Machismo, masculinity, #MeToo: How should brands be communicating with men

Machismo, masculinity and #MeToo: How should brands be communicating with men?

8th February, 2019 by Dale Maycock

For millennial males, there’s no questioning that the face of masculinity is changing. Ideas that were once set in stone around what motivates men have, in recent times, been rocked to their very core. The stoic, uncaring, power-hungry male only interested in money, cars and women is now as much an outdated stereotype as the housebound wife, waiting patiently with dinner on the table. Social change, the acceptance of progressive ideas and the urge to be more responsible have helped carve a new path for men when it comes to the way they are represented in the media – allowing them to shake off ‘macho’ conventions and become something much more. 

But no single event in recent times has quite shifted the media landscape like the fallout of last year’s #MeToo movement. As society attempts to stamp out ‘toxic masculinity’, brands have responded in turn, creating ever-more ingenious marketing techniques in an effort to appeal to the conscientious consumer (and fulfil their own responsibility to their audiences).

As a result, brands are now entering uncharted territory, creating campaigns that are steadfast in their approach and unafraid to tackle difficult issues head-on. A risk that, if executed properly, can be incredibly positive and have a real impact. But, creating controversy does not come without casualties. So how should brands be communicating to men in the wake of the #MeToo movement?

Be brave and be bold 

One only has to look at Nike’s 2018 ‘Just to Do It’ campaign to understand the impact of a well-timed ad and how it can light the touch paper around socially sensitive matters. In today’s market, male consumers are demanding that brands looking to stand out from the crowd be brave in their messaging and willing to stick their head above the parapet to really mean something. But remember, it’s highly unlikely that this approach will please everyone. 

Only recently did Gillette find itself in hot water after its recent campaign asked men to promote a new kind of positive masculinity – playing on the 30-year-old tagline ‘The best a man can get’ and changing it to ‘The best men can be’. After hitting 4 million views in 48 hours on YouTube, the ad elicited a response of deep praise but also deep resentment, with some men finding it patronising and offensive.

The reaction was so strong that some consumers even went as far as to boycott the brand, throwing away their razors in protest. Some high-profile celebrities took to Twitter to express their outrage, arguing that politics doesn’t belong in the realms of shaving brands.

Whether you thought it was an ad that cut a little too close to the bone or whether you saw it as a positive step in improving the world we live in, there’s no mistaking the marketing wallop an ad with a strong message can deliver. 

Make it emotive

One of the reasons the Gillette ad delivered such a strong reaction was because of the emotion it evoked from its viewers. The modern man is a complicated creature, one who is open, unafraid to express their emotions, a person who cares. So, if brands want to connect with their male audiences, they need to understand that men have feelings too. Brands looking to peddle age-old ideas of heterosexual machoism, in today’s market, simply aren’t going to cut the mustard. So damaging are these stereotypes, that recently the Advertising Standards Authority (ASA) introduced new rules that will prevent advertising messages from promoting outdated gender stereotypes.

An interesting study from the University of British Columbia has also revealed that Millennial Men are more likely to be selfless, socially engaged and health-conscious as well as “value altruism and self-care above traditional male qualities”. Marketeers, take note. It seems that brands that go beyond standard ways of advertising to help inspire and better men are more likely to resonate with their target audiences.

An example of this is Dove Men+Care, which recently got it right with its ‘Dear Future Dads’ campaign, which launched on Father’s Day and championed paternity leave for new fathers. 

If it’s not authentic, it won’t stick

Although men are now looking at brands to offer them much more than a simple product, if they’re really going to communicate then their message must be authentic. The #MeToo movement has been the spearhead for a growing legion of men looking to do right the thing – but what it means to be a good man is an evolving concept. If brands are going to stay relevant, they need to be aware of this ever-changing climate and ensure that they get it right. Consumers can sniff insincerity from a mile away, so if brands are plugging a positive social message, then it needs to come from the heart.