Marketing to men? Food and drink brands need a rethink

By Oliver Morrison contact

- Last updated on GMT

Prince Harry best represents the modern man, according to a survey ©GettyImages/Elisabetta A. Villa
Prince Harry best represents the modern man, according to a survey ©GettyImages/Elisabetta A. Villa

Related tags: Marketing, Men's Health

Food and drink brands should avoid using dated male stereotypes in their advertising, says a study.

“Many old-fashioned, dated and perhaps toxic views of masculinity are still prevalent among UK males​,” according to New Macho, a specialist men’s marketing arm of advertising company BBD Perfect Storm, after a survey of 2,000 adults in the UK.

This was “thanks in part to the stereotypes seen in advertising”, ​it claimed. Dated male stereotypes were a particular problem in alcohol advertising, it said, while male grooming products were “more reflective of modern male values and attitudes.”

Is advertising reinforcing gender stereotypes?  

Around one in six men (15%) believe women should do the larger share of the cooking and cleaning in a relationship, rising to 19% among millennials (aged 22-37) and 22% of men in London, according to the research.

One in nine women (11%) agree with this view – rising to a quarter (25%) of women in London. Only 8% of UK adults see preparing a meal or cleaning the house as primarily male traits.

In addition, more than a quarter (27%) of men believe they should be the main financial providers for their family, rising to nearly half (43%) of men in London. In addition, one in six (17%) still think that for men to show vulnerability is a sign of weakness.

“The ad industry has to accept some of the blame for this,”​ said New Macho managing director Fernando Desouches. “Many food and drink brands are still portraying men either as aloof and hyper-competitive or as dorks and figures of fun. It’s all just gender stereotyping, which the Advertising Standards Authority is rightly working to eradicate.”

He added that these beliefs were having a negative impact on mental health among males. “The groups that are most likely to hold these stereotyped views of masculinity – Londoners, millennials and high earners – are also the most likely to feel depressed or sad. More than half of these groups most often feel that way, so these beliefs may be having a very real and negative impact on men’s mental health.”

Some brands are better than others at reflecting males’ attitudes and values, according to the study.

Brands like Nivea For Men and Mars came out fairly well – only 31% and 34% of men respectively thought they didn’t reflect their values. By comparison, 43% of men said Absolut Vodka didn’t reflect them at all; 49% say the same about Diet Coke and 54% think that way about Bacardi and Gordon’s Gin.

Similarly, nearly half of men (46%) feel the same about Guinness, 47% about Heineken and 48% about Johnnie Walker.

The study also revealed that despite the growing call for more attention to mental health among men, a quarter of males (25%) still hold to the view that ‘real men don’t crack under pressure’ – rising to 37% among millennials and 41% of Londoners. In addition, one in seven UK males (14%) think that ‘real men don’t cry’, jumping up to 27% of those in London.

Old fashioned ways of portraying masculinity are not connecting with men

But the research also highlighted that many UK men are looking for a more sophisticated approach to masculinity: three-quarters (73%) believe men should talk more about their feelings, while 75% believe that ‘being a great father means always being there’ and 83% are of the view that fathers should support their children in whatever choices they make in life.

UK adults were also asked which British celebrity they feel best represents the ‘modern man’ – Prince Harry came first with 28%, followed by David Beckham on 25% and Idris Elba with 18% of the vote.

Fernando Desouches added: “In the same way that brands like Dove helped to change how advertisers portray women, there has to be a transformation in how FMCG brands market to men. Sadly, many of their current campaigns wouldn’t look out of place in the 1950s or 60s.

“Instead, brands need to start using their ads and marketing to portray the subtlety, nuance and range of the modern male experience. Gillette, for example, may have courted controversy with its recent ad campaign and fallen into the trap of trying to clumsily force ‘progressive’ traits onto men, but it remains a brand with a lot of values that male consumers can buy into.

“Men are changing, but for brands it’s more difficult to change. This way of portraying masculinity or men in communications that is more old fashioned is not connecting to them.”

“Brands need to help men find a new aspiration. Ten years ago, it was very clear we needed to redefine what beauty was in the women sphere. Now we need to redefine what success is for men. Because the pressure that beauty and body image had on women is the now the pressure that success has for men.”

Brands were perpetuating stereotypes that you are successful as a man for what you own and what you have and how you look, he said. “By creating these narrow aspirations for men, brands are stopping them move forward.”

He added: “Many food brands have the opportunity to talk to men and they are not doing that.” 

Is Magnum missing a trick by not engaging with men?

Ice cream brand Magnum has a very female bias in its communication, according to Desouches, despite the fact men enjoy the product too. “You wouldn’t know that when you look at who it’s trying to appeal to,” ​he said. “It has made a big play around influencer marketing and its choice of influencers has been predominantly female with a focus on fashion, food and lifestyle and a very female interpretation of indulgence. And putting Kendall Jenner at the heart of its advertising in recent years is more of the same messaging. It would be great to see men getting a look in.”

Knorr, meanwhile, is a brand that is making a successful play of appealing to men

“Traditionally its focus had been on women but more recently it’s put men at the heart of the kitchen and cooking experience, seen conjuring up dishes for the family,” ​said Desouches. “Its Love at First Taste campaign which launched a few years ago portrays couples meeting for the first time, matched by a shared favourite flavour. In it is a range of male and female personas to appeal to a broad cross-section of consumers, and with barely a stereotype in sight!”

Related topics: Retail & Shopper Insights

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