Do adverts really capture the spirit of the modern man?

  • Click here to read the cover story relating to this ’What men want from a brand relationship’
  • Click here to read about media brands for men
  • Click here to read about personal care for men

Spotlight on focus groups

In the best-selling Nineties book Men Are From Mars, Women Are From Venus, author John Gray presents his case as to why men and women are fundamentally different. If people can understand this, they can have more productive relationships, he claims.

But focus groups commissioned exclusively by Marketing Week show that in many ways men and women are on similar wavelengths. Research agency Fresh Minds has been investigating the similarities and differences in purchasing behaviour and brand attitudes between men and women. Encompassing 32 people aged 20 to 50 – half men and half women – the results show some surprising similarities and some stark differences.

Seven different brand commercials – including executions from BT and – have been analysed by the focus groups, as well as each person’s favourite advert. Just over 30 ads have been rated by the group as male, female or neutral and the group has even been assessed on their different approaches to shopping.

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.

Old Spice: Campaign is trying to change women’s perception of the brand
Old Spice: Campaign is trying to change women’s perception of the brand

Shopping habits

Sanex and Radox are personal care brands that are favoured by male participants when it comes to a shopping trip task that Fresh Minds set the group.

Women tend to favour brands such as Nivea for Men, Sure for Men and Original Source when they go shopping for a man. Women are more likely to stick with brands that they like, while men are more likely to opt for discount offers, the shopping task reveals.

Brand awareness, scent and appearance also play a part in the decision making process. Some look at how a product will look in their bathroom, while others note that they have bought a certain brand before.

“Women tend to buy the male version of a brand that they know smells relatively neutral,” notes Fresh Minds’ Leathwood.

Keep smiling

Humour emerges as the best way to market a traditional women’s product to men. In discussions around marketing a theoretical low-calorie hot chocolate drink to men, participants in this study agree that a humorous scenario challenging the perceptions of masculinity might convince some men to purchase a low-calorie drink.

“It’s not about using the concept of getting a girl to make it appeal to you, it’s more about making it acceptable among your own peers,” comments one member of the under-35s age group, while another from the over-35s group adds: “You’ve got to have a sense of humour, but it’s got to tax your intelligence as well.”

“Humour has a powerful appeal,” says Leathwood. “A humorous ad can position a brand higher up in men’s consideration, simply through developing this positive association.”



Marketing Week

Pitch unveils its latest YouGov Agency Reputation Survey this week with marketers ranking agencies across a number of criteria. Read an introduction to the rankings and the views of three top executives on the future agency model here


    Leave a comment