Commentary

Guys Will be Guys ... Of All Kinds!

Remember the 1970s, when "unisex" things were the rage - like unisex jeans or unisex hair salons? That was the trajectory of the women's movement - i.e., equality in all things, including shopping.

Having raised two boys and read just about every book with the word "boy" in the title (The Trouble With Boys, Raising Cain: Protecting the Emotional Lives of Boys, etc.), I was coming to the conclusion that perhaps girls and women were winning at the expense of boys and men. Indeed, much has been written about young men becoming an affirmative action group at some educational institutions.

But I put down the books after coming face-to-face at a marketing focus group with real men of all ages who shared what it's like to be a man today. I heard from stay-at-home dads, men raised by single-mothers, men dating super-women, men starting their own companies, men on their third career, men getting married next weekend. Indeed, men of all kinds.

And that was the most refreshing observation: There are more men of all kinds.

Options for men have greatly expanded. With the burden of being the main or only breadwinner no longer an obligation but an option, more men can pursue things that matter to them - not just the largest paycheck. For some, this means spending more time with their kids. For others, it means leaving corporate America to start their dream company. There wasn't a man in the room who didn't think sharing the load was a great trade-off for more freedom.

A typical example: A 300-pound, serious football player who was in law school and dating an older woman who made serious money.

His take: "If we marry and have kids, she'll probably be making more money than me. I'll probably be the one to stay home with the kids when they're young." No whining. No regretting. No problem.

This shift in responsibilities hasn't made everyone unisex. Men are still men and women are women. The battle of the sexes is alive and well, thank you. The same jock law student and his buddies still like to hang out and "just be dudes." In many of their male opinions, women still talk too much, criticize too often, tidy up their stuff to their annoyance, and bring too much stress into their lives. "When I'm with my guy friends, we just chill," stated one guy.

Think what this lack of stress may bring to parenting in America, where, according to some studies, anxiety disorders have grown to impact one-quarter of the population. Pressured children of America, meet your stay-at-home-father! A recent USA Today headline observes, "Guys tackle fatherhood with humor." It seems that dads may not stress out about parenting the way we moms often do. And stress is like a virus that spreads to our kids, despite good intentions.

What does this all mean for marketers? Check your communications to make sure that you aren't offending or ignoring today's men.

? Ignoring Them. Most communications regarding purchases for the household and children are targeted to moms. Dads are aware of this and don't like it. MRI shows that 14 percent of men were primary shoppers in 1985. Today they are 31%.

? Offending Them. Spend a few hours viewing television or movies. You'll notice that not "men of all types," but unflattering stereotypes abound: The dumb dad, the slacker millennial guy, the Peter Pan men who never grow up. Guess who doesn't like that?

So while gender roles may have blurred for the better, differences remain for the better too ... requiring a new marketing balancing act.

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4 comments about "Guys Will be Guys ... Of All Kinds! ".
  1. Carol Wilgus from pyramid radio inc , August 24, 2009 at 6:27 a.m.

    Thank you for this open and timely article.
    Our company produces shopper marketing programming and communications for in-store; and we generally do target our communications to the female shopper.
    This is a real wake-up call that the times are definitely changing and in these times we cannot afford to offend or overlook any shopper!

  2. Paula Lynn from Who Else Unlimited , August 24, 2009 at 9:03 a.m.

    With the divorce rate at 50%+, who do you think buy their dish washing/washer soap? Ketchup? Mad Men?

  3. Hart Weichselbaum from the planning practice , August 24, 2009 at 9:03 a.m.

    In many respects, these stereotypes are a hangover from the old days of mass advertising. It's a complex world and we need marketing that reflects that.

  4. Andrea Learned from Learned On, LLC , August 24, 2009 at 9:47 a.m.

    In the same way it has taken a while for marketers to understand that all women are not the same (and never were), it may take a while for men to be seen as the individuals they are too. Especially, as you note, with regard to household management/parenting - guys seem to be much more comfortable with more gender balanced roles than they have in the past. As with any gender stereotype, there are a lot of long-established assumptions that need to be regularly questioned. Guys today would be just as blown away by brands that truly spoke their "language" (and not the stereotyped caricatures) as women have been delighted by brands that have learned to deliver more relevance to their 21st century lives. Gender in marketing is subtle and nuanced, but fascinating - and beneficial to take seriously.