The battle of the sexes has taken an unexpected turn, as men – and in particular the “average bloke” – are emerging as the new overlooked, underserviced consumer group.
Little effort has been invested in reaching those who have the highest incomes and are the biggest spenders – men aged between 30 and 50 years old. Using government household spend statistics, this demographic represents a £150bn market that remains relatively untapped.
This may come as a surprise to those who have championed the importance of women as an influential consumer group, but industry representatives who have decided to champion the cause of men argue that it is not about a role reversal or backlash against women. Rather, an appreciation that as women’s roles have changed and marketing has reflected this, the same should be happening for men. Instead, they say, this group has been forgotten, ignored and represented in a clichéd manner in the media.
There are more challenges now than in the early Nineties when a clearly defined “lads culture” prevailed in the UK. After the lad man came the “metrosexual”, which many brands based their marketing strategies around. But in 2010, labels are harder to define, says Patrick Horton, Bauer Media’s head of marketing for men’s magazines.
“It’s very difficult to label people in the way you used to, which is probably what makes it very difficult for brands to sell to men,” he says. “You can’t just have one defining characteristic, you have to look at things in three or four ways.”
Marketers need to focus on the new roles that men play in society. Chris Bates, director of Bloke, an arm of research agency 2CV that is dedicated to delivering insights around “the average guy”, says: “Masculinity has been redefined. Men are taking more of an interest in themselves, in home design, cooking and other areas that have traditionally been seen as female.”
The marketing industry has focused its efforts on reaching out to different demographics, including young people, ethnic communities and even the retired community. But brands should move away from “tired clichés” of men as either hapless fools or suave heroes, as has been the case to date, suggests Bates, and celebrate the lives of everyday men. “Success is now measured in much more rational and everyday ways. Masculinity is now about a journey of small victories,” he explains. “That can be anything from a bit of praise to cooking a decent meal, spending time with your family or making your wife laugh.”
A new powerful “everyday” man brand ambassador could easily convey these “small victories”, with TV personalities such as Ant and Dec and Adrian Chiles all fitting the bill. Even Heston Blumenthal, with his celebrity chef status, has enough of the average guy about him to be an appealing spokesman, suggests Bates.
As the UK emerges from the recession, the average guy group could help lift many brands back into profit. Statistics from consumer insight agency GfK NOP show that men are generally feeling more confident about the economic situation – only 19% believe the recession will have a significant impact on them, compared with 28% of women (see Men vs Women box).
Statistics about future purchasing behaviour show men are less likely to cut back than women. Areas where men show they intend to maintain their level of spend include eating out, holidays, buying new furniture and large electrical goods as well as shopping for organic or ethical products.
Men are a powerful purchasing group and should not be ignored, argues Ivan Brown, GfK NOP director for consumer products and retail. “No one is saying frivolous spending is back, but there is a big difference between the attitudes of men and women.
“Women are more cautious and more likely to protect household spending. This shows there is a real opportunity to inspire spending.”
A project to uncover “the secret life of British families” has led advertising agency Saatchi & Saatchi to conclude that men have become virtually “invisible” in advertising. Championing masculinity and the role of men in families is key for brands to expand their engagement with consumers. The project, which saw Saatchi & Saatchi planners move in temporarily with 30 families from all over the UK between February and September, helped the agency to understand where brands are going wrong.
Saatchi & Saatchi strategy director Richard Huntington notes: “In marketing, we followed the progression of women and women’s roles but the narrative for men is much thinner.”
Brands that celebrate positive masculine values and real male relationships have a lot to gain, he claims. “By showing they understand men, brands have a better chance of having a rewarding relationship with them. If you want consumers to take part in the life of your brand, you must demonstrate that your brand cares about the things people care about. There is a huge territory here that is underexploited. We have observed that the conversation [between men and brands] doesn’t exist.”
Media company Bauer – publisher of men’s magazines such as FHM, Q, Car, Zoo and Empire – has also recently embarked on a research project it calls 4D Men. The company has surveyed 1,500 UK men aged 15 to 40, and set up a panel of men producing blogs and video diaries to illustrate their day-to-day lives.
Bauer’s analysis of the feedback concludes there are six “clusters” of men – a concept that moves away from the notion of a dominant “tribe” of men, such as “lad” types or “metrosexuals”.
Bauer’s Horton explains: “The biggest surprise for us was that this idea of tribalism just doesn’t exist any more. FHM came from laddism, which united men across ages and different social backgrounds, but it’s just not that straightforward any more. The post-lad was probably the metrosexual, which also united a lot of different people, but again it’s a tribe that doesn’t really exist any more.”
The six clusters of men that Bauer uncovered are the beer swilling Little Big Man, the extended adolescent Cinderella Man, the impulsive Single Man, the health conscious Marathon Man, the friend and family focused Anchor Man and the engaged and rounded Man for All Seasons. Horton says this shows how much more complex men are compared with ten years ago, when a similar Bauer study showed that more than half of men could be classified as “lads”.
Wide range of brands
Advertisements that resonate among both men and women include everything from chocolate commercials to car ads, the research shows. Honda’s “nuts and bolts” ad is praised for being well put together and visually captivating by both sexes, while the Cadbury gorilla and Comparethemarket meerkat ads are perceived as amusing by both men and women.
However, men have a greater like for HSBC’s Indian market ad and campaigns by Gillette for men, Paddy Power, Ribena and Fiat, while women prefer brands such as Alfa Romeo, BT, and, interestingly, Foster’s lager.
Alfa Romeo’s Giulietta campaign gets women’s attention for putting actress Uma Thurman in the driving seat, while they laugh at the Foster’s ad where a man phones a Foster’s helpline to ask if his girlfriend will end up looking like her mum.
BT’s Adam and Jane series strikes a chord among women too, but not men. A woman in the 35 to 50 age group notes: “I think BT has chosen to talk to women in these ads, using the actor Kris Marshall because he’s the safe guy that will stand by his family.” However, a member of the men’s group in the same age bracket says: “This is an incredibly boring series of adverts. They are soppy and cheesy.”
The Old Spice “smell like a man” viral gains approval for its humorous approach, but many doubt whether it will make them reconsider purchasing an Old Spice product. “It’s a good ad, but it’s still Old Spice. You don’t want to buy something based only on comedy,” observes a man in the over-35s group.
The group discussions reveal that some believe the Old Spice campaign is being used to change women’s perceptions of the brand so they will buy it for their partners. However, rival toiletry brand Lynx, which depicts women swooning at geeky men who use the deodorant brand, gets an overwhelming negative response, with its ads labelled as “idiotic” and “patronising”.
Jaguar’s ad for its X-Type model, which plays almost like a short film, is largely disliked for being pretentious and out of touch, although some of the older men say it is “beautifully shot”. On the other hand, Fiat’s Faithless promotion – a tie-up with the chart-topping band – is “engaging” for its similarity to a music video.
Male, female or neutral
A total of 33 brands have also been put to the test by these focus groups, with respondents grading them as male, female or neutral. Technology firm Apple emerges as gender neutral, as does Nintendo Wii, although this brand creates some division between the sexes, notes Fresh Minds managing director Alistair Leathwood.
He says: “Both the younger female and male groups perceive it as more male, while the older male and female group perceive it as female. The younger male group concludes that Wii has made an effort to market itself to women and families, not necessarily because women would buy it but because it makes it more acceptable for men to buy it.”
Drink brands Coke Zero and WKD have been identified as using male-oriented ads, but many are unconvinced that these approaches are successful. Despite use of the word “zero”, men still see this Coke variant as a diet drink. One member of the over-35s men’s group says: “I know the ads are more male-related but my first reaction was that it’s all about calories, and being low in calories is a female thing.”
Although WKD adverts depict men playing pranks in bars, the consensus is that few men actually drink it. “I know more women than men who drink WKD, but the adverts are all about men playing tricks and misbehaving, so I guess they want men to drink it more,” says another from the over-35s men’s group.
Warburtons bread is considered a male brand, despite an overall perception that other brands in that category tend to be aimed at mothers making school lunches. “Warburtons is a man’s bread,” according to one of the under-35s men.
Personal care for men
In the past five years, the men’s personal care space has expanded well beyond deodorants, shower gels and moisturisers, with make-up even making it onto some men’s shopping lists. According to Datamonitor analysts, 88 make-up products made for men were launched globally in 2009, compared with just three in 2005.
However, the use of chiselled actors and sports stars to promote men’s toiletries is wearing thin among the target consumer group, according to brands such as Dove and Bulldog, which have both made efforts to break this outdated mould.
Unilever brand Dove Men+Care has shaped its marketing strategy around the results of global research conducted in 2009, which surveyed 7,500 men aged between 30 and 55. The brand wanted to reach this audience in a new way after it discovered that 68% of men feel they aren’t realistically portrayed in advertising, while 71% find it difficult to relate to men of their age who are shown in commercials. The brand’s Manthem TV ad uses humour – and real men – to convey the stages of a typical man’s life in a 90-second slot.
The brand has followed this in the UK by partnering with retailer Tesco’s customer magazine, to produce a special Man Alive supplement featuring content that celebrates the lives of real men.
Dove Men+Care brand manager Paul Connell explains: “Tesco had repositioned its magazine to speak to real women, so we wanted to work with the supermarket to see how we could do this for men. It gave us an opportunity to tell guys what we were about as a brand and deliver content that was relevant and which we couldn’t provide through conventional above-the-line advertising.”
While Dove’s approach might have paved the way for brands to question how they target men, Connell claims Unilever is continuing to push boundaries by exploring new ways of engaging with real men in 2011. He says: “I’m confident we will continue to speak to men in different ways but as to how that will look and feel over the next two years, we haven’t quite finalised that yet.”
Bulldog, a natural male grooming brand, is also trying to break the male stereotype by encouraging men to buy products such as anti-ageing moisturiser. The brand is getting its message across by sponsoring online comedy series Soapbox, which is fronted by comedian David Mitchell, with each episode book-ended by Bulldog brand messages.
Bulldog co-founder Simon Duffy says: “Our rivals produce commoditised for-men versions of female products. Adopting a traditional approach by plastering a leading sportsman onto billboards all over London would be too expensive for a challenger brand like us.”
The Bulldog image has also been adopted as an antidote to the male stereotypes in this category. Duffy says: “He’s loyal, tenacious and a daily companion. It’s a positive way to look at being a man.”
Men vs women
19% of men believe the recession will have a significant impact on them, compared with 28% of women.
28% of men believe the economy will recover soon, compared with 21% of women.
57% of men believe they will maintain their level of spend on eating out, compared with 47% of women.
59% of men think they will spend the same amount on holidays as they did before the recession, compared with 45% of women.
51% of men say they will continue to buy new furniture, compared with 38% of women.
50% of men plan to buy large electrical goods, compared with 41% of women.
63% of men intend to spend the same amount on organic or ethical foods as they did before the recession, compared with 57% of women.
Source: GfK NOP