In Fight Club, Brad Pitt's dark character Tyler Durden invites disenchanted men into an underground world. Stripped to the waist in basements, white-collar workers reaffirm their masculinity by beating each other senseless.
This isn't the mindless violence of hooligans, or lads being lads. The brawling is pitched as a celebration of masculinity and self-discovery.
Durden asks: "How much can you really know about yourself if you've never been in a fight?"
The film flew in the face of the sensitive "new man" of the 80s and could be seen as a backlash, according to recent male attitudinal studies. But it does hold certain clues for advertisers keen to target men in the post-lad era.
Rosie Faulkner, the communications director at MindShare, doesn't believe there is a crisis in masculinity. "Laddism was seeking jovial male bonding. Now men are more relaxed about who they are, whether they are gay, bisexual, or straight. There's not a crisis in masculinity, more of an awakening," she says.
But some studies don't share Faulkner's confidence in modern man. Evo Research's recent Euromale study into the attitudes of men across Europe found they have been through both fads - the New Man and Laddism - and come out slightly confused at the other end. The study found that 21st-century men want to buy into fantasy lifestyles where they can be men of action. They want to look good without trying, feel well-educated but without the need to prove it. They don't want to apologise for being men: competitive behaviour is fine and speaking their mind is a sign of strength.
Along with Evo's Euromale study, there is research by Emap which concurs with the former survey's findings. Both studies found that with the advancement of women in the workplace and greater equality in relationships, there are few acceptable ways left for men to express their masculinity.
Emap's study found that men are challenged by the need to fit into an economy that prizes traditionally "feminine skills" such as flexibility, team work, listening and empathy. At the same time, they see independent women making more demands on relationships.
Steve Hatch, the head of strategy at Mediaedge:cia, argues that laddism still appeals to young men. "It's difficult when FHM sells hundreds of thousands of copies every month and an editorially confident title such as Jack isn't doing too well, to suggest there is a wholesale move away from that youthfulness," he says.
Evo's research concludes that men feel increasingly unsure about what being a man means and this has played directly into the portrayal of men in advertising.
One of the most lauded campaigns is the Lynx TV spot. Mediaedge:cia's Hatch says: "I think Lynx has really got it right in moving away from the stoic macho image into a humorous playfulness by embracing the irony of the brand."
What could inform the creative process is looking at who men's role models are. According to the research, the examples cited are fairly embarrassing for progressives. Nick Johnson, the chief executive of Evo Research, unearthed some surprisingly traditional attitudes: "Attempts to move beyond James Bond as a role model haven't succeeded," he admits.
The research, which consisted of 20 focus groups in London, Dublin, Paris, Hamburg and Madrid, drew a distinction between the men respondents admired and those they respected. For example, in the UK, David Beckham was respected for managing to be a good husband despite his fame and media pressure, whereas Richard Branson was admired for his business skills.
What really turns off men are male models who appear to have no personality.
Likewise, erotic depictions of men, such as the one used in Calvin Klein's Crave ads, are seen as narcissistic, effeminate and passive. Gangster images are just seen as stereotypes.
The images that do appeal include the Jack Daniels portrayal of men doing physical, manly jobs. So who knows? Maybe the next step for brands targeting men is to do a Fight Club and show a rejection of the white-collar lifestyle for a good old-fashioned punch-up.
MARKETING TO MEN, IPC-STYLE
"It's vital to understand how the consumer buying system can differ between men and women. A recent piece of research that we conducted at IPC ignite! into mobile phones showed that while women will actively seek out the best deals, men depend on familiarity, with either a network or mobile phone shop. This vital difference shows how important it is to understand how men consider and experience their purchases in order to best communicate with them.
"Effectiveness research done with Vodafone showed that relying on stereotypes within advertising, such as targeting the 'lad', is likely to rub them up the wrong way as men think their sophistication as consumers is being overlooked. Typically, they like advertising to work on many levels without becoming obtuse. We've found through research that men can make the distinction between being sold a lifestyle and being educated in a product's benefits.
"This has had a profound effect on our advertorials business where we make a real effort to deliver practical knowledge as well as lifestyle benefits." - David Fisher, head of ad marketing, IPC ignite!