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Even before Mexico’s Secretary of Public Security revealed alarming numbers regarding the increase in gender-based violence in 2021 to date versus previous years, I strongly believed in the ability of advertising to help relax the pressures and stereotypes affecting both men and women. Brands can help pave the way to a better gender balance and ultimately a reduction in gender-based violence.
Of course, this is a very sensitive and complex subject to discuss in-depth within a marketing article, but that doesn’t mean it shouldn’t be done.
The key question is—how can businesses and brands make that cultural difference?
I had first-hand experience of this last year after being contacted by a global leader in the snacks business from Mexico City. The challenge it set was to refresh the Brand Campaign Idea (BCI) for one of its most iconic brands and ensure that it was future-proofed. The emotional space in which the brand decided to engage with consumers was attraction and irresistibility.
The communication platform the brand had was very successful, so it required bravery and vision from the lead marketing team to change it. They foresaw that the tonality and role they had given women and men in their story could cause a backlash if they didn’t quickly work to modernize it. They had the foresight to realize that, as always, it is better to change when things are doing well than when they have already become an issue.
The current brand communication shared a very narrow definition of attraction. For years it portrayed an “ideal” man trying to conquer an unreachable woman in different situations. In a context of rising feminist concern, and when 72% of men in Mexico reported that they would like to see more “real men” in ads, this formula was outdated and in a dire need of a refresh.
We worked on that alternative by using existing research from TNS in Mexico. We found that whilst Mexican men thought that showing wealth, a buff body or a masculine attitude was what women would find attractive in them, the reality was different.
What women said they found most attractive in men is personal style, guys who are comfortable being themselves (84% in Mexico) and a good sense of humor. So interestingly, young men were subscribing to non-existent pressures fueled by stereotypes that brand communications, once part of the problem, could now start to help shift.
If we dig further into the research, we find further surprising data. When compared with other countries, 33% of Mexican men already believe that “looking unique” makes them more attractive versus 15% of men in the U.K. or 26% in the U.S. Having said that, almost half of Mexicans are also the ones that say they will be judged or labeled if they look different. This is a higher percentage in comparison with U.K. or U.S. men, and therefore, more than a third of Mexicans make an effort to appear more masculine in order to be more attractive to women.
The reasons behind these beliefs are several. According to Promundo, in Mexico, the pressure coming from parents to define how a “real man” should behave has a much stronger influence on men’s personalities than those in the U.S. or U.K. Peer pressure from other men in Mexico is also very relevant, confirmed by the alarming school bullying statistics: seven out of ten Mexican men admitted to having experienced it. This remains one of the highest levels reported around the globe.
Tackling the challenge
The core of the change proposed to the brand was to stop showing attraction as a conquering game of “ideals” and move to express attraction as what it really is: a game of connection between equals. And as the data shows, the chances of being seen as more attractive increases when you liberate your real self.
Results of the launch campaign were extremely positive. Engagement levels were reported at 27.5%, ten times the category average with 84% reporting a positive sentiment, coming from both, men and women. Additionally, ad tracking showed levels well above average in persuasion and affinity. This confirms the findings from a Kantar report for UNWomen’s Unsterotype Alliance stating that portraying men in a more positive way significantly improves advertising results in brand equity, short-term sales and ad impact.
I am not alone in the view that corporate behavior and brand communication can help, as we’ve seen in recent years the rapid changes in consumers’ expectations and needs. According to a study from Edelman, ethical drivers are three times more important to company trust than competence.
Brands can and should take an active role in reducing the pressure on men to achieve unattainable and fake ideals. This will ultimately help eliminate their feelings of frustration and hopefully change the alarming statistics mentioned at the start of this article. And if that weren’t enough of an incentive for brands to change the way they portray masculinity, we’ve witnessed first-hand the positive effect these kinds of modern portrayals can have on a brand’s business performance.