Going behind the scenes to discover brand attitudes in men and women

Marketing Week exclusively commissioned consultancy FreshMinds to run four focus groups to discuss men and women’s feelings around brands and advertising.

Remember being a kid and thinking that people on TV could see you based on the simple logic that you could see them?

I felt a little like that when I sat in on my first ever focus group, thanks to market research consultancy FreshMinds. We exclusively commissioned it to delve into attitudes towards brands and advertising among men and women to include in our cover feature on marketing to men.

Sat on the other side of the two-way mirror and reassured that we wouldn’t be seen by participants, we settled down to our night’s entertainment with much gusto, tucking into sandwiches and sweets; as attentive as any fly on the wall should be.

We were amused, shocked, entertained and enlightened by the discussions across the four groups of a total of 32 people – men aged 20 to 34 and 35 to 50, and women in the same age brackets. I’ll share some of the gems from the focus groups below.

Shopping for Dave

Participants were asked how they would spend a maximum of £20 on a shopping list for a fictional 29-year-old man called Dave. They were to choose a deodorant, shower gel, washing powder, magazine, breakfast cereal, alcoholic drink and a razor from any retailer, and could include own-label goods.

You can see the results for deodorant in the tables in related images on the right of this article. Brand winners included Sanex and Radox among men, and Nivea for Men, Sure for Men and Original Source for women. There was a large aversion to Lynx, perceived as a try-hard brand with an overpowering smell.

Some of the older men expressed an interest in what their bathroom cabinet said about them, although this desire for nice-looking products didn’t always translate into purchasing more expensive products. “The look of the bottle makes you take it off the shelf. I’ve got a new bathroom so I think (this product) will look quite good. Bathrooms are really important for women,” said one of the men in that group.

And several women in both groups couldn’t resist adding an influential motive to their purchase, in terms of their choice being led by what they thought a man should smell like.

Brand grouping

Participants were then asked to grade a list of 33 brands as being female, male or neutral. You can see an image of the results below.

Apple was perceived as being originally geared towards men, having worked hard in recent years to appeal to women as well. “By using colours, Apple introduced more girls to their brand,” said one woman in the 35 to 50 group.

The gender positioning of Nintendo Wii stirred some debate, with the groups divided over whether it was male or female. “The Wii is slightly on the masculine side. But whereas Xbox seems to be used by 90% men, the Wii is a bit more for the family,” said one man in the 20 to 34 group.

“Not many women would go out and buy a Wii, but the way they have marketed it has given men the excuse to go out and buy one and say it’s geared to women and family stuff,” said another in the same group.

It’s interesting to note that products aimed at families were still seen as relating more to women than men, which is perhaps why brands continue to market this way.

Almost every group positioned Durex as male with little discussion around the decision – except for the younger male group who felt that sexual health should be the responsibility of both men and women, and therefore the brand should be neutral.

But even those that classed it as neutral acknowledged that its main purchasers were men, which might come as a surprise to some in this day and age. The brand has attempted to appeal to women more in ads like this.

Ad approval

While the famed Old Spice “Smell like a man” viral received resounding laughter across all groups, many claimed to see through the tactic by saying the humour was aimed at women to buy the product for their partners.

Some expressed a willingness to give the brand a chance, while others refused to believe the product had moved away from its “old man” image. “I think that does appeal to women because the man in it is a bit of alright. He’s taking the piss out of it so I love that,” said one woman in the 35 to 50 group.

But a man in the same age category countered: “I think that was aimed at your partner buying Old Spice for Christmas, because she’d want to me to turn into that, but it doesn’t do anything for me. I think she’d think, ’maybe I’ll put it in his Christmas stocking.’ Another added: “It’s camp funny, but it’s still Old Spice.”

The older female group was compelled to discuss the new Alfa Romeo ’Giulietta’ ad starring actress Uma Thurman, which seems to resemble a change in marketing cars which traditionally have featured suave men driving along mountainous roads.

“It’s just so unusual to have a woman in a car ad that’s not in a bikini sprawled across the bonnet. It made me stop and watch,” said one woman in the 35 to 50 group. “It’s rare to see a car advertised like that for a woman. Uma comes across as tough, a bit ’Kill Bill’, and although she did look stunning, it wasn’t about her being girly and droopy, she was being a bit macho.”

DIY ad campaign

Each group was then asked to design a TV advert to target the low calorie hot chocolate brand Options to a male audience. Immediate universal reactions were that the packaging must be changed from sky blue to a more “manly” colour like navy or black, and the container’s shape would have to change to become more angular.

The “ads” resulting from each group raised more than a few laughs from those of us behind the screen…

Women 35 to 50: Actor Ryan Reynolds has just finished working out at the gym. He comes home to find his girlfriend making hot chocolate but he steals it even though she has got a beer out for him. This makes her happy and they go off to bed. The next day she comes home with a big container of hot chocolate and a twinkle in her eye.

Women 20 to 34: David Hasselhoff is sitting at home on his own relaxing, and sneaks off to get his hot chocolate which he has hidden in his toolbox. His girlfriend comes home and catches him out, but instead of being put off, she finds it attractive.

Men 35 to 50: Lead singer of 70s band Hot Chocolate Errol Brown is swimming in a pool of hot chocolate. He is surrounded by two hot women but instead of choosing one, he shrugs them off for his mug of hot chocolate.

Men 20 to 34: An action hero such as Jean Claude Van Damme is doing a lot of secret “unmanly” things and then goes home to a bubble bath and hot chocolate, to show that men are allowed to have guilty pleasures too.

The future?

Final words from the group participants centred largely around humour and innovative ideas. Comments included: “Don’t just tell me about a product, make me laugh”, and “be humorous, but don’t force it to be relevant”, which were sentiments echoed across all groups, male and female.

The younger male group seemed to be more cynical of brand messaging towards them, and expressed a strong desire to be entertained or impressed by the concept rather than the product, and a video that was interesting enough to forward to their friends.

One woman in the 35 to 50 group intuitively picked up on men wanting to “belong” amongst their peers, and ads needing to reflect this more. Interestingly, this is a similar insight that I picked up on in my cover feature as more brands are trying to find out not only what makes men feel like they belong, but also what it is that men want to belong to.

Thanks to FreshMinds for running these focus groups for us.



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