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MBPT Spotlight: The Evolution of Men--Unlocking How Marketers Can Reach The Manly Consumers of Today

As advertisers, we know that men have significantly evolved over time and the way in which we reach and appeal to them has had to evolve as a result. Men of today are not the ‘traditional’ men of yesterday—not in how they think, behave and in how they see themselves. We know that men of today are different, but how are they different and how do these nuances affect how we market to them?

In order to more deeply understand men today, how men see themselves and how that viewpoint compares to their fathers and to their fellow men, MediaVest conducted a study to investigate how generations of men compare themselves to prior and contemporary generations of males in order to truly uncover this continuing evolution.

The study consisted of a survey given to 1,000 men ages 18-74. Survey respondents were comprised of 500 fathers and 500 sons, nearly 800 of which were men with kids under the age of 18 in the household. In addition, our study featured qualitative, in-depth, paired interviews with more than 100 men around the country, ranging from fathers to sons to retired professionals. We interviewed 50 pairs of fathers and sons together to better understand generational dynamics and differences.

What we found reveals that men are evolving out of a mix of external and personal factors, in a world in which necessity and desire is at the heart of the evolution of men.

We found that how men see themselves—and how they want to be viewed—is often at odds with how society sees them. Men are highly conscious of their reputations. In fact, a man’s life stage impacts his perspectives and priorities. Men, it turns out, see themselves to be further evolved than they are portrayed in the media.

Here are some of the findings:

Men are evolving out of necessity and desire.
The study reveals that what is ‘normal’ for a man has transformed, challenging the classic definition of what it is to “be a man.” Part of this is due to women’s roles also evolving, providing men with a new sense of freedom and flexibility in how they “behave as men.” While today’s dads believe far more is expected of them than their fathers, and that responsibilities have changed, this new freedom to be a man on their own terms is a welcome change, despite the challenges that come with an expanded role and worldview.

How men see themselves often conflicts with how society sees them.

Men are breaking from tradition, because they want to be viewed as modern with more expansive identities. They seek to separate themselves from stereotypes of the "traditional man" of the past. Cultural change has given them the ability to explore previously unthinkable wants and needs. For example, the role of "provider" can now take on a new meaning when it is no longer simply about being the sole monetary provider for a household. While “leader,” “caretaker” and “protector” are still among the most desired traits for men, they avoid adjectives that evoke old-fashioned stereotypes, although the underlying ideas may be the same.

Men are conscious of their reputations and act accordingly.
Men evaluate each other based on the traits that “being a man” embodies to them, seeking out men that reflect who they aspire to be, relate to and/or can rely on. This idea that men are hyper-aware of their reputations, which impacts their actions, applies to how they judge themselves and how they judge other men. Importantly, there is a strong sense of action over words or beliefs, so they seek to manage their reputations through what they do and how those actions are seen by others.

As men evaluate themselves and each other, there is no single definition of a “successful” man.
A man’s definition of “success” is based on his (and others) experiences with success. Life stage is indicative of experience and accomplishments, especially since men see themselves through the eyes and experiences of other men. Older men have had time to experience trial and error and as a result, they are more likely to define success via a larger set of attributes. Ultimately, the evolving roles and responsibilities for today’s man have created a multitude of experiences and criteria upon which to judge both self and peers vs. the “old” days when “success” was constrained to a handful of now-stereotypical areas. Younger men are still in the process of proving themselves, and more likely to maintain traditional definitions of “success” as a man. At the same time, the fact that they are coming of age in a world lacking in both singular and a clear definition of what success looks like is not lost on them.

Men have evolved far more than how the media depicts them.

Men reveal in the study that the way media portrays them is an inhibitor to their evolution and is out of sync with their views of self. They believe they are too often portrayed as one-dimensional stereotypes that lack the fluidity real life brings, resulting in confusion about how to respond and relate to the media images they see. Men hope for more diverse media portrayals in the future and increasingly expect marketers and media content to catch up to them.

What do these findings mean to marketers? The study reveals five opportunities to understand and connect with today’s men.

1. Recognize and respect the flexibility in roles and opportunities men have today.
2. Understand how the definition of “success” varies for every man and reflect that in what you say and do.  
3. Avoid the dated stereotypes men are trying to escape.
4. There is room for “boys being boys” because some men will always want to hold on to the classic roles of the past so you will need to address them in a more traditional way.
5. Embrace men’s beliefs in masculinity—there’s a difference between embracing their evolution versus suggesting a gender-neutral world.