Bro, Don't Belittle Me: Insights For Connecting With Today's Millennials

Millennial males are not insensitive baboons. They’re in tune with their feelings and willing to admit that real men cry. They put style in front of comfort, wear tight jeans and care about grooming. They don’t see the success of women as The Terminator’s rise of the machines, because it’s never been a competition. They are partners in the household when it comes to cleaning, child rearing or grocery shopping – name it and they help. 

Despite the evolving definition of masculinity, marketers are still talking to men using dated, belittling stereotypes. Brands use ’90s ball-kicking, slap-stick humor, thinking it still resonates with men. They display them as couch potatoes, question their manhood and make them the continuous butt of jokes. This type of humor isn’t funny to Millennial men; it’s insulting. The message itself and the way it’s delivered needs to evolve. It’s time marketers quit relying on dated stereotypes and really got to know today’s guys. 



According to a survey conducted by, 53% of men in the U.S. think the kind of drink you order reflects your masculinity, and 30% think that the ultimate man’s drink is beer. With this, one could assume that perceived masculinity plays a major impact in a consumer’s beer decision. The challenge becomes accurately portraying how today’s men really define masculinity. 

Let’s take a look at the previous “Man Up” campaign from Miller Lite. It showed guys who drink “real beer” and don’t wear designer jeans or scream at camp fires when they’re spooked. It tried to apply an old-school definition of masculinity to modern men. And so, Miller Lite’s campaign didn’t connect. Maybe that’s why the brand walked away from the campaign and brought back “It’s Miller Time.” 

A more recent offender is Klondike with its “Everyman Challenges” campaign. One of their spots features a middle-age man who must listen to his wife in order to get a Klondike Bar. The man sits struggling on the couch for a measly five seconds to win his award. I’m not sure if this was ever okay, but it’s definitely not okay now. Millennial males don’t see talking to their wives as punishment. In our recent qualitative research, we found numerous guys refer to their wife as their best friend (isn’t that cute). 

Turn on the TV and you’ll see brands left and right that make similar mistakes. We could spend all day dissecting how they’re not getting guys. Instead, here are some thought starters on how to approach communicating to today’s men. 

Deliver a Smart Message with Humor

Guys are looking for a clever, funny message but delivered in a completely irrelevant, almost stupid way. Yes, leave it to guys to want stupidity yet intelligence in the same message. The most important thing is that the joke must have insight into their daily lives or show that you comprehend who they are. 

Take Dollar Shave Club, which offers its members modestly priced razors delivered to their door monthly. Understanding that the price of brand-name razors was straining guys’ wallets, the brand created an online video with the message of “f**king great blades for $1.” By using the right tone and humor, the brand spent $4,500 to shoot the video and received almost 5 million YouTube views. 

Know Their Past and Present Pop Culture Influencers

Today’s guys grew up in the ’80s and ’90s surrounded by Michael Jordan, “Wayne’s World,” “Beavis and Butthead,” boy bands and MTV. Pop culture is a part of their identity. They comb through the internet and share their favorite memes with their friends (I recommend “Guy on a Buffalo”). They laugh and joke when athletes go on rants or overly celebrate end zone dances. They even Tebow and post it on Instagram. Use these references to your advantage and they’ll respect that you know what they watch, and you might even show them something new. 

But don’t stop with today’s pop culture. Guys appreciate bringing back what shaped their childhood and teenage years. Don’t be afraid to mention the Ninja Turtles or Bill Brasky to show that you get men’s past. 

A show that continually does this is “Family Guy.” It subtly uses Stormtroopers, Gremlins or Superman to make guys laugh. Even Old Spice and Nike have used the DeLorean, a great “Back to the Future” reference, in recent campaigns.  

Appeal to Their Inner Geek

Being a geek was once portrayed with images of pocket protectors and overly large-framed glasses; think Steve Urkel from “Family Matters.” It wasn’t cool to be a geek, but today’s guys have redefined this. Some of the most respected men among Millennials are Jon Stewart, Mark Zuckerberg and Bill Gates, who most likely would have been considered geeks by previous generations. 

Being a geek is now perceived as being completely submerged into your passions and interests. You can find craft beer geeks, “Game of Thrones” geeks, NASCAR geeks, dubstep geeks, comic geeks (they’ll never leave – did you see “The Avengers”?) and the list goes on. Brands need to be aware of the little quirky things that their niche of geeky guys love and use them to their advantage. 

“Call of Duty” continues to win with its message of “there is a soldier in all of us.” The campaign appeals to a wider audience but does not alienate the gaming and military geeks that are its core fanatics. In one spot, it highlights Jonah Hill as a “noob” who recklessly fights his way through the spot until he becomes a “vet.” This is insight and language that Millennial men appreciate.    

Millennial males have rewritten what it means to be a man and embrace their changing roles. They notice companies who celebrate the images of today’s men and give them their attention. Brands must recognize that the outdated he-man stereotype no longer exists. It’s time to stop talking down to men with belittling ads based on dated stereotypes and invest the time to understand how today’s men have evolved.

Next story loading loading..