There’s a ‘menaissance’ in the ad world

Ralph Gilles is preparing to cash in on a new breed of manlier man.

The president of Chrysler’s Dodge division earlier this year launched commercials titled “Man’s Last Stand,” showing guys making sacrifices for their woman (“I will put the seat down”), but ultimately asserting themselves by choosing a Dodge Charger muscle car. For this fall, Mr. Gilles is rolling out what’s already been dubbed the “man van:” a special version of the Dodge Grand Caravan that will tout power suspension rather than cup holders for soccer moms.

After years of focusing on women or the softer side of men, marketers increasingly are trumpeting traditional male strengths in what some are calling a “menaissance.” Companies ranging from Chrysler to Procter & Gamble (Old Spice, Gillette) and Levi Strauss (Dockers pants) are cranking up the testosterone levels in their marketing and merchandise in a bid to recapture their core base of male customers.

“For me, as a man, I feel: ‘Has the man been forgotten?’ ” said Chrysler’s Mr. Gilles, a 40-year-old father of two who drives a Caravan minivan. “The man has a lot of buying power ... We do believe there’s an unserved need out there that we’re going to go after.”

“It’s a celebration of manhood – of being a man’s man,” said Alan Gee, chief creative officer at GJP Advertising in Toronto, whose clients include retailers and car dealers. “We are seeing a resurgence of it. There’s a pride in focusing on that aspect of brands by focusing on men in that way and urging them to buy more products.”

Whether the menaissance is a real social trend or an ad-industry invention is debatable. Either way, for marketers the rewards can be considerable. Since P&G launched its “The Man Your Man Could Smell Like” ad campaign for Old Spice, featuring former National Football League wide receiver Isaiah Mustafa chiding “lady-scented” body wash, business has taken off. According to researcher Neilsen Co., the line’s U.S. body wash sales surged 27 per cent in the past six months and 55 per cent in the past three months. Amid a hugely popular two-week online ad blitz, they’ve rocketed 107 per cent in the past month.

“This is not the time to try to be selling eye shadow for men,” said Robb Hadley, category manager for men’s grooming at P&G in Canada. “It's not just about being a man's man. It's about being a man – today's man is making his own choices about what's important to him and how he wants to live his life.”

Many of the manly efforts have emerged among businesses, such as Dodge and Dockers, that have been squeezed by the recession and shifting consumer tastes. Men’s grooming lines have also felt the pain, with sales growth having slowed to 1 per cent last year from 7.6 per cent in 2006 in the $616-million sector in Canada, researcher Euromonitor reports. Men were sticking with their three-blade Fusion razor rather than upgrading to a premium-priced five-blade Fusion Power system, Euromonitor analysts found.

In response, P&G launched its new Gillette Fusion ProGlide razor in June, handing out tens of thousands of free samples to men who became brand ambassadors and, in some cases, flaunted their muscular physiques in ads. While Gillette marketing used to focus on stereotypical heroes such as astronauts, its research found that young men wanted to be treated as “real guys,” Mr. Hadley said, adding that the new razor’s sales are double the company’s initial forecast.

Even Canadian Tire Corp. Ltd. is rushing to bolster its business by returning to its roots as a man’s store. It is more prominently displaying its auto-related departments after years of adding more picture frames, candles and other home decor products to lure women. “Five or six years ago they slanted the store too much to the female shoppers,” CEO Stephen Wetmore, in the job since early 2009, said recently.

At Dodge, a recent minivan spot used a male rather than a female voiceover to grab men’s attention for what has become known as a soccer mom’s vehicle. The ads aim to broaden the vehicle’s appeal to men by showing the minivan in action-filled shots with a new tagline – “it has everything so you can do anything.”

Today, a growing number of U.S. men are registered owners of cars (59 per cent, up from 51 per cent four years earlier) while there are fewer female owners (41 per cent, down from 49 per cent), according to Strategic Vision NVES studies. Marketers often assume that women drive 80 per cent of auto purchasing decisions when, in fact, they are involved in only 65 per cent of them on average, according to Maritz Research.

The popular Mad Men television series and its retro-styled ad men exemplify the upswing of interest in the masculinity of yesteryear. The show’s Sixties look of slim-fitting suits, narrow lapels and skinny ties has resonated with men, helping perk up sluggish business at mainstream men’s clothier Moores. “It’s a dress-clothing menaissance,” said Richard Bull, the chain’s vice-president of merchandising.

Last fall, high-end retailer Brooks Brothers issued a Mad Men Edition suit, which sold out quickly, said fashion director Glen Hoffs. “Retro styles are often an easy way for men to understand fashion. Retro gives them a context and conjures something familiar which helps them to feel more comfortable.”

Dockers set out to turn heads by redefining masculinity in its latest ads, which urge men to “wear the pants,” said Jennifer Sey, vice-president of global marketing. The company needed to return to its roots of men’s khakis after having lost its focus by wandering into women’s wear and other segments, she said. The company is trying to entice men to buy its new retro tapered styles in a diverse array of colours and patterns.

“Men have lost their footing a little bit about what it means to stand up and be a man today,” Ms. Sey said. “He should be able to change a diaper and a tire.”