Homegrown: Man-vertising, the shifting codes of masculinity
by Lynne Gordon (@lynne_gordon) Masculinity is an essential component of African identity. Deep tradition and values have, for generations, informed the archetype of strong, heroic manhood — the protector, provider and warrior. But, as gender roles and values shift, marketers need to embrace new constructs to create ‘man-vertising’ that speaks to new ideas of masculinity.
Shifting gender identity in advertising
Shifting the constructs of female identity has been in the spotlight of marketing for the last decade. From Dove #realbeauty to Always #likeagirl and Barbie’s reinvention of professional stereotypes in Imagine the Possibilities, the changing face of women has been a central theme for brands.
But it is much more recently that the broader stereotypes of gender and the reinvention of masculinity have come into focus. Unilever is once again pioneering new thinking, and marketers are being challenged to #unstereotype all gender constructs in advertising.
South Africa is, in some aspects, a deeply traditional society, and masculinity is a cherished construct — informed by patriarchal social structures, and a long history and rich cultural beliefs. Yet, brands need to not only reflect the shifting definitions of gender in society but also play a central role in actively reshaping culture.
Brooke Bond Red Label Tea, committed to a purpose of bringing people together, created a campaign that heroes “The 6 pack band”, the first Indian transgender pop band, a move that shatters traditional taboos and definitions of masculinity.
Portraying gender for a new era
Codes of masculinity are fragmenting and diversifying
The man of yesterday was all about patriarchy, power, performance and physical strength. Successful campaigns featured the “manly man”; the BarOne Manhunt and Gillette Champion Men resonated with men by portraying strong heroes winning the day. The man of today — and tomorrow — is more multi-faceted.
Axe, a brand that typified masculine stereotypes of the past [and was once known as Ego — ed-at-large], has embraced a new definition of individual manliness in “Find your Magic”, which encourages guys to embrace their own unique attractiveness. While its execution may be a distraction to effectively communicating to African men, the essence of individual, authentic masculinity rings true.
Jaden Smith has crushed masculinity constructs in fashion, becoming the face of Louis Vuitton’s Spring/Summer womanswear campaign, and gracing the pages of Vogue Korea rocking a skirt, skinny jeans and a flower behind his ear.
Gender roles are blurring
The separate domains of men and women are increasingly a thing of the past.
- The beauty salon in SA is being reinvented by Sorbet with the launch of Sorbet Man, a “grooming bar for men who want to feel like men”, where guys can get beauty treatments while sipping on a scotch and having their shoes shined.
- Ariel has challenged gender roles with its #SharetheLoad campaign, an emotive challenge to the role of fathers in the household, a campaign also shortlisted for a Glass Lion at Cannes this year.
- Dove, best known for challenging female stereotypes with #realbeauty as mentioned above, now also aims to reinvent constructs of manly strength, with #realstrength heroing strong men in their role as fathers.
Lessons for marketers
So how do brands play a role in both creating and reflecting the new face of masculinity with “man-vertising” for the modern male in SA? Brand communication for the future will be enabled by marketers who rethink gender as a whole, and move the conversation forward on masculinity:
- #Unstereotype your assumptions and insights: in my house, the shopping is done primarily by my husband, who received a Pick n Pay Smartshopper survey clearly designed with an assumption of female shopping. His irritation highlights the opportunities to question stereotypes in everyday brand thinking, recognising both evolving gender roles and shifting identities. Question the roles of shopper and consumer of your brands; recognise new influencers; rethink propositions to include new constructs.
- Champion openness and inclusivity: gender is an increasingly open and shifting construct, and inclusivity is the new normal. Brands need to embrace the opportunity to both lead and reflect new definitions of masculinity in SA.
- Authenticity still wins: brands seeking to dig deep into the tensions, shifts and tenets of identity will always have the opportunity to create culture and stand out as pioneers. While masculinity is increasingly individual, human truths at the heart of manhood will remain fertile ground for brand purpose and execution.
Lynne Gordon (@lynne_gordon) is the managing director at strategic marketing consultancy Added Value. Her monthly MarkLives column, “Homegrown”, explores everyday businesses and the lessons corporate marketers can learn from the streets of Mzansi. Find out more on how to explore and define your own brand’s character at www.characterlab.com.