Men are more than lusty conquerors of bikini-clad babes, or hopeless idiots incapable of contributing to the household. But take a look at advertising, even these days, and you may not know it. Stereotypical images of masculinity often still prevail.
A new study, however, is attempting to send a message to advertisers: You will fall behind if you do not adapt to the changing identity of modern men.
The study from Microsoft Advertising Canada in partnership with Omnicom Group Inc. surveyed 1,650 men and 650 women to examine men's changing attitudes and roles in their households.
The survey revealed men are increasingly interested in cooking, fashion and grooming and that is not being reflected in ads for related products. A full half said they are interested in cooking, 68 per cent in nutrition, and 41 per cent were interested in personal care and grooming. Those in their late teens and early twenties reported even higher interest in cooking, personal care, grooming and fashion than older survey participants.
"Advertisers need to change their game a bit," said Lynne Drew, head of marketing for Microsoft Advertising Canada. "We have seen the 'metro[sexual]' man a little bit. But it's still stereotyped, with that machismo that has existed."
In particular, the study challenges marketers' preoccupation with women as the ones who control most of the purchasing power. While women still make many of the decisions, men are taking a bigger role in household purchases. For example, nearly 80 per cent reported partial or complete responsibility in buying household appliances. Roughly three-quarters said they participate in purchases of groceries and personal-care products. And 89 per cent are buying their own clothing.
"Before, women would dress the guy. But with the Internet age, guys learn. They read. They are educated and they care," said Hicham Ratnani, co-founder of online men's clothing retailer Frank & Oak. "They enjoy food a lot more, they like to cook, they read more on travel. So it makes sense that they spend more time on their attire as well."
Frank & Oak has attempted to court this consumer base with "style tips" e-mails and resources that allow male shoppers to stay up-to-date on trends and see how fellow buyers are crafting their style.
That taps into a strongly connected consumer: The Microsoft study found that men are more likely than women to research purchases before they buy, even for smaller items such as clothing and food. And they are more likely to look up product information and reviews while in-store.
The study is also a marketing exercise for Microsoft: It sells advertising on its Skype digital calling service, on its Xbox gaming system and on its MSN online portals. By being seen as an authority on consumer issues it is hoping to cultivate a better relationship with advertisers and their media-buying agencies.
In addition to Frank & Oak, a brand that Microsoft calls out as doing it right is Heineken. Eschewing the macho imagery of many beer commercials, the brand made an ad, "The Date," that showed a dashing gent in a slim suit impressing his date with cooking skills, magic tricks and dancing.
Tide detergent has also made an impact with images of involved, competent dads. Advertisers need to take these men into account, Microsoft's Ms. Drew said. The study advocates more gender-neutral labels on household products.
"A few enlightened brands are featuring men in their household messaging and campaigns, but it's still very rare," she said. "It's a wake up call to major Canadian brands in these categories to think about guys as having an equal say."