Missing males—why do household marketers still ignore men?

by | Jul 15, 2019 | Analysis, Public Relations

Traditional advertising has focused a great deal on the purchasing power of women in the home. Women continue to be considered responsible for some 80 percent of all household-related purchasing decisions. Men, on the other hand, are granted little influence in modern-day households among marketers and mass media. Even fathers of recent generations—who actually spend a greater amount of time in the home and with their families—have been virtually ignored in product development and marketing.

This white paper will discuss the data behind the ‘missing males’ phenomenon, including revealing the history of men’s roles in the household as portrayed by marketers and the media. Until recently, advertisements created around men have followed a singular narrative tone of male-ness. They have been mostly perceived as silent observers or do-ers, carrying out responsibilities out of fatherly duty and nothing more. The way men have been traditionally portrayed in marketing and media plays a significant role in a one-sided adaptation of gender equality, noticed worldwide. It is easy for advertisers to fall into clichés and gender stereotypes that don’t necessarily reflect the current reality when illustrating the masculinity of men in their ad campaigns. In their capacity to create and implement change within the household, men have been ‘missing’—or rather left out of the conversation.

In this paper, we’ll showcase the relevance, buying power and purchasing habits of this unexplored and unattended target market, specifically for home and building products. Most importantly, the white paper will offer strategies to building product manufacturers illustrating how they can increase their bottom lines by listening to and effectively marketing to this widely overlooked group of consumers.

Missing males—why do household marketers still ignore men?

The history of men

A perennial debate in marketing is whether an advertisement is a reflection of society or whether it helps shape society. Obviously, advertising is closely linked to our economy and culture. As such, it can be considered both a mirror of the current times as well as an iconic art form from which we take our social cues. Have men and society really transformed?

America has walked slowly from the 20th to the 21st century. During this time, there has been a shift in societal focus from occupations to families. American culture in the mid-to-late 1900s removed fathers from child-rearing activities and inserted them into income-producing roles that often stoked fear or indifference in children. Mothers were looked upon as a better parent and fathers as the timely source for moral reprimand, as necessary. Fathers were dominant, overbearing and too superior for conversations on equal footing, which consequently made deeper paternal involvement both difficult and rare.

How did these cultural expectations impact the advertising world? In early television sitcoms, fathers were presumed to be the holder of all that was wise and good. And while the watchdog dad reigned over the entire household, the mother was always well dressed, proper, devoted and ready to serve even while being under the father’s constant scrutiny.

This narrow and restrictive conception of fatherhood was later capitalized on by marketers and advertisers who intentionally brought females (mothers and wives of busy husbands) to a more superior position of making better purchasing decisions. At home, women were given the importance they were denied in society, which ultimately shifted the balance scales of marketing toward women. The change in advertising strategy created a contemporary concern and confusion around both fatherhood and fathers’ ability to make buying decisions.

The misconception of modern-day men

The representation of men in advertisements has shifted. Men traditionally have been typecast as strong, in control, confident, successful and autonomous lone warriors. This focus on hyper-masculinity has been unnecessarily prevalent in a number of cultures for centuries. Men are expected to stand firm, tall and resolute. They are expected to rely on strength to generate income for the family and be capable of mitigating all dangers, known and unknown. They are not told, but have been expected to, resign entirely to locking away their feelings and dedicating themselves entirely to the advancement of their family’s societal status.

While the role of men in the home is being reexamined, this has taken place alongside a rise in feminism. This trend has had a drastic effect on marketing, as advertisers seek to stamp out ‘toxic masculinity’ as a way of reaching new customers. The befitting concept of feminism is moving more towards “man-hating” and “bra-burning” rather than creating inspiring ads of women empowerment. Celebrities with large social followings and an uninformed understanding of feminism often jump on the man-hating bandwagon. This surface activism on social media from brands isn’t necessarily benefiting the feminist cause but is instead creating a virtual divide between men and women. Companies like Wrangler, with its #Morethanabum promotion, and KPMG with its contradictory feminist messaging, are guilty of exploiting feminism today. Why and How?

#Morethanabum: Created in response to the cry against female stereotyping, #morethanabumwas aimed at moving the cultural conversation away from the symbolic notions of women. The three-minute advertisement included women saying the word “bum” multiple times and were further seen sharing their opinion about feeling sexualized at all times, be it at home or work. Shortly after the ad was released, numerous people flocked to the Internet, especially on Twitter and Facebook, to denounce the ad as “cringeworthy”2. and “anti-feminist.” By focusing on male-bashing, Wrangler got sidetracked from the actual concept of feminism and unnecessarily put men in the shade, which was not required to be relevant.

KPMG’s feminist campaign misses the mark: In 2018, KPMG became a subject of $400 million class action lawsuit, in which it was found guilty of following a continuous pattern of gender discrimination. This came as a shock to many, as KPMG was consistently launching ads that were feminist in a very dangerous way. As observed, many KPMG ads were responsible to suppressing feminism to a dumb hashtag 4.

Katie Martell, chief marketing officer of Boston Content, brings attention to this ongoing disarray in advertising, by saying:“Profiting from these ideals while embodying or perpetuating the opposite is not clever. It’s exploitation. I call this ‘faux-feminism’. It’s the exploitation of feminism by advertising. What this does is to redefine feminism in a dangerous way – diminishing it down to a tagline. It masks the underlying core problem.” 5.

Even savvy, well-funded companies like Verizon have been trolled tremendously over the past decades for ad campaigns that miss the mark on men.

Backlash on Verizon (How the outburst on their “Stupid Dad” advertisement changed the historical perception of fatherhood): Ten years ago, in an advertising bid, Verizon created a shallow commercial in which a father was determined to help his daughter in her homework but ended up disappointing her. What appeared to be simple math bewildered the aloof father, inspiring the daughter to bypass Dad and ask Mom instead. The frown shared by both mother and daughter raised countless protests, even incurring the wrath of men’s rights activist, Glenn Sacks. Protests were held, arguments were made, and cases were filed against Verizon, which was blamed for questioning the ability of men to raise children.

There was a broad disconnect in the accusations and the intended meaning of the commercial. The commercial only highlighted how fathers are traditionally restricted to being responsible for only child admonishment rather than child development. The intellect of the father was not in question, but the father’s ability to have a meaningful relationship with their child, was. The widely adverse reaction to this marketing strategy is worth significant attention.

From what it looks like now, history repeats but only with a different tagline. Feminism is used as an agent of societal correctness and men are consequently reduced to the masculine faults ‘of their nature.’ Despite living in an era of political correctness, the misrepresentation of men seems to be on the rise in popular media.

Read the rest of the Kleber & Associates report here to see ads with favorable depictions of men, how men are an overlooked opportunity, how men’s personas have been redefined, and more.

Access the full report here.

Steve Kleber
Steve Kleber is a passionate force as president of Kleber & Associates, an integrated marketing communications agency that has been building better brands that build better living spaces since 1987. Steve’s past presentations and white papers include an exploration of Small Spaces, Social Media and Search as it relates to ROI… and consumer thought leadership in relation to specific demographic groups.


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