I recently worked on a pitch for a brand of men’s grooming.
As a woman, I thought to myself, “Well, this is my chance to set things right. I can fix the way men’s brands are supposed to advertise themselves.”
I quickly decided to make a list of things that need to be taken into consideration while advertising in this space:
It needs to be non-sexist (we’re living in an era of #metoo, sensitivity towards women needs to be top priority)
It should be non-offensive (women finally have a voice; you offend them – you’re out!)
Absolutely no signs of male chauvinism (God knows we don’t need more of that!)
It shouldn’t be too ‘manly’ (or it may encourage men to display their manliness in a very toxic, stereotypical manner as mentioned in the above three points)
With all these communication planks out of the way, I suddenly found myself in the same space many marketers of men’s brands are in right now: AIMLESSLY SHOOTING IN THE DARK.
You see, it is very easy to state what not to do – but very difficult to figure out what should be done. Change is easy to celebrate – but what things should change to, is considerably harder to articulate.
For decades, our minds (men and women alike) have been conditioned to place men in only a few pigeonholes – machismo, power, 24/7 chick magnet, insensitivity, athletic prowess, the only bread earner and so on. Thankfully, brands are finally trying to shift away from conversations involving ‘toxic masculinity’ (if you still don’t know what that is, see above!).
The big masculine dilemma
In an age when ‘Change’ (yes, the capital C is intentional) is expected from a brand’s communication, most brands find themselves facing two options:
On one hand, they can either pick any fashionable cause and portray ‘progressiveness’ – but that comes at a risk of being called out as fake and accusations of ‘virtue washing’. Reference: the social backlash that Gillette received on trying to shove traditional male stereotypes out of the window with its newest advertisement.
On the other hand, they can stay exactly where they are and run the risk of being considered an archaic brand in a fast-changing world, with regressive views of how ‘men will be men’.
Change – And you’re damned. Don't change – And you’re doomed!
Going back to the drawing board
This brings me back to my first thought: “In this age, can masculine brands dare to advertise their masculinity?
The culture of masculinity is evolving. And so is its definition.
The problem is that not many understand what the definition of the word is changing into.
Therefore, the solution to this problem lies in one thing: Identification of the changing definition of masculinity.
Brands need to assess how masculinity is changing and accordingly adapt themselves to this change. It may not just be portraying equality and mere sensitization for the sake of it. If masculinity as a term has been groomed in a certain manner in the eyes of people for centuries, then it will also take some time to find the new definition. As a result, it will also take time to re-align marketing strategies to reflect this change. And this is true not just for masculine brands now, but for every brand that talks to men and women alike.
I feel that the best yardstick is perhaps one of the most ‘Boy’s Club’ brands there is: Axe. No matter how tongue-in-cheek, the advertising of Axe always dangerously bordered on sexism, with mindless/powerless women swooning all over a man who simply sprays on the deodorant. Interestingly, their advertising has finally taken a complete U-turn with a series of ads that are moving towards a more progressive narrative. ‘Find Your Magic’, their latest platform, is all about the guy feeling confident is his own skin (read: the guy who wears a veshti under his tuxedo to a party) or the global campaign, “Is it okay for guys to…” which outrightly examines how men feel being put in certain ‘man boxes’ by society.
Even the conventionally ‘male only’ categories like insurance have started to cater to women because finally brands are realizing that men aren’t the only ones financing the household (example: see the Max Life Insurance campaign, which puts men and women on an equal pedestal).
If there is finally enough conversation regarding what femininity should be, there needs to be equal amount of conversation around masculinity as well, to ensure that the change we’re headed towards isn’t just another trend. Masculinity, in this day and age, desperately needs a new identity – and as marketers, it’s our responsibility to create a platform where such conversations can be had.
So, what is my answer to ‘How masculine can a masculine brand be’? Well, I’ll let you know as soon as we understand what masculinity means in today’s world.
(Aditi Anand is an associate, strategic planning, Rediffusion)