Sex Tips for Marketers: Who is the modern man?

October 29, 2013  |  Mark Tungate  |  Comments

Lessons from classic campaigns from around the world

The flower holder was a mistake.

When Volkswagen re launched the Beetle in 1998, the new design included a vase mounted on the dashboard. Kind of cute, but auto marketing experts smelled trouble. The small car category is associated with female drivers, particularly in the U.S. So the vase practically guaranteed the New Beetle would be dubbed “a chick’s car ”—something auto makers prefer to avoid. Their reasoning is not so much sexist as practical.

In his 2004 book, Driven: Inside BMW, The Most Admired Car Company in the World, David Kiley cites an executive named Hennie Chung, who was responsible for developing the BMW Z4. Its predecessor, the Z3, had gotten saddled with a vaguely feminine image. Chung said men “will not buy what they think of as a ‘pink’ car, but women will always buy a car with a more masculine image.”

In other words, target guys and you’ll reach women, too. Create a chick’s car and men will shun you.

The Car and Driver website observes that “in its peak year, the New Beetle sold more than 80,000 [units] in the U.S., roughly 75% of them to women.”

For the most recent incarnation of the Beetle, launched last year, the designers ditched the vase. In fact, they gave the car a macho overhaul: a lower, leaner stance and a sporty little rear spoiler. The words “more masculine” sprawled aggressively over the press coverage.

The change was not unlike the positioning of another reincarnated auto legend, the Mini.

Jan Rijkenberg, CEO of Dutch agency BSUR, which handles Mini in Europe, observes that design is a factor here, too. “It always starts with the product. The Mini is compact and muscular. The wheels are set far apart, giving it a ‘go kart’ look. It has agility and it’s great on curves. Add in the Mini Cooper’s racing associations and you’ve got a car with plenty of ‘vroom,’ which basically makes it a boy’s toy.”

He adds that attitudes to the car vary across markets , but on a global scale, it sells roughly equally to men and women.

Communication aims for balance, but is lightly skewed toward guys. “In print and outdoor, this was easily solved by making the product the hero. You never see the driver. But the black background and the coloured frame—iconic elements of every Mini ad—give the work a strong, robust, male expression.”

In TV spots, there is a “slight overemphasis on the guys behind the wheel—but never too obvious.” He points out that masculinity is also expressed through the storyline of spots.

“For instance, for the Mini Coupé and Mini Roadster our advertising theme was ‘Another day, another adventure,’ while our online campaign was called ‘All the wrong places.’

Clearly, when travelling the world with this car, you’d visit places girls might think twice about.”

Marlboro Saddles Up

Giving products a shot of masculinity is nothing new. Marlboro cigarettes were originally aimed at women. They came in a cheerful candy-striped box. As sales faltered, Leo urnett was brought in to make them male-friendly.

Despite his double chins, nasal voice and generally un heroic demeanor—more Hitchcock than Wild Bill Hickok—Leo fancied himself something of a cowboy. He lived on a ranch at weekends. So when Philip Morris came calling in 1954, Leo knew just what they needed.

In fact, it was at the ranch that he first shared his idea with the creative team, showing them a magazine with a cowboy on the cover. “Do you know anything more masculine than a cowboy?” he asked them.

According to Joan Kufrin, author of the Burnett biography Star Reacher, Leo pitched the idea to Philip Morris executives in a letter. “The cowboy is an almost universal symbol of admired masculinity,” he wrote. “This almost sounds as though Dr. Freud were on our Plans Board. He isn’t. We’ve been guided by research and old-fashioned horse sense.”

The book adds that 30 days after the fi rst black-and-white print ad ran in newspapers in January 1955, Marlboro had become the number one brand in the greater New York area.

The Skin Trade

Selling cigarettes to guys is one thing—movies are full of heroes who show grace under pressure by returning fire, rolling into cover and lighting up. But what about beauty… Here it’s tempting to reach for the word “metrosexual,” which sets Rijkenberg’s teeth on edge. “Trend-watchers want us to believe there is a new breed of consumer every couple of years. It makes conference speakers rich and gives their marketing audiences a sense of security. Sometimes I felt there were more seminars about metrosexuals then actual metrosexuals.”

In fact, the men’s skincare market was being explored while David Beckham was still in diapers. The sector was pioneered by beauty queen Estée Lauder. In the early 1970s, Lauder noted that the hippie movement had liberated men from restrictive post-war notions of appearance. Hair was longer, clothes were more colourful, sexual identity was being tweaked and explored.

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Lauder launched an aftershave called Aramis in 1964. Slowly, she began to extend the range into soap, shaving gel and deodorant, until by 1978 it comprised more than 40 different products. Aramis is generally considered the fi rst cosmetic line developed specifically for men. Lauder attributed its success to strong, masculine packaging, a long-lasting fragrance, good distribution and a premium price, which conveyed status.

But she wasn’t done yet. Another Lauder brand was Clinique, a women’s skincare range which had a clean, neutral, “scientific” feel to it. Lauder intuited that this image might also appeal to men, who enjoy the language of technology and science. They appreciate the functional, which is why you’ll often see words like “performance” and “effective” in copy for male skincare products.

Clinique Skin Supplies for Men was launched in 1976 with reassuring metallic grey packaging and a three-minute grooming regime. “Clean, exfoliate, moisturize. Gets your skin in its best shape for your best shave.”

Estée Lauder deployed scientific lingo again in 1987, for the launch of Aramis Lab Series for Men: “High-performance, technologically advanced skincare, hair and shaving essentials” created by “the elite team of doctors, scientists and skincare specialists at the Lab Series Research Center.” One imagines a combination of Doctor No’s lair and the Muppet Labs.

More recently, male grooming brand Nickel—launched in France by Philippe Dumont in 1996—has achieved global success by speaking men’s language, remaining down-to-earth and injecting a dose of humour. Dumont believes men dislike being over-marketed to; they just want to know what a product does. Hence the names Fire Insurance After Shave Balm, Cold Sweat Deodorant Stick and Super Clean Face Scrub.

And of course humour explains the highly successful Old Spice relaunch. But Old Spice was already a vintage male brand. Unilever had a much bigger challenge on its hands when it created Dove Men+Care in 2010.

The launch ad, first screened during the Super Bowl, was called “Manthem.” From Ogilvy & Mather, it set out to celebrate what it means to be a man, in a light-hearted and self-deprecating way.

To the jaunty William Tell overture, the spot depicts many of the challenges men face throughout their lives, from mastering a sport to raising kids and planning for retirement.

Showing the ad during the Super Bowl effectively targeted the entire family, acknowledging the fact that men’s partners are often the actual purchasers of their grooming products. At the time, Kathy O’Brien, vice-president and general manager of Unilever Skin in the United States, observed that many men already “liked and trusted Dove.” In other words, they used whatever shower gel their partners had put on the shelf.

As for the metrosexual, he seems to have gone into retirement. Or maybe we’re all metrosexuals now. “There’s a more ‘unisex’ approach to life: sharing child care, housekeeping, home improvements and so on,” says Rijkenberg. “Having said that, those guys in the soccer stadium still show the same peer group behaviour and drink as much beer as before. Men and women are still different.”

Daddy cool

Everyone seems to agree that advertising aimed at fathers needs them as well-intentioned dolts who could barely change a diaper.

A spin on this form could be seen in this summer’s “Swaddle Master” spot from 72andSunny for the Samsung Galaxy G4. It shows a guy who is incapable of swaddling his infant without resorting to an online video tutorial, which he watches on his phone thanks to voice command. Having finally achieved the tricky task of wrapping a baby in a blanket, our hero becomes a laughing stock when the kid poops.

Perhaps a more subtle approach is in order. Krow Communications in the U.K. recently created an online film called The Fatherhood for the Fiat 500L. It shows a guy driving at night with his twin babies in the back of his car as he tries to lull them to sleep. Then he bursts into a song relating his new experiences as a father. The whole thing is shot in the style of the 1980s New Romantic rock video—presumably reflecting his distant youth. The song is accurate and touching at the same time.

“This is actually a follow-up to an earlier film called The Motherhood,” says agency co-founder and creative director Nick Hastings. “It depicted the trials of being a mother in a funny but very real way.”

After that, it was obvious that dad should get his say. “Poor old dad is often left out of the picture in advertising featuring kids,” says Hastings. “The attitude seems to be ‘The baby came out of her body, so obviously she’s the one who does all the work’. But any father knows that’s not the case.” The campaign effectively positions the 500L as a family car, says Hastings. “It also avoids the conventions of car advertising, which always seem to require a shot of the driver with an insufferably smug smile on his face.”

One of this year’s biggest British advertising hits was a spot called “Pals” for Robinsons orange juice. It depicts two boys playing together. As they move through the suburban landscape, one of the kids appears to be more worldly than the other, protecting the second boy and keeping him out of trouble. At the end of the spot, while they’re watching TV, the “younger” child falls asleep. The other boy carries him upstairs and tucks him into bed. Then a shift in perspective changes everything. We see that the more mature kid is actually the boy’s father.

“It’s good to be a dad. It’s better to be a friend” appears on screen It’s an idealized vision of fatherhood, but also a strangely moving one. It certainly had a dramatic impact on me, a newish father. It made me cry.

But of course, men are allowed to do that now.

This story originally appeared in Marketing‘s Gender Issue as part of a group of articles exploring how gender roles are changing among Canadian consumers and how marketers should adjust long-held beliefs about marketing to men and women. The Oct. 21 issue is on newsstands now, and is available to subscribers both in print and on the iPad newsstand.

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