As the era of big data allows marketers to target smaller and smaller niches, it is sometimes easy to lose sight of the changes taking place, which ultimately affect the bigger picture.
One particularly interesting change is the evolution of how man is portrayed – or to be more precise – how men are portrayed in marketing. If we run with the assumption that marketing mirrors what is happening in society as a whole, it is possible to identify four evolutionary stages in the portrayal of man over the past 50 years.
The current stage offers new opportunities for brands that have designs on men.
The four stages of man
The first stage was ‘misogynist man’, who emerged in the 1950s. He ruled the roost over his subservient, dutiful wife. Behind his slick suit, sharp white shirt and beaming smile was a perfectly coiffured, pinafore-bound woman. One did not need to look much further than the advertisements of the time, which extolled the virtues of having a woman around the house or proffered a beer to neutralise a woman’s ineptitude in the kitchen.
Thanks to James Bond and more disposable income, the misogynist man morphed quite quickly into the second stage: ‘masculine man’, who appeared in the 1960s. Although still portrayed as the dominant species, his more sensitive side was beginning to show itself. His testosterone levels were definitely shaken but not completely stirred.
Masculine man’s lifespan was extended longer than anticipated thanks to the ‘greed is good’ mantra of the early 1980s. However, as Margaret Thatcher’s piercing tones helped to give women an even stronger voice, with an image to uphold, along came the third stage: ‘metrosexual man’. Moisturised, manicured and made-to-measure, metrosexual man was fuelled by another phenomenon – the millennial. In turn, this has led to the emergence of the fourth and current stage: the ‘measured man’.
Millennials have grown up
The millennial generation has been under severe scrutiny and is often labelled narcissistic, ‘generation me’ or sufferers of the Peter Pan syndrome: the desire to perpetually remain an adolescent. However, as the generation has become more established and been shaped by the enduring impact of the recession, they have shown measured characteristics that are in line with growing startups, the rise of personalisation and the shift towards ethical brands and consumption.
These measured characteristics manifest themselves in a number of ways – from money to sex. A UBS survey in 2014 found that 45% of millennials believed living frugally was the key to achieving your life goals, versus 39% among non-millennials. The study, entitled Generation Me, revealed that 49% of those in their 20s had not had sex in the past year, and that millennials are likely to have an average of eight partners versus eleven of the typical baby boomer generation. The report suggested that they are more interested in getting ahead, than getting in to bed.
The influence of social media has had a massive impact. While it gives the marketing community a unique opportunity to reach their target consumers in an intimate environment, many measured men reject it as not being authentic or have had their fingers burned with inappropriate or hurtful posts. There is a profound (if newly discovered) understanding of the impact that this can have on their lives, both professionally and personally.
Necessity is the mother of (re)invention
The other seismic societal shift which has demanded that man must become more measured is the decline in his traditional role as the breadwinner of the house.
Over the last decade, the role of man within the house has changed considerably. It is no longer about whether they like to cook – they have to cook. The stereotypes of the past are no more. Men are increasingly likely to cook, clean, look after the kids, do the shopping and take paternity leave.
Rise of maternal breadwinners
Reports by thinktank Institute for Public Policy Research (IPPR) including Who’s Breadwinning in Europe and The Condition of Britain show that the proportion of working women who carry the main financial burden has grown dramatically in recent years. From 2004 to 2013, four fifths of countries with available data have seen increases in maternal breadwinners. Two million working mothers are the biggest earners in their families, a rise of 80% in the last 15 years. In nearly a third of couples with children, the mother is the breadwinner, defined by the IPPR reports as earning as much or more than her partner. The reports show that maternal breadwinning has increased for all family types and across all age groups over the last 15 years.
Dalia Ben Galim, director of policy at single families charity Gingerbread and former associate director at the IPPR, comments: “The balance between breadwinning and caring has changed; it can no longer be assumed that the father is the primary breadwinner in a couple. As women’s employment outside the home rises, dual-earner couples are more common.”
In a Telegraph article written last year, social and religious affairs editor John Bingham argued that the rise of the female breadwinner was stalling as men saw pay packets grow but that “the days of the working father and stay-at-home mother as a default family are over.”
Marketing to men
What does this mean for marketing to men and in particular, how they are portrayed in the media?
Making assumptions on a nuclear family with traditional roles is at best ill-informed and at worst offensive. Today, men are just as likely to be dropping the kids off at nursery and buying the nappies as women are.
It is no coincidence that with the emergence of the measured man, brands with a traditionally male appeal are changing tack.
Heineken, for example, is now extolling the virtues of men who do not drink too much. Similarly, Lynx – a brand known for marketing focused on helping the guy win the girl – is now taking an approach that in the words of its global vice-president Rik Strubel, is more ‘progressive and provocative’.
If this age of austerity is, as McKinsey has called it, the ‘new normal’ then the measured man could be with us for a while, and longer than his predecessors.