Marketing to Men: What Became of the Likely Lads?

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If you entered Picturehouse at 1 pm today and wondered, where have all the women gone? I can assure you this is not an issue of gender inequality.

The missing 50% were lining the corridors of the IPA stage, queuing for Time Inc’s talk on marketing to men. Whilst I am sure many of us were interested to hear more on this topic, there was a certain buzz that I’m afraid to say cannot be attributed to adland.

Unconvincingly a woman in the queue asked, ‘oh is this the one with David Gandy?’ You’re not fooling us. We know why you’re here.

Time Inc’s Mark Frith was joined by David Gandy, iconic model and M&S heartthrob; Robin Wight, president of The Engine Group; Time Inc. UK’s CEO Marcus Rich; Jonathan Durden, co-founder of PHD Media and in recent years, of Below the Belt men’s grooming products. The panel came together to discuss the future of marketing to men, mental health and unsurprisingly Gandy’s underwear.

Durden sets the tone for the discussion stating that “modern men just aren’t represented at all at the moment, in the products we provide them and the way we speak to them.” A sentiment shared by the rest of the panel.

He expands on this saying, “I feel that men are often the enemy and are the thing people are pushing against. I’m quite bored of women’s hour. Not with women and I am, not anti-women but there isn’t any representation of the modern man.” A brave statement to make in a room predominantly filled with women. However, it begs the question, if men don’t feel they are being represented correctly and neither do women. What is the advertising industry doing? But that is a question for a different panel.

Looking dapper in a purple suit and stripy socks, it isn’t just Wight’s years of industry expertise that have our attention. His views on men’s behaviour and how we market to them is built from their ancestry. “Men have changed very little. We are still cavemen with status signals.” Frith touches on this subject later with Wight, asking about whatever happened to the old tribes, the mods, rockers and gents which men used to ‘belong’ too. “We create new tribes, social media is the electronic peacocks tail. Nowadays showing your amount of twitter followers is more important than what’s in your underpants.”

Following on from this the panel went on the discuss the impact of social media and men’s mental health – a subject Gandy is very passionate about. “We’ve got to be careful with social media, it’s still in its infancy. The difficulty with it is no-one is going to upload a bad day.” Men’s mental health, and particularly that of young men, has been high on the media’s agenda lately and rightly so. “We are seeing a huge rise in young male suicides,” continues Gandy as he cites a study that showed men suffering from depression, once removed from social media for 10 days showed significant improvement in happiness.

Wight goes on to support Gandy. As a sufferer of bipolar himself or as he calls it the bi-polar advantage, Wight is no stranger to mental health. “I have bipolar and it gives me more energy and enthusiasm which is what you need in advertising.” Wight goes on to discuss a hot topic in the media at the moment, mental health in the workplace. “Mental health is the last taboo of marketing. I think agencies should celebrate bipolar and create a neuro SAS department, getting stuff done that normal people can’t.”

Gandy proudly justifies how his social media presence is his work, not his personal life because it should indeed remain exactly that – personal. Social media has undoubtedly had a huge impact on how brands interact with its consumers, however Gandy has a word of caution to brands that over-rely on influencers to be seen. “There often isn’t a creative idea, it’s just lets put it on an influencer with eight million followers. I think in the future we’ll see a gap in great imagery because of this.”

So what did become of the likely lads? It seems nothing at all, times may have changed but men have not, or as Wight puts it, “we are just finding new ways to express our sameness.”

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