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Brand Purpose Brand Strategy BBD Perfect Storm

Advertising is still selling men short

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By Fernando Desouches, Managing director

June 29, 2023 | 8 min read

Brands must listen to the demand from men who are hungering for a fresh narrative around masculinity, argues Fernando Desouches, managing director of New Macho at BBD Perfect Storm.

dove hug

A still from Dove Men+Care’s recent 'Hug like a Dove man' campaign / Dove

Glennon Doyle, The New York Times bestselling writer, put it best: “We train boys to believe that the way to become a man is to objectify and conquer women, value wealth and power above all, and suppress any emotions other than competitiveness and rage. Then we are stunned when our boys become exactly what we have trained them to be.“

As boys grow up to be men, wave-after-wave of one-dimensional depictions of manliness have left them drowning in the sea of media confusion. And with only prescribed notions of what it means to be a ‘successful man’ anchoring them, now more than ever industry leaders need to set new standards.

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The disconnect for millennial men across both the US and UK is severe. New Macho’s The Pride of Success report found that more than 66% of this demographic actually believe that advertising and the media are setting the wrong narrative around what the ladder of success is for men – ultimately affecting how accomplished they feel.

But there is light at the end of this tunnel. Brands must challenge cultural and social expectations and empower men to pave their own path and break out of the mold thrust upon them.

Outdated ideas of success are still perpetuated in mass media. While the male view of success has evolved, the advertising and media industry is still fixated on the past – regurgitating the same outmoded values rooted in materialism and jeopardizing the earned loyalty of their customers in the process.

The storyline has to change.

Too often, the media’s spotlight focuses on unrelatable displays of the perfect male lifestyle. Let’s not fall into the trap of defining new goals or rules that men should aspire to. Only through publishing positive content can brands sway perceptions.

Some brands are already making headway, such as Guinness, luxury retailer Zegna and Dove Men+Care – all inspiring conversation around change. Unfortunately, these are drops in the ocean lost in the disempowering depictions that swamp the media landscape.

So now is the time to show men a world of possibilities, inspiring and encouraging the next generations of men to embrace different iterations of masculinity. Inviting the right voices to the creative process enables us to carve out a new norm. One that celebrates a more nuanced understanding of what it means to be a successful man, with emotions and deep connections at the heart of the foundation, empowering men with the right tools to become their true selves.

There isn’t a one-size-fits-all definition for success. Understanding men’s objectives in life and where they’re headed allows us to support them in this journey. Right now, they’re having a moment of realization and the onus is on brands to keep up. Supercars and hefty bank balances are fading into obscurity. Over 21% of The Price of Success respondents value their health and wellbeing over a glamorous lifestyle, while 22.5% believe relationships with those around them take priority over being famous.

And with the relentless pressures of the soaring cost of living rendering the current state of success precariously fragile, now more than ever before it is crucial for men to feel unwavering support from brands in all areas of their lives as they navigate the complex terrain of the 21st century, with its evolving expectations and challenges. Kantar reports that positive portrayals of masculinity in advertising fuel creative effectiveness and commercial success. Embracing this approach will build long-term brand equity and drive short-term sales.

Brands and agencies are starting to make progress in this space. The Global Boyhood Initiative encourages young boys to share their emotions in a healthy way. Standing up and speaking out promotes equality and empowers them to break free from societal stereotypes. Over 50% of men say that they feel more positive after sharing with those around them – and that opening up offers them better insight into how to best deal with life.

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For years, the concept of manhood has been overshadowed by toxic masculinity, creating a negative environment that alienates men, leaving some men feeling flawed simply for being a man.

We stand at a dawn of a new era, steering the conversation in a positive direction. How can men help themselves and wider society? And how can businesses support the betterment of men through ads?

By embracing a positive narrative and sailing away from antiquated views, only then will we see a sustainable narrative – one that offers men the freedom to explore, rediscover their purpose and establish a healthy balance among all demographics. It’s imperative we shift the conversation towards a new ‘sustainable masculinity’.

The content we put out into the world has a ripple effect, shaping the tide of influence and inspiring either greatness or indifference. Men don’t need to ‘man up’. Brands to ‘step up.’

Fernando Desouches is managing director of New Macho at BBD Perfect Storm.

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