Newsflash: not all men are sports-loving, beer-chugging buffoons, incapable of contributing to the household. Crazy, right?

It’s 2014, this really shouldn’t be a groundbreaking revelation. If you take a look at how men are portrayed in advertising, however, you may not be so sure. Twenty-first Century men are more modern than ever, yet dated, stereotypical images of masculinity still prevail. We see it every day in advertisements for beer, shaving supplies, and “male-marketed” foods. The men in most television commercials represent a shallow, twisted ideal of masculinity — protein pounding, extreme sports-playing, babe-clad men who lack emotional depth or strong family ties. Do marketers really believe that all men aspire to a commercialized image of “macho”?

Unfortunately, the problem lies not only in ads that are aimed at men — in some cases, it’s a lack of male-targeted marketing that causes reason to worry. A quick stroll through any supermarket cleaning aisle proves this true. Take, for example, the striking similarity between a stick of women’s deodorant and a bottle of fabric softener. Both don labels of pastel colours, flowers, and images of female models. In fact, many products associated with stereotypically “feminine” activities like cleaning, cooking, and forms of exercise such as dance and yoga aren’t even marketed towards men. Instead, they’re branded with swirly fonts and floral prints, and touted in advertisements with prim young heroines. What’s worse, in the ads that are targeted at women, men are often given background roles as bumbling, hopeless idiots who offer little in the ways of preparing a meal or doing laundry.

Many marketers defend such choices with the mantra that is key to any form of successful advertising: “Know your audience”, they say, suggesting that the reason diet foods, fashionable clothes, and cookbooks are mostly marketed to a female consumer is because they’re the ones buying them. The Modern Man, a recent study conducted by Microsoft Canada and Omnicom Group, however, proves that this is not necessarily true.

The study surveyed 1,650 men and 650 women across Canada, aged 16 to 65 in both French and English, and the results were pretty consistent across the board. All demographics remarked on a “shift in the traditional male identity”, in which male attitudes towards family, health, and shopping contrast what is often depicted in advertising and popular culture.

A stunning 74% of men reported having partial or complete responsibility in buying personal care products. 62% listed their children among their top priorities. For men, “health” isn’t just about protein and pumping iron; 68% expressed an interest in nutrition, 66% in cooking, and two thirds think it’s important to eat a balanced and nutritious diet. Yet, when you turn on the television, many of the food-related ads directed at men preach “hardy”, meaty foods or, as in 2011, Dr. Pepper even went as far as to market their popular soft drink as “not for women” to, apparently, appeal to men.

What is becoming increasingly clear is that the representation of men in advertising is not a male-only issue. It’s a concern with frighteningly misogynistic undertones — reflecting fixed standards of a women’s role in the home and society. It doesn’t take much common sense to realize that of course all men aren’t incapable of washing a shirt or baking a cake. Where would male bachelors and same-sex couples fit into a supposedly “female-dominated” world of cooking and cleaning?

“What we’ve found in this study is that the very definition of what it means to ‘be a man’ is evolving,” says Caroline Moul, vice president of digital and emerging media at Omnicom Group. “The lines between traditional gender stereotypes are becoming more parallel than ever.”

Unfortunately, as with LGBTQ+ (lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, questioning, etc) and racial representation, many advertisers are failing to accurately represent the shifting role of men in our society. And, considering the massive influence of advertisement in our lives, there is harm in projecting such dated values.

This leaves many of us wondering what the suggested research entails. How can we hope for advertising to move forward? Does more male interest in fashion and personal grooming indicate marketers are missing a key opportunity? Is there a gap in the market for men’s personal appearances to be dictated to the same extent as women’s? That’s not the type of equality that should be strived for.

Instead, the report recommends a more open-minded approach: include, don’t isolate. It suggests that gender neutral imagery for branding of household items helps to ensure a key audience isn’t being excluded. Appealing to interests (whether “traditionally male” or not) is also listed amongst the strategies to prevent brands from getting left behind with marketing rooted in stereotypes.

Some brands are already taking the first steps — Tide does an excellent job of including men in their ads for laundry detergent products. One of Apple’s latest iPhone commercials features parents of both genders spending time with their children, including a clip of a father gardening with his daughter. It might not seem like much in retrospect — an ad or two that highlights men taking part in “traditionally female” tasks won’t necessarily be making any headlines. But each effort is a step in the right direction that lets boys everywhere know that their success as a man needn’t be measured in touchdowns scored or sexual activity.

Johanna Faigelman, president of Human Branding, noted that “All of these things are coming together for a perfect point of cultural tension where male identity is changing”. While there’s still plenty of room for progress to be made, the rigid rules of stereotypical masculinity are becoming a construct of the past.


Photo Courtesy of: The Corvallis