the run,’ Nick Johnson, associate
director of RDSi, says. ’As a result they regress to old-style machismo,
listening to misogynist rap music and playing tough contact sports in an
effort to reassert their masculinity.’
Attitudes towards the work/family dynamic in Britain are probably more
akin to those in the US than those in the rest of Europe. This clearly
doesn’t apply to builders, but for the rest of us, the Anglo Saxon work
ethic is still strong, which means many men put their career ahead of
their family. Children tend to be deferred until the last possible
moment, because of a perceived loss of freedom and independence which
comes with the responsibilities of fatherhood. ’British men all say they
want to get married one day, but not right now,’ Johnson says.
He ascribes this procrastination to a fear of the unknown. In Latin
countries in particular, where it’s quite acceptable for men to live at
home until they get married or hit their thirties, males and females of
all ages mix on a daily basis. In Britain, however, men tend to operate
in peer groups of a similar age, which means they experience ’life
stages’ at a similar time and are wary of leaving the pack. Once they
have taken the plunge, however, they wonder what all the fuss was about
and come to a gradual appreciation of fatherhood.
As for their attitude to the status of women, they know what they’re
meant to say and can roll out the textbook answers patly, but in reality
they are in denial - the astonishing success of lads’ mags is some
indication of their true feelings.
Britons are possibly the hardest European men to advertise to. They are
expert decoders of metaphors and marketing-speak and have an underlying
cynicism which means that it’s hard to convey advertising images without
a knowing nod and a wink. British men find many advertising images too
perfect, too sickly or too contrived - humour is often the best means of
connecting with this audience.
In lads’ mags, Michael Caine features as one of the most respected
British men. Not for his acting prowess, you understand, but because he
made a fortune against the odds - the plucky underdog is someone the
Brit men can really relate to.
The Germans are among the most logical of research respondents,
determined to work at being progressive men in the 90s, even if it goes
slightly against their inclinations. They see such change as a challenge
and a question of discipline.
German men profess to a grudging admiration for circumstances in France
and Italy where they feel ’men could be men’ and family values are
deeper rooted - but this kind of behaviour would go down like a lead
balloon in oppressively ’right-on’ Germany. They have decided to make
the best of feminism by finding ways it might benefit them.
Surprisingly, perhaps, the emphasis on career and work is less marked
than the UK. German men are willing to adapt to the changing marketplace
and work on a self-employed or contract basis.
As for advertising, there is a desire to see more rounded images of
’They want more complex models of male identity and a greater diversity
of role models,’ says Alex Moskvin, who completed a 300-group study of
men when he worked as the director of Research International’s
Michael Schumacher features as one of their most respected role models,
but only partly because of his prowess behind the wheel, more so because
he’s a successful family man.
ANOTHER DIMENSION: AUSSIE BLOKE
The antipodean archetype has become associated with Foster’s, but ads
for the amber nectar vary by country. Joe Gill investigates
It’s the 70s and all most people in Britain know about Australia is
sheep farming and Skippy the Kangaroo. Neighbours has yet to transform
the nation’s soap-watching habits. Enter Paul Hogan as star of the first
Foster’s campaign, a lovable rogue with a lack of sophistication and
love of the amber nectar. His thick-skinned, no-nonsense attitude
becomes indelibly associated in the UK market with ’what it means to be
According to John Botia, marketing manager of the Foster’s UK
distributor, Scottish Courage, ’the essence of the brand is the
positive, laid-back Aussie attitude’.
The concept has gone from strength to strength - and with the spread of
Aussie soaps and music, familiarity with the Australian way of life is
now a given for marketers. ’How well Foster’s is doing in a country is
down to how well understood Australia is. In the 70s people knew far
less about Australia but since then we’ve had the Aussie soaps and pop
stars ,’ he says.
Of course, when Botia says Australian, he means Australian men.
’Unashamedly, the ads are aimed at men because they consume the vast
majority of the beer.’
The current ’honorary Australian’ campaign by M&C Saatchi has
transferred well to Europe but in the US, where understanding of
antipodean ways is less mature, the story is different. ’How to speak
Australian’, out of Angotti Thomas Hedge in New York, uses contrasting
vignettes of everyday life to bring out the Aussie attitude.
In Australia, Foster’s takes a sporting, masculine tone - it is official
sponsor of the Sydney 2000 Olympics - to reflect those rugged, outdoor
Aussie values. And as for the UK campaign, Botia holds out the
tantalising prospect of a major twist. ’We may have a woman protagonist
in the future.’