Changing definitions of masculinity present opportunities for authentic brand engagement
Over the past several years, various social forces have been changing the definition of “healthy masculinity” around the world. For example, the #MeToo movement and high-profile mass shooting events pushed the perils of “toxic masculinity” into the forefront. The concept of toxic masculinity refers to certain cultural norms that are associated with harm to society and men themselves. Traditional stereotypes of men as socially dominant, along with related traits such as misogyny and homophobia, can be considered “toxic” due in part to their promotion of violence. Self-reliance and emotional repression are correlated with increased psychological problems in men such as depression, increased stress, and substance use disorders. Unfortunately, traditional standards of masculinity seem to exacerbate these problems, particularly in societies where men are stigmatized from seeking help from outside.
However, times are changing. Gen Z is a strong driver of the broader societal pushback against traditional masculinity. There is rising acceptance for gender fluidity, and pop culture icons such as Harry Styles and BTS are actively talking about the importance of being authentic to your true self.
Lil Nas X, American rapper, rose to fame in 2019 after the release of the country-rap crossover hit, “Old Town Road.” Country and rap music have historically been characterized by classic definitions of masculinity, but Lil Nas X broke barriers by coming out as gay while the song was setting records atop the Billboard Hot 100 chart. He enjoys immense popularity with Gen Z.While consumer brands of years past would have shied away from provocative personalities like Lil Nas X, brands today are embracing and leaning into Lil Nas X’s popularity:
- Taco Bell just announced a partnership with Lil Nas X, making him the company’s honorary Chief Impact Officer and announcing plans for collaborative events and “fan engagement opportunities” for young employees and customers.
- Lil Nas X’s concert in the Roblox metaverse in November 2020 has become one of the most viewed concerts of all time.
But brands aren’t just relying on pop stars to lead the way. In July, War Paint ForMen became the first brick-and-mortar make-up store exclusively for men, opening in downtown London. It carries the brand’s full range of products, from foundation and bronzer to beard and brow fillers, but in an environment that is comfortable for men to explore without stigma. WPFM is collaborating with TheLions Barber Collective, a group of not-for-profit barbers trained in mental health support to help prevent male suicide. Together, the two companies will offer a full-service, outer and inner wellness oasis for men.
From a health perspective, a new wave of “prescription box” services such as startups Keeps, Hims, and Roman, are appealing to a younger generation of men who want convenient and discrete men’s health help. The companies provide tele-health care for issues such as erectile dysfunction, hair loss, premature ejaculation, and low testosterone, and ships any prescriptions and products to customers in a nondescript subscription box. These kinds of issues have historically been difficult and embarrassing for men to seek treatment for, but have exploded in popularity in recent months.
In conclusion, global trends men’s health and beauty are tracking with and supporting a more open view of masculinity – one that includes some more traditionally feminine elements. Forward-thinking brands in the fashion, beauty, and healthcare industries are embracing this and actively supporting this new view of the modern man.
- As old-fashioned ideas of manliness are eroding, it’s clear that we need a more complex and inclusive definition of ‘masculinity’ – one that helps break down gender barriers and allows every individual to express themselves in a way that’s authentic. Brands can play a significant role in supporting this trend, and consumers are increasingly looking to guide them as they explore new terrains of identity, self-care, and self-expression.
- To stay current on the evolution of this trend, brands should monitor mega-influencers such as pop icons and YouTube/TikTok mega-stars in the men’s health and fashion spaces. However, for potential marketing partners, micro-influencers in social media can provide a much higher return on investment, reaching a deeper engagement level in a more targeted audience, than blockbuster partnerships.
- In Japan, where people are highly conscious of grooming and etiquette, the men’s cosmetics market is already large by global standards.However, according to consumer studies, many Gen Z Japanese men still lament the lack of choices in products compared to women’s cosmetics. This means that there is significant opportunity for brands to appeal more directly to men, and skillfully navigating the cultural moment of this new masculinity – in an authentic way – will be the key to success.＜インサイト：日本語訳＞
- New York Times
- Business of Fashion
- WHO, Gender Disparities and Mental Health