How #MeToo changed the way brands market to men

Brands targeting guys are more often ensuring they are "responsible human beings."

What does it really mean to be a man? Since the #MeToo movement started a year ago, that’s a conversation brands are less afraid to have.

Experts say Me Too has not changed the principles of marketing to men, which were already getting a second look and moving away from stereotypes, says Alyssa Garnick, SVP and senior partner of FleishmanHillard's consumer and brand marketing practice.

Or, as Lisa Rosenberg, Allison+Partners’ chief creative officer and consumer marketing co-chair, puts it, male-focused marketing has always been more than just "cars, girls, and booze."

Yet what the #MeToo movement has done is create opportunities for brands to join the conversation.

"The cultural forces of today are creating more opportunity for brands to talk to men not about how to live, but to support who you are as a man and what you stand for," says Garnick. "Brands that go beyond marketing to men, the ones that are involving and inspiring men, truly enabling men in their need for new expression and in their pursuit of excellence, are going to do well in this socially aware age."  

The Me Too movement has also given men’s brands "permission to look and feel different," adds Rosenberg.

"[Men’s brands are now realizing] it’s OK, I don’t need to use a traditional, masculine stereotype in order for my brand to succeed," she says. "That is why we are seeing an increase of brands playing in this space."

To name a few, men's clothing retailer Bonobos kicked off a campaign in July to #EvolveTheDefinition of the word "masculinity," while Schick Hydro recently launched The Man I Am, a campaign with basketball star Kevin Love talking about positive masculinity. Early this year, men’s grooming brand Harry’s explored "what it really means to be a man" with its A Man Like You campaign.

Me Too "puts the wind behind the sales" of a brand such as Bonobos that believes in "evolved masculinity," says Amia Lazarus, head of strategy and entertainment consulting at Observatory Marketing, which works with the retailer.

"There is now even more responsibility for brands that are communicating with men to take an active role in ensuring that men are responsible human beings," she says.

Bonobos’ first reaction to #MeToo was to quickly huddle with Observatory to discuss how it should communicate with its core consumer group in the wake of the global movement, especially in a way that didn’t make the brand look like it was jumping on the bandwagon. Yet Bonobos didn’t have to drastically change its marketing strategy, says Lazarus. It had previously launched a campaign showing its commitment to celebrating a spectrum of masculinity.

"It is in the DNA of this brand of wanting to have purpose, evolving what it means to be a man, and moving them closer to what is an equal society or one that is run by women," Lazarus says, noting the brand was named after one of the few apes that has a matriarchal society and founded on the principle of being "fit for every man."

Bonobos’ #EvolveTheDefinition campaign included a 90-second video made from 172 interviews about how respondents define masculinity including alternative interpretations that expand the definition to become more accepting. Lazarus says Bonobos’ latest campaign is a natural evolution and extension of the brand versus actually changing and adapting in the face of Me Too.

"[#EvolveTheDefinition] was just about staying the course and actually having to be brave in the wake of this," says Lazarus. "The last thing you want is anyone to start pointing fingers at you and say, ‘Why are you doing this?’"

The #EvolveTheDefinition video appeared on the YouTube masthead, and Bonobos ran a promoted trending tweet, culminating in a national broadcast premier during The ESPYs on ABC in July. It was the second-most-watched ad that month on YouTube, garnering more than 400 million video impressions. Bonobos also saw a 54% surge in daily average web traffic to its site in a two-week timeline. There was a five-time increase in orders and four-time increase in new users. Of the men who saw the ad, 83% said they felt more favorable towards the brand after viewing it, says Lazarus.

Meanwhile, Unilever brand Dove Men+Care is challenging stereotypes about men as caregivers. Its social mission, Dear Future Dads, launched on Father's Day and champions paternity leave, drawing from its desire to spark a cultural movement on the topic.

Championing modern masculinity is nothing new for Dove Men+Care, which launched in 2010, said Nick Soukas, VP of Skin Cleansing and Baby Care for Unilever.

"Given the current political and social climate, we as a brand believe that actions are more important than words, and as such, we have not shifted course but are committed to continuing to listening to our consumers on an ongoing basis and celebrating them for who they truly are," he says.

Soukas adds that Dove Men+Care does not want to co-opt other movements, but rather outwardly support healthy notions of masculinity in its marketing in light of the cultural conversation.      

The changing conversation about marketing to men is taking place as brands are thinking about how to be more social responsible, says Lazarus.

"We are now just seeing people and brands starting to turn marketing dollars towards more impactful messaging," she explains. "I am hopeful that it is all very authentic in the wake of Me Too. It is a sensitive stance."

However, experts warn that companies can’t rely on marketing dollars to change a conversation; the effort must be authentic.

"As long as you remain true to who you are as a brand and keep the tonality and voice you have established for your brand, then it works and doesn’t feel like you’re pandering to something just because of the Me Too movement," adds Rosenberg.

Her top tip for marketing to men is to keep the conversation going. "What it means to be a man" could be different from what it will mean in six months or a year.

Garnick’s prediction: look for more emotion in campaigns targeted at men.

"We are already used to the principles of humor and humility playing starring roles in ‘manvertising,’ but I think we are going to add more harmony this year, both individual harmony and relationship-with-something-bigger-and-with-others harmony," she says. "We will see: what is this brand’s take on living on this planet, doing good, equality with women, and comfort level with individuality, yourself, your mental health?"

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