I never had any desire to grow out my moustache. Sure, like most every Gen X guy, I’ve had a couple rounds of goatees through the years (thank you, Spike Lee), sported some long sideburns (thank you, Brandon and Dylan on “90210”), and even attempted the short beard (I have only myself to blame). But moustaches have always seemed a relic that was better left to the sepia-toned trash heap of men’s history, like snuff or the things dudes were doing on the sides of Grecian urns. It always seemed like a good idea to just let moustaches fade away.
But then Movember rolled around. If you’re not already surrounded by hordes of semi-creepy ’staches in your office, let me tell you that Movember is a month-long event, during which men grow out moustaches to raise awareness and donations for men’s health issues. It is, of course, a wonderful cause. But more than that, it’s a brilliant marketing idea, one that strikes gold on the elusive goal of connecting to and engaging men on their own terms.
While fundraising is a large part of Movember’s mission, raising awareness for men’s health issues is its most remarkable and insightful accomplishment. At the core of it is the quandary of how to get men talking about things they have no desire to talk about: testicular and prostate cancer. These cancers clearly affect an anatomical portion of men’s bodies that are discussed mostly with high fives. It’s the hardwired bro side of the man, if you will. Few men care to consider these parts as a potential killer.
Yet, the most effective mode of treatment for these types of cancer lies in early detection — which means going to see a doctor, another area in which men also traditionally find kinship with their Neanderthal forebears. In addition to a failure to talk about prostate and testicular cancer, men are also wary of visiting the doctor for preventative care or early detection.
So, how does growing a moustache in November help guys drum up the desire to go see a doctor?
First, the idea of growing a moustache in today’s culture is clearly ridiculous. Moustaches are passé in a way that, even with a hipster’s desire for irony, just can’t quite turn the corner on cool. But, by putting guys in the awkward position of growing them out, it creates a “safe” environment for men to talk about them. And by getting a discussion going, Movember starts to condition behavior, teaching men that talking about something weird or uncomfortable — like going to see a doctor — shouldn’t be taboo.
There’s a fascinating parallel that’s formed between growing and talking about ridiculous facial hair and the simple act of getting a doctor to check your private parts. It convinces guys that talking about the potential dangers lurking in their plumbing is just as easy and nonthreatening as looking a little anachronistic for a month.
Additionally, the camaraderie that communal moustache growing inspires adds to the demystification of the health issues that men ought to discuss. My moustache started out as ’70s Cop, then morphed into Riverboat Gambler, and now it’s basically an Errol Flynn Swashbuckler. I have daily moustache-related dialogues with guys in the office I otherwise rarely encounter, and I’m constantly starting up conversations with complete strangers trying to look like Burt Reynolds.
And that’s the point. According to Jason Hincks, COO of Movember, “The conversations men have start as fun and irreverent, and they often end up talking about something serious -- almost without them noticing.”
The marketing wisdom here comes from a contrarian insight about men, and it’s fueled by fresh thinking to tackle a very human barrier. Movember shows that great ideas to connect are rooted in universal truths, even if those truths can make us uncomfortable. But getting guys out of their comfort zones and teaching new behavioral patterns can also be the key to getting them talking, engaged, and inspired.