NEWS16 March 2021

Throwing out the script – do brands need a new language around masculinity?

Impact 2021 News Trends

UK – Society is at a ‘critical juncture’ when it comes to narratives about masculinity, and brands can change the conversation, according to a panel at the MRS Impact 2021 conference.

Speaking at a virtual session on the first day of the conference, on whether brands need a new language to speak to male consumers, Will de Groot, founder and cultural strategist, MEND, said: “We’re at a critical juncture in our culture at the moment and there’s an increasing mainstreaming of the masculinity topic.

“In the past there has been a one-dimensional lens and narrative around masculinity and the male experience. There’s a need to recreate masculinity as something much more complex, nuanced and plural.”

Sherrell Honoré, consumer insights manager at Durex RB, said current narratives around masculinity reflect what we have been taught as children – such as the expectation for men to perform.

Brands can play a role in upturning those expectations and cultural norms, but they must be clear on what they’re trying to achieve, said Honore. “If there are taboos or stigmas, be very clear on what those barriers are that need to be overcome but then make a decision about whether you want to be trailblazer.”

She cited the beauty sector as one example. “It took a lot of time before we started hearing about men wearing make-up. Regardless of the category, there are these expectations because of what we’re taught.”

Abigal Mliner, marketing and sales manager at MakeLoveNotPorn, said: “Brands have a role in society in continuing traditional tropes or changing the conversation. It is the role of brands to decide to consciously change those communications – communication around masculinity has been limited.”

To do that, brands must first understand what assumptions they’re making about their audience, said Mliner. “I see so many brands continuing to make the same assumptions and communication decisions over and over. Those assumptions are so core we’re not even thinking about them anymore. If you want to make a change re: communicating with your male audiences, it’s foundational – start from what assumptions you’re making.”

One thing brands could do to challenge how they communicate with men is to give men the opportunity to change the narrative about themselves, according to de Groot.

He said: “We have this idea there’s a script as men you have to follow and abide by. If you threw that out of the window and got to write that script, who would you be? I would set out the challenge in those terms – the idea of plurality and playing with the ideas of masculinity.”

De Groot added that brands don’t always need to know everything. “It’s refreshing for brands to go in and not claim to have the answers,” he said. “People don’t really like being told how they should behave or what the new rules of masculinity are. A more collaborative approach is key.”

Really understanding the community brands are trying to serve is important, said Honoré. “If you take the time to understand who your community is, they’ll help you figure it out. It takes time – like meeting a new friend, someone you want to get to know better.”

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