In Masterminds and Wingmen: Helping Our Boys Cope with Schoolyard Power, Locker-Room Tests, Girlfriends, and the New Rules of Boy World, author Rosalind Wiseman aims to show what really happens in the life of a teenage boy today. As Wiseman revealed in a recent Time magazine article, the landscape for boys is more complex than ever. Both technological and societal changes are conspiring to make it even more complicated.
For marketers, Wiseman’s research provides some insights on how to talk to teenage boys in a more meaningful way:
1. Examine the Way You Currently Communicate with Teenage Boys
Parents, educators, and even marketers often talk to teenage boys under the assumption that they are primarily driven by their sexual needs. “Emotional” isn’t exactly the word that comes to mind when thinking about the portrayal of this group in the media.
“Treating boys as emotionally illiterate has costs,” Wiseman writes. Her work shows that teenage boys are a lot more thoughtful, emotional and nuanced than they are generally depicted.
You don’t have to try hard to find ads that portray teenage boys as single-minded beings with an insatiable hunger for junk food, sex and video games (not necessarily in that order). Wiseman’s work suggests that these portrayals are not only incomplete—often they are way off. Ads that focus on gross-out humor or an overtly sexual appeal might miss the mark, which is why marketers need to examine how they currently engage this group.
2. Customize Your Communication
Masterminds and Wingmen clearly shows that the world of teenage boys isn’t homogenous. Wiseman found that there are at least seven archetypes of teenage boys, ranging from the Mastermind to the Entertainer to the Conscience.
The diversity within this group means marketers need to consider the different roles boys play within their social circles. Each of those archetypes has very different needs that should be addressed in different ways.
Communicating this way requires intensive research and tact, but Wiseman’s archetypes provide a framework on how to make an emotional connection with teen boys. Depending on your product, you might want to talk to a Mastermind, a Conscience, an Associate or an Entertainer. For example, non-profit organizations might benefit from understanding the conscientious one from the group, while it might make sense for an up-and-coming fashion brand to understand the Mastermind.
3. Help These Young Consumers Navigate Their Relationships
In the post-social media world, teenage boys struggle to navigate increasingly complicated relationships, according to Wiseman. Facebook, Twitter, Snapchat, and sexting have all made romantic and platonic relationships more convoluted.
When it comes to relationships, brands can potentially provide true value to these consumers. Ads, for instance, can be tweaked to offer actionable advice on how this group of consumers can present themselves to the world and how the product or service will help them in these areas. On the product development front, brands should think about co-creating with teenage boys to determine offers that they will actually find useful and relevant in the context of the new realities of teenage relationships.
4. Respect the “Bro Code”
The “bro code” among guys starts early—and boys’ assumed roles usually stick. Wiseman writes: “[B]oys are much more resigned to their place in the hierarchy. Thus, they form very deep bonds with other boys at their social level, and they spend a great deal of time trying to avoid conflict.”
Brands will need to tread carefully to make sure they don’t exploit this fierce loyalty among teenage boys, but it’s also something they must explore more. From a research perspective, for instance, marketers can consider including an entire group of friends to see how they collectively accept or reject a product. The bro code can also be incorporated naturally into advertising messages without exploiting it (e.g., “Bros never let bros drive drunk”).
Masterminds and Wingmen reminds parents, educators, and marketers that, just like teenage girls, boys also struggle with relationships and the speed of technology today. It’s wrong to say that either gender has it worse than the other; however, Wiseman’s work highlights that each gender has unique challenges that parents, educators and marketers need to keep in mind.