Advertisers are trying to recognize that there is a change in men and that guys are going to relate to other men.
We interviewed Break Media’s Andy Tu while researching our latest trend report, “The State of Men.” Los Angeles-based Break Media is the largest creator and producer of male-targeted video and content online with sites including humor-focused Break.com and lifestyle destination Made Man. Last year Tu and his team developed the Acumen Report, a study of American men age 18-49. Tu discussed some of their more surprising insights into how the male mindset is changing and how men are expressing masculinity at a time when lad culture is fading.
How are advertisers shifting their approach to showing masculine behavior? For instance, Dr Pepper Ten has a new campaign that’s a turnabout from their “No women allowed” work, going in a more ironic direction.
Their ads from a couple years ago were almost alienating in the way that they were so macho. There’s a way to take that route but do so in a way that’s aspirational; Dos Equis’ Most Interesting Man in the World doing all these things that are partially obscure, partially things you do in your everyday life and partially completely absurd. But guys want to be like him and aren’t put off by him. If you see the new round of advertising for Dr Pepper Ten, which is still the “manliest soda,” it’s very much playing into this nostalgia angle. It looks like it was shot in a 1970s video format, and it’s an awkward bearded guy standing by a river and an eagle drops him a can of Dr Pepper Ten. It’s still absurd, but it’s more poking fun at the absurdity of it rather than saying, “No women allowed. This is absolutely so manly that these are the attributes of the manly way to drink a soda.”
If you are going to play that card of something is super manly, you almost have to poke fun at the super guy’s-guy mentality, because there is a shift there in the mentality of guys. Old Spice has had a chance to do that with the Old Spice Guy. Dos Equis has done it as well.
What other kinds of approaches are not working today?
Very widely known is Huggies with the “doofus dad” program from last year. Dads were taking on a child-rearing weekend and were portrayed as scared idiots who didn’t know what they were doing. Shortly after launch, Huggies pulled the national campaign. The new creative is a complete 180. It shows dads, very caring dads, rocking their children quietly in the dark and talking about topics that are facing them as dads.
What are some brands that are doing a good job striking the right tone for the men of today?
The biggest difference is advertisers trying to recognize that there is a change in men and that guys are going to relate to other men they see in their regular life, including men reflected in the media, whether it’s through advertising or on TV. For example, Honda CR-V. There is a new ad where two men meet at the back of a Honda CR-V in a grocery store parking lot. They have a debate over who got the better deal on groceries as they load up the CR-V with household items.
Advertisers have come to realize more men are in stay-at-home-dad roles and are involved in shopping across different categories. There’s a big conference in Houston currently in its second year, the Dad’s 2.0 Conference. Honda has been a participant in that along with Unilever, with their Dove Men+Care. [In a recent ad from that brand,] Dwayne Wade is talking about how the most important aspect in the game is defense, and then we see him playing basketball against his kids.
Another version has him talking about how important training is, and it shows him sweating and lifting, but it’s a close-up—then they back out and he’s not lifting weights, he’s lifting his son over his head. These ads show dads in a new light of being more caring and clearly more adept in child-rearing. That’s very relatable. Dove has done a very good job of coming onto the scene with a new product line with Dove Men+Care.
I saw a Bud Light ad—it’s got two guys and a girl as roommates, saying goodbye to their couch. And the next scene is the couch sitting out on the street and a new set of roommates, three guys and a girl, come and pick it up. Bud Light also has their new ad where a couple is on a date and they talk about how weird it is that they are on an online date. The woman says, “I’m glad you don’t have a moustache,” and he says, “I’m glad you don’t have a moustache.” She says, “Those are my friends over there, I brought them just in case you were scary.” He replies, “Those are my friends over there, hitting on your friends. I brought them too.”
In both examples of the creative for Bud Light, you see them speaking directly to the guy of now. They’re not saying it’s above guys to be on an online date. It’s not above guys to have female roommates. And that bleeds across into other media, too. It’s very New Girl to have guys and girls as roommates.
What are some other examples on TV or other media?
Five years ago, you still had things like Charlie Sheen on Two and a Half Men and the David Spade character [on Rules of Engagement] portraying pretty sleazy guys. I don’t know that they could get away with that anymore. It’s funny that the guy that’s predominantly in that role now on TV is Neil Patrick Harris, and he almost gets away with it because everybody knows, tongue in cheek, that’s just not who he is when he walks off-camera. Instead we are seeing a rise in male characters like in New Girl. It’s not all about guys getting the girls, it’s about guys being supportive and there for their girl roommate who’s their friend.
A character like Phil Dunphy, a former collegiate cheerleader, is very in touch with his daughters and their dating lives. There is clearly a part of those characters that’s played for comedic effect, but there’s something that’s relatable for guys sitting at home with their families.
Your company’s research mentions some archetypes from previous eras, like Bruce Willis or Seinfeld. Are there any specific guys who personify that archetype right now?
It’s funny because what our research showed is that there wasn’t an archetype that stood out. We gave guys 25 choices and said, “Who is somebody you think most personifies today’s man?” We gave them different athletes, TV stars, movie stars and music artists. No. 1 at 14 percent, which is in no way a mandate, was George Clooney. But No. 3 was Joseph Gordon-Levitt. We did a big qualitative piece before we went out into the field with our survey, and his name kept coming up. This was just as Dark Knight was about to go into theaters, Looper was already out, and he’d just hosted SNL for the first time. Guys were hilarious talking about it. They said, you know, “I think I’d be friends with him if we were hanging out.” He’s on SNL, and he takes his shirt off and does the Magic Mike scene. Then he dances like Fred Astaire and does a backflip off the wall. He’s very comfortable in his own skin. He’s very well-balanced. He embraces roles of all different kinds. He seems very adaptable, and he has that endearing quality across the spectrum.
On the topic of metrosexuals, would you say metrosexual is sort of the new norm? That almost every guy is now thinking much more about fashion and beauty products?
Absolutely, the notion of the metrosexual is passé. I don’t think I would say it’s the norm, but I do think that what it taught men broadly was that it’s OK to care about how you look; it’s OK to care about how you dress. It’s almost expected, but I don’t think anybody who cares about how they look or how they dress or how their hair looks is now characterized as this fringe metrosexual. That’s a term which is largely out of the vernacular. Now there’s a new fringe group, and there will always be a new fringe.
There’s been a big conversation around the idea that the new metrosexual is actually the “retrosexual”—a man that plays off the previous generation in both style and attitude, taking learnings and inspiration from past generations to inspire and express who they are.
So what is the retrosexual exactly?
Portlandia did a hilarious piece at the beginning of last season about everyone looking like they were in the 1890s, wearing long beards and funny hats and plaid shirts. There’s definitely this idea that guys are returning to these arts and crafts that are more bespoke. Even from a style perspective, they’re gravitating towards brands that have a history or have a craft to them.
We work with Movember. They’ve done an amazing job of this. Their creative last year was called Movember & Sons. It was all about showing pictures of guys wearing mustaches with somebody a generation above them who also wore a mustache. And I don’t think this only applies to legacy brands like Levi’s or American heritage brands. There’s a way for new brands to enter that conversation set too.
I look at not only Movember but at something like Dollar Shave Club. Commercials for the shaving category have gone crazy with the “Tech this, tech that, four blades, five blades, six, seven”—how many blades can you get on there? Dollar Shave Club ditched all that and said, “They’ve had it right all along. You can’t really beat this very classic thing.” If you don’t have a 100-year-old brand, it’s OK. But just plying the new, special, coolest, latest and greatest isn’t the only way to become part of the conversation.
Take a look at Shinola, a company out of Detroit that’s making bicycles and watches. And if you go to Shinola’s site or watch their creative messaging, it’s really about tradition and restoring the classic nature of Detroit as one of America’s great cities. It’s a very Midwest, mainstream market, and they’re definitely playing to that new era of men to connect.
I don’t think guys are going to show up at their accountant job with a foot-long beard, but there are ways they’re expressing their style that’s definitely different. Justin Timberlake, for example. He’s rocking a Sinatra-esque hard hair part in his “Suit and Tie” video. It’s OK to wear the tuxedo on a night out, and he’s definitely pulling inspiration and style cues from a previous generation. Remember, this is the guy who had a tight-curled Jheri curl with frosted tips 10 years ago.
Your research terms today’s man a “modern mensch.” Can you explain a bit about that guy?
In our qualitative interviews we did an exercise in which we said, “Take these 25 cards and rank them as to what are the most important things in your life.” We had classic definitions of masculinity, like “I want to get girls” or “I want to have a great job,” “I want to get paid a lot.” We had some nouveau things like “I want to be eco-conscious,” “I want to be capable in the kitchen.” And then we had things that said, “I want to be a good person,” “I want to be well-rounded,” “I want to have many friends and be a friend to many.” We were surprised at how often the ones I mentioned later kept floating to the top.
We thought, “This is just because we’re sitting here in the room.” We carried that exercise over into our survey—and the same few things kept floating to the top, being well-rounded and good-hearted. People who participated in our studies that were fathers, far and away the No. 1 most important aspect in their lives was being a good father. The common thread along all these major topics is that people are trying to be good guys. There’s really a shift in guys saying, “I’m trying to do what’s right.”
Did the results surprise you?
The survey results did surprise us. We thought, “OK, guys do want to get girls, right? That’s going to crack into the Top 5. Or, guys are incredibly career-driven, that’s going to be in the Top 5.” The real Top 5 were: good-hearted, good friend, well-rounded, emotionally strong and then the fifth was successful career.
I wish we could know what the response would have been, say, 10 years ago.
The researcher in me thinks it’s very challenging to speculate. But there’s a lot of different factors which are leading to why this is happening today. The Great Recession being one of them. Media and marketing being another one. The changing home dynamic is absolutely a factor as well. There are a lot of forces at play.
Is media and marketing reflecting or is it also driving attitudes?
I think it’s both. We asked guys as a part of our study, “What kind of marketing messages resonate with you?” And one that was often brought up was the Google ad. It was telling the story of his daughter’s life through Google products. I had a grown man in New York in tears talking to me about this ad. He said, “I just had my daughter and I was watching the ad, and I started crying. This ad really spoke to me.”
Your research also looked into how guys are expressing masculinity nowadays. Can you talk about that a bit?
We did a piece around “small adventures” where guys can really express their masculinity. Guys, as much as they’re comfortable in their own skin, they’re still getting a lot of grief about this new era in masculinity. Comedian Adam Carolla wrote a book called In Fifty Years We’ll All Be Chicks, which gives guys a really hard time. He said, “What happened to real men? Guys are driving their Prius and wearing Baby Bjorns and shopping at the farmer’s market. And we need to return to the era where guys were in their garages. They knew how to fix cars and do all this stuff.” He was doing it obviously to not only sell books but to get laughs.
But I think guys are saying, “We’re not totally soft.” They’re into changing the dynamic in the workplace. They’re into changing the dynamic in their home lives. And what we call “small adventures” is happening in their downtime. Leisure and downtime is where guys are going to seemingly express that masculinity.
There is no such thing as casual outings anymore. Guys shared these stories: “I don’t just get beers with my friends anymore. It’s an event. We go to the new craft beer place. We don’t just get burgers anymore, we have the bucket list of burger places.” This idea that nobody calls their buddy and says, “Hey, let’s grab a beer.” They call their buddy and say, “Let’s go find this super craft beer that they only have one keg of in our city, and let’s go find the great burger that’s in a shed behind a gas station that we know about.”
Guys are looking for an opportunity to take the ordinary and turn it into the extraordinary and be the first to do it. Marketers are beginning to tap into that, which is very interesting. We’ve seen Corona do a good job with “Find your beach.” There are other ways that marketers can tap into that leisure and downtime and say, “If that’s where you’re going to be a guy, we want to help enable that and make that time more special for you.”
These small adventures seem quite different from what guys would do in the past.
To see Cheers with Norm and Ted Danson and Woody in the bar every day, that didn’t look like an adventure. That was where guys went to be guys for sure, but you didn’t get the sense that they were exploring an angle of their masculinity in the same way guys are doing today.
What about lad culture? Has that really faded away at this point?
Yeah. There’s always going to be a place for guys to laugh with movies like Hangover 3. We’ve seen Project X and 21 & Over each have its place. I think the idea that you can live that way in your regular life is absolutely passé. It’s the idea that guys are going to be Stifler forever, books like I Hope They Serve Beer in Hell and Maxim culture. This view of men doesn’t really have a place with guys today.
It almost seems like you would just laugh if a guy was acting like that today.
Exactly. It has to be more relatable and more balanced. For example, in The Hangover, Bradley Cooper plays the stereotypical chauvinist guy, but he’s also an elementary school teacher who can turn it off and on. It’s a balance, and even he can’t get away with it all the time.
Has your research looked into the phenomenon of stay-at-home dads?
About 25 percent of the fathers in our study said they were stay-at-home dads. People said, “Those guys must all be unemployed,” which was not the case. Our study found that our participants were on par with the national average of unemployment, around 8 percent. It was largely the case that guys were self-selecting to be in these roles. Household income for our study was split right down the middle: 50 percent of guys saying they were the primary earner of income in their household.
The interesting piece was the majority of guys, I think around 80 percent, said society actually looks down on men in these stay-at-home-dad roles. Guys are saying, “Hey, I’m comfortable in this role, and there’s a lot of us. But society broadly does not appreciate that this is happening. They actually look down on us.” That’s going to change over time. But these guys must feel like they’re real pioneers in taking on some of these new roles.
Perhaps it’s not surprising that society hasn’t caught up, since men’s roles have been shifting so quickly.
The very oft-used reference from last fall was a book called The End of Men. I really think that book should have been called The Rise of Women and not The End of Men. But this is a much scarier title to talk about. Women are graduating college and entering the workforce at a faster clip than men. The big recession affected industries traditionally facing men more so than ones facing women—manufacturing, automotive, finance even—and there were still opportunities in very female-dominated categories. You see a headline of “The End of Men,” and you see In Fifty Years We’ll All Be Chicks, you definitely have to feel like, What’s going on with guys now?
As men’s roles change, are they becoming different types of consumers?
Absolutely—men are becoming different consumers across a ton of different types of categories, through a variety of means. We asked men, Are there household activities where you are the primary person in charge or is it a shared responsibility in your household? And for a lot of guys, they were the primary person involved in activities like grocery shopping, child-rearing and other categories. That bled over not only into household activities but also into product categories they were in charge of shopping for, including household goods, GPG and personal care products.
One of the big factors we think is impacting this is technology. We talked to guys in our qualitative piece around when they were buying personal care products, and there was this kid in college who said, “It used to be that if I said, ‘Hey, Mom, I need deodorant,’ I would come home from school and there would be deodorant there. Now it’s different because when my mom sees 65 different types of deodorant, she shoots me a text, ‘What deodorant do you want?’” And so that choice has really gone from being somebody else’s choice to being a personal choice, even if you aren’t the one actually grabbing it in the store. There’s been a lot of research as well around men being very technology-focused at point of sale; some men get on their phones in store to learn more about the product.
Men are also more involved in child-rearing. They’re more involved in their households than they ever have been before. They’re more involved in the products that end up in their respective households, and they’re more caring that those products are custom-tailored to their needs and their families. So there’s absolutely a shift in men as consumers.
What are some ways in which your site reflects your findings?
For example, we’ve got a show called “Threads” that follows people who are inspiring and shaping the fashion industry. This idea of nostalgia or craftsmanship came out in a recent episode that was around a shoemaking company that makes shoes by hand, custom-made to order. I think this idea of craftsmanship and handmade quality definitely speaks to men across a wide spectrum of categories.
“Man at Arms” is a show we created that’s about a blacksmith in Hollywood. He creates the weapons you see in tons of Hollywood movies. This is an idea, again, of craftsmanship. Every week we document him re-creating another classic movie weapon. The most popular episode, with about million views against it, is him re-creating the sword from Adventure Time, a cartoon on Cartoon Network that has this cultish, huge following. To see this 300-pound, hulking blacksmith making a child’s sword from a cartoon, and having it be the most popular episode, absolutely speaks to the changing dynamic of men. They feel so comfortable in their own skin that they are raising their hand and saying, “Yes, I am super into this cartoon.” It’s not even on Adult Swim, it’s on Cartoon Network. Saying, “I would love to see a blacksmith handcraft a cartoon sword in real life.” I think there’s just such a change there as far as the kind of content that resonates and works.