Futurist Faith Popcorn Explains Why Marketers Should Care About the Future of Masculinity

She's hosting a panel in Cannes on how gender roles are changing

The cover of Faith Popcorn's zine about the future of masculinity.
Headshot of Kristina Monllos

Futurist Faith Popcorn, founder and CEO of marketing trend shop BrainReserve, is kicking off the Cannes Lions Festival of Creativity later this month with a declaration: Masculinity as we know it is changing. How exactly that change will come about, what masculinity will look like, what it means for gender and what marketers need to know to keep up is what Popcorn will dig into during a panel on June 18 in the Palais.

Faith Popcorn

Ever the provocateur, Popcorn is touting her panel with a new zine, The Future of Masculinity, with a can’t-miss cover: Male genitalia have been dressed up as lipsticks, flowers, ice cream cones and more. The zine—which features essays and poetry from writers and researchers—has a note that reads: “Too often, masculinity is defined by genitalia and stereotypes.”

Adweek caught up with Popcorn before she heads to Cannes to talk about the future of masculinity.

Adweek: Why did you want to talk about the state of masculinity at Cannes?
Faith Popcorn: While everybody is focusing on females—Time’s Up, all of it—I realized that the people no one has been talking about are men. In our interviews, in all of our work, we’re seeing how uncomfortable men are and how they are actually at a loss—anxiety is up with boys, men’s suicide rates are up, testosterone is down 17 percent globally.

What does it mean for the future of masculinity?
We’re going to do something on the future of masculinity, but really, is there a future? It’s amazing how under the gun they feel. Our panel is going to be very interesting. We’re going to be asking why men are in such pain, why they account for 70 percent of suicides, if it gets better, what the definition of new masculinity is, who are the icons of new masculinity … how we raise kids, where does gender fluidity come in?

Can you tell us a bit about your findings so far?
We’re noticing with younger men, they are finding their roles to be more fluid, that the division of labor is more [equal]. You’ll see some indicators [that gender is more fluid], like how street fashion is almost unisex. How men’s cosmetics are on the rise. How men’s facelifts are going up. I think men are realizing subconsciously that they have to work on their attractiveness. Men are more active in the raising of their children. Men are more active in preparing food for the household. Men, if they are living with a female partner, are working more in collaboration with them. This is just the beginning and advertisers should be paying attention.

If you look at Axe commercials talking about what it means to be a man—Axe made its research available to us—and these are marvelous commercials. Harry’s razors, too. The direction they are moving in, asking questions about what it means to be a man, [that’s what brands should look at]. 

What does this change mean for brands?
Brands are already becoming unisex. Why is there a men’s deodorant and female deodorant? Men’s shampoo and female shampoo? A lot of these splits are artificial and just made for marketing. We’re not saying that men are going to become women either. The truth is we’re at the very beginning of this work.

As some members of older generations push back on messages about gender fluidity, what does that mean for marketers?
Brands bend to what sells product and if they think sympathizing with the underdog male is going to sell more deodorant, then that’s what they are going to do. But eventually, it’s not going to sound like a very good message. There is an age break. Maybe under 35, under 30, young men are more flexible and easygoing [with the idea of a different kind of masculinity in the future]. … I think things aren’t moving fast enough—but I say as a joke, and it’s not a joke, by the time we figure this out we’re going to have crossed with robots and all of this will just be meaningless. I’m not kidding. I think the robotization of the human body [will happen].

  • Make products for the third aisle—one that’s neither for men nor women, but for either and all the shades between. Use they/them/theirs instead of he/him/his and she/her/hers. 
  • It’s your job to lead, not follow the evolution of masculinity. Advertising, social channels and marketing will have a massive impact. Futurize your language and imagery presenting men in a new light (complex, nuanced, thoughtful, loving)—not as tough-guy stereotypes or doofus dads.
  • Think of and celebrate men as caregivers and as doing work at home. Show them respectfully in these roles. Operate on the assumption that they want to be good partners and parents—not that they are seeking to shirk these obligations.
  • Go into the culture to gain insight and foster discussion. For example, Axe aligned its recent work with [gender equality group] Promundo. Research found that most men still feel pushed to live in the “Man Box,” a rigid construct of cultural ideas about male identity. These insights inform Axe’s advertising, which aims to shift the status quo.
  • Ask yourself how you can support the Left Behinds: men who are feeling scared, powerless and angry right now. Help men accept and resolve their vulnerability, confusion, fury.
  • Understand that this is just the beginning of the revolution. 
This story first appeared in the June 11, 2018, issue of Adweek magazine. Click here to subscribe.
@KristinaMonllos kristina.monllos@adweek.com Kristina Monllos is a senior editor for Adweek.