Marketing to men, retailers? Research shows the risks of sticking with old-fashioned male stereotypes

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New research has shown that British retailers need to rethink how they market to men: many old-fashioned, dated and perhaps toxic views of masculinity are still prevalent among UK males, thanks in part to the stereotypes seen in advertising, particularly for many alcohol, fashion and luxury brands. Many male grooming products, on the other hand, are more reflective of modern male values and attitudes.

The survey of 2,000 UK adults found that when buying products, men overall are almost twice as likely than women to think about what the brand name/label says about them. The research therefore asked men to what extent certain key retailers and brands reflect their attitudes and values, and drinks brands in particular didn’t come out of it well:

●       Brands like Samsung, Nivea For Men and Mars came out fairly well – 74%, 67% and 62% of men respectively thought those brands reflected their values

●       By comparison, 43% of men say Absolut Vodka doesn’t reflect them at all; 48% felt that way about Johnnie Walker and 54% think it about both Bacardi and Gordon’s Gin

●       And many other men’s brands apparently fail to demonstrate modern male values: 49% felt Esquire Magazine doesn’t reflect their values and 45% thought that way about Topman.

The study was commissioned by New Macho, the specialist men’s marketing arm of the brand and cultural transformation company BBD Perfect Storm. It also found that old-fashioned male thinking is rampant: around one in six UK men (15%) still think women should do the larger share of the cooking and cleaning in a relationship, rising to 19% among the supposedly progressive millennials (aged 22-37) and 22% of men in London.

In addition, more than a quarter (27%) of men believe they should be the main financial providers for their family, rising to nearly half (43%) of men in London. In addition, one in six (17%) still think that for men to show vulnerability is a sign of weakness.

The study also revealed that despite the growing call for more attention to mental health among men, a quarter of males (25%) still hold to the view that ‘real men don’t crack under pressure’ – rising to 37% among millennials and 41% of Londoners. In addition, one in seven UK males (14%) think that ‘real men don’t cry’, jumping up to 27% of those in London.

New Macho managing director Fernando Desouches comments: “The groups that are most likely to hold these stereotyped views of masculinity – Londoners, millennials and high earners – are also the most likely to feel depressed or sad. More than half of these groups most often feel that way, so these beliefs may be having a very real and negative impact on men’s mental health.

“The ad industry has to accept some of the blame for this, as many retailers and the brands they stock are still portraying men either as aloof and hyper-competitive or as dorks and figures of fun. It’s all just gender stereotyping, which the Advertising Standards Authority is rightly working to eradicate.”

However, the research also highlighted that many UK men are looking for a more sophisticated approach to masculinity: three-quarters (73%) believe men should talk more about their feelings, while 75% believe that ‘being a great father means always being there’ and 83% are of the view that fathers should support their children in whatever choices they make in life.

UK adults were also asked which British celebrity they feel best represents the ‘modern man’ – Prince Harry came first with 28%, followed by David Beckham on 25% and Idris Elba with 18% of the vote.

Fernando Desouches adds: “In the same way that brands like Dove helped to change how advertisers portray women, there has to be a transformation in how retailers aim their marketing to men. Sadly, many of their current campaigns wouldn’t look out of place in the 1950s or 60s.

“Instead, the retail sector needs to start using its ads and marketing to portray the subtlety, nuance and range of the modern male experience. Gillette, for example, may have courted controversy with its recent ad campaign and fallen into the trap of trying to clumsily force ‘progressive’ traits onto men, but it remains a brand with a lot of values that male consumers can buy into.”

Other findings included:

●       Two-thirds (66%) of all UK adults think ‘knowing how to use tools to repair things’ is a masculine trait

●       Only 7% see helping to nurture children as a male trait

●       Women are more likely than men to want to see more ads featuring men in non-stereotyped roles (57% of women vs. 47% of men).