The Manscape

Economic and cultural trends transform the demo—but guys are just as manly as ever

While sophomoric humor, high-testosterone content and advertising stocked with brew, babes and fast cars are still very much with us, marketers, as anyone paying attention has noticed, have also been speaking to men in another, much different voice lately.

“Definitely what has happened is men are becoming numb to those traditional approaches,” says Derrick Daye, managing partner at brand consultancy The Blake Project and author of blog Branding Strategy Insider.

Cliff Skeete, creative director at Y&R, points to Euro RSCG’s highly popular, Clio-winning campaign for Dos Equis beer, “The Most Interesting Man in the World,” featuring the elegant yet tough 74-year-old actor Jonathan Goldsmith, as an example of how more men want to see themselves reflected in advertising today. “You are talking about a sophisticated man now, a man who is all-world and has decent values, not just out to get women,” Skeete says.

Of the Dos Equis campaign, Daye adds, “There are lots of women who don’t find it as funny as men—and that is further validation it is a good campaign. It’s not targeted to women. They are increasing [sampling], getting consumers who really love a certain brand of beer…to try theirs at least once, which is the key to cracking the marketing code.”

In contrast to Dos Equis’ smooth operator (in one spot, Goldsmith’s character, surrounded by a throng of beautiful women, muses about pickup lines: “There’s a time and place for them. The time is never—you can figure out the place on your own.”), Unilever’s Axe brand of men’s grooming products smashed the marketing code years ago with a sex-sells sledgehammer. But even that younger-skewing brand has moved away from its tail-chasing message.

“Axe changed from ‘Spray and get the girls’ to a more sophisticated way to get the girl,” says Skeete. “Instead of eight girls chasing after a guy to get his clothes off, you have one guy with this one girl and how this body product makes his life adaptable to hers.” (The Creative Effective Grand Prix at this year’s Cannes festival went to Axe’s “Excite” campaign, from BBH London.)

“Adaptation,” quite clearly, has become the key word for men as well as the brands trying to reach them.

Due to economic and cultural factors—some beyond their control, some of their own making—men have been released from the role of sole provider. Of course, the morphing of the modern man from Ward Cleaver to Phil Dunphy and some emasculated, moisturizing, cupcake-baking being is not a new phenomenon. Such portrayals are, in fact, beyond caricature at this point. Yet the transformation of man is clearly accelerating.

Take shaving. Despite the emergence of all those unshorn hipsters and the advent of the casual workplace and the home office, brands like Gillette’s Art of Shaving line of salons and products and Unilever’s Dove Men+Care offering of personal care products (which recently signed pro football legends Doug Flutie and John Elway as pitchmen) continue to flourish. The Wall Street Journal reports that global sales of men’s razors and blades are on the rise, expected to hit $13 billion this year, up from $12.8 billion in 2011.

Meanwhile, driven by the explosion of online shopping and recommendation sites ranging from BustedTees to InsideHook, as well as tablets, volume sales of menswear are expected to spike in 2012 for the first time in five years and are poised to accelerate over the next decade, according to the retail industry paper Drapers. Recently, department stores including Bergdorf Goodman and Saks Fifth Avenue have remodeled to be more man-friendly, while the likes of Hermès, Christian Louboutin and Bottega Veneta have opened shops tailored to the male customer and Urban Outfitters has launched a catalog targeted to men, all detailed by the Times during New York’s Fashion Week.

And while a slowdown in the sale of high-end threads threatens to impact brands such as Burberry—whose report this month of steep declines sent shock waves through the world of luxury goods—more moderately priced men’s retailers like Jos. A. Bank and Men’s Warehouse are thriving.

Likewise, it’s a mixed bag for media dependent on brands targeting men.

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