How brands are moving on from lads’ mag culture

With the announcement that FHM and Zoo will cease publication this week, brands and marketers are also moving on from “lad culture” themes.

Earlier this week, Bauer Media announced that after years of falling print sales, it would be shutting down its men’s magazines FHM and Zoo. The print editions will go first while both websites will shut down early next year.

The end of the two titles, famed for their provocative shots of semi-naked women and bloke-centric jokes, follows the recent demise of Nuts and Loaded.

But it is not just publishers that are moving on – brands are adapting their approach too.

Back in May, Fosters dropped its long-running ‘Good Call’ campaign – which featured fictional characters Brad and Dan giving ‘agony aunt’ style advice to male beer drinkers – in favour of a new campaign in the hope it would draw in both sexes.

”We saw more opportunities to appeal to a female audience and those mixed sex drinking occasions,” said Ifeoma Dozie, brand director at Heineken.

The beer giant has also used its James Bond sponsorship to promote more diversity, with Daniel Craig’s 007 being saved during a boat chase by a woman in a recent campaign used to promote Spectre.

Heineken's ad to promote the latest James Bond film Spectre aims to promote more diversity and sees Bond saved by a woman.
Heineken’s ad to promote the latest James Bond film Spectre aims to promote more diversity and sees Bond saved by a woman.

How brands are moving on

Lynx, one of the brands famed for putting ‘lad culture’ into the mainstream, says it has left its themes behind in favour of more mature marketing.

In October, Lynx launched a campaign to talk about the big issues affecting the lives of its consumers by partnering with charity Campaign Against Living Miserably (CALM) to raise awareness of male suicide.

According to Lynx’s marketing manager David Titman, the death of Zoo and FHM shows how important it is for brands to evolve with their target audience.

He told Marketing Week: “Brands have to move on from the 1990s. The way they [men] appear and interact with the world has fundamentally changed and brands need to update the way they appeal to these modern men.

“Guys’ interests are now much more multi-faceted, it’s not that they’re not interested in football and women anymore, there are just more ways to engage guys than there used to be.”

Titman says since shifting its messaging, Lynx is now “on the right track” when it comes to shaking off the “old pre-conceptions of the brand”.

“As Lynx guys become more discerning in their grooming habits, we’ve got to make sure that the brand adapts to meet the demands of the category as well as the broader cultural shift,” he adds.

Jonathan Bottomley, who is chief strategy officer at BBH, oversaw Lynx’s new direction.

He adds: “The ‘lad’ as an archetype simply isn’t as desirable anymore for guys to aspire to or for girls to be attracted to. Rather than the classic lad stereotype, men want to be seen as worldly and having achieved things; that feels culturally more on the money for male-focused brands now.”

When it comes to Lynx’s new strategy, BBH aimed to reflect a more digitally connected world where men are comfortable connecting with women. Bottomley says brands in male-dominated industries must learn from the work.

“We wanted to reflect the fact that with new technology guys can chat and flirt with women without being in front of them, making them feel more at ease,” he adds.

“But there is also a greater sophistication around the way men want to groom. The promise of the product has to be rooted in confidence for guys, rather than the effects it might have on women,” he advises.

Lynx's latest campaign, aimed at raising awareness of male suicide.
Lynx’s latest campaign is aimed at raising awareness of male suicide.

Taking ‘lad culture’ into the digital age

When Bauer Media announced the news of Zoo and FHM closing down, it admitted in a statement that over time “young men’s media habits have continually moved towards mobile and social”, which suggests that the purveyors of lad culture have moved on to new platforms.

“While the notion of the lad is changing, he has by no means left us,” clarifies Scott Manson, OgilvyOne’s head of branded content and former editor of Loaded.

“You just have to look at new online platforms like The Lad Bible and UniLad to see that the appetite for such content is still alive and kicking.”

Scott Manson, OgilvyOne’s head of branded content and former editor of Loaded

The Lad Bible is the UK’s biggest online lad’s publisher. According to the brand, 49% of 18-24 year old UK males follow The Lad Bible, with the service generating 10.6 million likes on Facebook. Last month, it received over 198 million page views and traffic of over 33 million web users.

And these numbers prove brands shouldn’t abandon ‘lad culture’ completely but look to evolve their approach, according to the Lad Bible’s marketing director Mimi Turner.

She told Marketing Week: “We understand young male audience in a way that was never possible before. This is the difference between the Loaded and FHM idea of masculinity and our insight into masculinity, it is far deeper and more broad.

The rise of the Lad Bible, she says, is proof that the culture is still relevant but simply doesn’t lend itself to print anymore.

“Social and mobile are the first place that 16-to-35s go to for their relevant content. Publishers who didn’t migrate to that model, or thought that the digital version was a slightly less important version, have and will continue to pay the price.”

Understanding the changing man

But there is a new danger on the horizon according to Nick Hastings, executive creative director and co-founder of creative agency Krow.

He says that if male audiences aren’t researched properly, brands run the risk of falling into the trap of creating a new set of stereotypes altogether,

He explains: “Male advertising is meant to be about individuality and confidence, but many brands don’t reflect this. Brand’s understanding of young male audiences isn’t very thorough and it does reveal a slight lack of nuance in the way we communicate to them.”

Richard Buchanan, co-founder of brand consultancy The Clearing, says brands shouldn’t forget ‘lad culture’ completely but just look at it differently.

He concludes: “People are still trying to tap into it. It’s very much active in the world of betting, for example, where they try and create more of a community through lad humour and ‘having a laugh with your mates’.

“Brands can still appeal to men with ‘lad banter’ as consumers still enjoy that type of humour but they need to find a way of leaving the misogyny behind.”

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