It seems like no matter where you turn today, there’s a fascination with the idea that women are taking over. Their unemployment rates are receding. They’re earning more college degrees. They’re becoming sole breadwinners and upping the population of stay-at-home dads. For marketers, these are fine pieces of news. After all, women have long been the prime target of advertising, and if they have more disposable income to spend these days, well, so much the better.
This is going to make the following argument seen counterintuitive, but I’ll venture it anyway. The true growth—even in categories that courted female shoppers for years—lies with the guys.
Sure, the metrosexual thing is passé these days, but it’s left an important truth in its pop-cultural wake. The “everyday Joe” has been taught that it’s OK to look good, smell nice and dress well. The motivations (while varied) for this new man’s grooming activities are less about vanity than instilling confidence and creating a feeling of success. Preening before the bathroom mirror was long considered effeminate. But that stigma is gone, and a budding market of men’s grooming products has come to the fore in tandem with a revised definition of masculinity.
Walk down the hallway from the bathroom to the kitchen, and you’ll see a similar rewriting of the gender code. Even though men have long dominated the restaurant industry, let’s just say that achieving the perfect soufflé at home has not generally been viewed as a manly thing. Over the last few years, however, swashbuckling celeb chefs who rule their TV kitchens have made it culturally safe for men to venture into the culinary arts at home, and there’s no better proof than the emergence of cooking products (from gadgets by OXO and Peugeot to an entire kitchen designed by Porche) to reflect a masculine aesthetic.
Then there’s the growth of the full-time dad. Since 2007, 6.3 million American men have lost their jobs, which has among other things served to redefine their household roles. What’s significant about this from a marketing perspective is that as fathers assume traditional “mom” jobs such as packing lunches and doing laundry, their interest in the brands associated with these activities—from convenience foods to fabric softener—has increased proportionally.
And so, while the buying power might be moving toward women in purely fiscal terms, marketers should not lose sight of the fact that it’s increasingly men who are writing up the shopping lists, hitting the stores and doing the actual spending.
Some brands have been prescient enough to capitalize on this gender-role drift already. Nutrisystem, for example, has defied industry norms in the weight-loss market by directing its messaging toward men. The move not only gave the brand a new base of consumers, but it also furnished Nutrisystem with an alternative to slugging it out with competing weight-loss plans for share of the same female demo.
Similarly—and after years of soft-focus commercials full of soft-skinned women—the Dove soap brand made a play for the masculine market with a new suite of products called Dove Men + Care, which emphasizes deep-cleaning over softness and signed spokesmen like the Yankee’s Joe Girardi to make clear that Dove was no longer your wife’s beauty bar.
If brands as traditionally feminine as a diet plan and skin-moisturizing soap can make a marketing play for guys, most any brand can probably do the same thing. In fact, they may have to. A broadened strategic attention is necessary for any company or any brand that hopes to stay competitive and relevant in a marketplace as lean and mutable as this one is. As one target demo (women, in this case) has moved to the economic forefront, the other (men) may have been inversely impacted. But opportunity often arises from disruption. The sooner that the marketing community catches on to men as a market for goods that previously weren’t aimed at them, the sooner they’ll reap the rewards.
Kathy Oneto is the vp of brand strategy for Anthem Worldwide. She can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.