Boys will be boys

Boys will be boys

A saying that seems simple and is often casually used by men and women but has grown to be associated with an acceptance of the ‘toxic masculinity’ issues that exist today. But this saying could be turned on its head – it could be used to celebrate a new view of men today. Brands today speaking to men are all trying to make this shift, some with success and others, while creating conversation, not quite hitting the mark. Which brands are engaging effectively and which are causing a stir?

Social media exploded this past week in reaction to Gillette’s new ad. They have tried to evolve their brand mantra tackling ‘toxic masculinity’ head on; shifting their brand tag line from “the best a man can get” to “the best a man can be”. Their execution literally tells the audience what the brand believes, and in my opinion, this approach is clumsy as an ad. It seems they are preaching to men what they should be, and the reflection they have on the negative state of masculinity that sets up their story makes me feel depressed rather than inspiring me and celebrating a modern view that many men today do adhere to. It seems like a brand mood video, rather than an ad, for internal use, rather than external.

My good friend Fernando DeSouches is an expert in this space. His article on how Gillette has fallen into the ‘progressive men’ trap echoes my feelings on this execution. Check it out.

An alternate approach is exemplified with the launch in the past week by BeautyCounter of CounterMan. This is a male-specific offering, and their approach is far more celebratory in tone. Their tag line ‘Good guys deserve great skin care’ builds directly from their overall brand message of ‘Beauty should be good for you’. This modern, fast growing brand has a clear point of view in its message but it channels a strong belief behind the integrity and quality of their product rather than directly on how people should behave. They do bring to the fore values they hold dear as it pertains to men and masculinity but they deliver that carefully by celebrating real men, guys you want to associate with, aspire to, and identify with.

This approach reminds me of the advertising I worked on for Dove Men+Care. This advertising again celebrates men as they are. It uses real life examples of men displaying a new depiction of masculinity, rather than preaching to people how they should behave. I was particularly proud of this work from several years ago, and it now seems others are building on it, and even going further to keep current, and keep culturally relevant.

Taking it further, another shaving brand that is engaging men based on clever insights while reflecting a modern, inclusive depiction of men is Dollar Shave Club. They’ve drawn on real human observations of moments when people are getting ready, and expressed them with humor to drive affinity and engagement. They have also shared various types of people – a modern portrayal of the diversity that exists in society, including men, women and a drag queen. This is a different direction and reflects a reality today and celebrates it. In a world where gender lines are blurring, this shaving brand has shifted towards cultural relevance and done so in an inclusive way. It has not hit ‘toxic masculinity’ head on, because guess what? Not all men today aren’t belly-aching on the state of masculinity, they are getting on with being themselves; the topic they actually wrestle with is ‘fitting in’ to a world that is extremely diverse, finding their own unique voice, not defined by anyone but themselves and certainly not restricted by their gender. There’s no surprise that Unisex offerings in beauty and grooming are outpacing growth of gender-specific offerings. It may be a smaller pool that this execution resonates with versus the scale of Gillette but it is growing a heck of a lot faster and starting to eat Gillette’s lunch. It makes me wonder if perhaps Gillette could have gone further and shifted towards ‘the best you can be’?

I applaud any brand making efforts to shift their conversation to more progressive. Brands hold a lot of power in helping shape the cultural dynamic and I utterly respect any brand that challenge stereotypes and evolves toward this.

For brands, all of these efforts are still with the intention of driving relevance with their audience to ultimately drive resonance and sales. And the more successful ones pay careful attention to their audience, reflecting real insights and taking care to how they will react and identify with the brand’s message.



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