Abhishek Keni
Jun 06, 2017

Opinion: Masculinity in Advertising

Tracing the evolution of masculinity in Indian advertising

Opinion: Masculinity in Advertising

A few days back, I was at a Supermarket. There, I saw a three-four year old boy nudging his grandfather to buy a Kinder Joy for him. After being constantly nagged, the grandfather went to the counter and picked a Kinder Joy in his shopping cart. The kid started bawling again. When his grandfather told him that he has already placed it in the shopping basket, the kid said, “I want boy Kinder Joy, and not the girl one!”. The grandfather smiled, searched for the 'boy Kinder Joy' and replaced it. I realised that we marketers have also managed to convince a child about the idea of masculinity. The norm is set pretty early in life. Girls play with barbie dolls and boys play with cars. But, where did it all begin?

The phrase ‘Mard ko dard nahi hota’ was exemplified and glorified by the angry young man of Bollywood in the 1970s. It was that muscular man who fought with the evil forces and adhered to his values, whatever be the situation. This gave a beginning to stereotypical presentation of masculinity in Bollywood as well as in advertising. Marketers used this as an opportunity to sell everything from underwear to soaps to cars. Be it a man wearing a particular brand of underwear to save a girl from being molested, to a leading Bollywood actor riding a horse by the beach to demonstrate how a particular brand of soap gives him confidence. 
Fast forward to ten years ago, brands started clearly differentiating their products based on gender. Advertising taught us that if you are a man, you cannot use the talcum powder with a flowery fragrance, because that is strictly for women. Also, men cannot use a fairness cream meant for women because they have tougher skin and it does not go with their masculine personality. 
Then, there came a time when brands started experimenting with role reversals. Now, by using a particular brand of Talcum powder, the woman took up the initiative of eloping with her boyfriend and convinced him that they will surely meet their parents once they get married. Then, came an appliance brand which taught men to respect women by not depending on them to do the daily household chores. 
If we summarise the journey of masculinity in advertising, we can see a fixed pattern where every single formula has been tried and tested. There is Total Masculinity, Differentiated Masculinity and Reverse Masculinity. Now, what next? How can brands go a level further to create the next benchmark of Masculinity presentation using their brands? 
Brands can instead anchor themselves against the ‘idea of masculinity’ better known to the conscious and the subconscious human mind (both for the brand and its consumer). We can define a new brand archetype based on masculinity. With a closer look at the existing 12 Brand Archetypes, the idea of masculinity sometimes synchronises with The Explorer (Example: Marlboro), The Ruler (Example: IBM) & The Hero (Example: Nike). However, it does not fit into a particular archetype completely. Maybe, because the idea of masculinity is still evolving. While defining a new brand archetype, the dynamic changes in perception can still be taken care of. 
Whatever, be the stage of evolution for masculinity, ‘being a gentleman never goes out of style’.
Some cues that the masculine archetype could get inspired from this insight will be in finding ways to display emotions (strong men too can cry), to challenge stereotypes (boys can play with soft toys too), accepting defeats, channelising the vengeance to create a positive impact, supporting equality for all genders (including transgenders), standing up for what’s right and voicing concern against what’s wrong.
Now, a question may arise, how does this help a brand?
By anchoring against the Masculine Archetype, brands can now look at the bigger picture when they are portraying the masculinity approach. Be it their creative visualisation, focusing on the right set of TG, defining business strategies, translating the idea into their work place engagement or while implementing HR strategies. Apart from fitting into a particular category, they can focus on assigning a genre to their brand. This is because, in this constantly connected world, brands are finding their place for a bigger purpose. The role of a hand wash brand is no longer to sell soaps, it’s about communicating the bigger idea of cleanliness. The role of a petroleum brand is no longer to promote their superior oils but to communicate the bigger idea about clean energy.
Since, it’s all about scripting a good brand story, this is an open ended discussion! 
(Abhishek Keni is a senior account executive with Contract Advertising. The opinions are his own.)
Campaign India

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