The Death of Masculinity and its Impact on Creative Communications

In a panel led by Faith Popcorn, founder and CEO of marketing consulting firm BrainReserve, three marketeers discussed the notion of masculinity and what effects the classic tropes associated with it have on our industry.

I thought the title of the session was a bit clickbait-y, but I took a chance and gave it my attention anyway. Whether ‘masculinity’ has actually died or not is up for debate, but it was interesting to hear how each of the speakers defined the concept:

‘Pride, power and Don Draper with a cigarette.’ Entrepreneur and business founder Amy Nelson

‘Don Draper, John Wayne and Willy Logan.’ Gender studies professor Michael Kimmel

‘Strength, confidence, dominance’. Violet Chachki of Ru Paul’s Drag Race fame

‘Over, over and over.’ Faith Popcorn

Pretty old-school right? But it makes sense. Media and marketing has been recycling perceived notions of masculinity for years: take Axe (AKA Lynx)’s Spray More, Get More ad , featuring hundreds of bikini-clad women running over land and sea, literally falling over themselves to get to the skinny white boy standing on a beach dousing himself with body spray to get that coveted ‘Lynx effect’. But, says Popcorn, times are changing: Axe’s new campaign, asking ‘is it ok for guys to be themselves?’ is the exact opposite of their previous depiction of masculinity. The stoic, confident swagger of Don Draper has been replaced by a vulnerability usually disconnected with men, and more than that, it’s saying that it’s ok to be unsure and ask questions about who you think you are. ‘There’s this idea of masculinity as being fearless,’ according to Chachki, ‘but if you’re afraid to be yourself, that’s not very masculine, is it?’

So is masculinity not what it was? Is it dying?

According to the panel, yes, it is. Not only because our world is becoming less binary by the day, but because it’s hard to maintain that the classic stereotypes of one gender should define us all. ‘Men had 98% of all the power in the world and now that’s down to 88%, men still feel like they’re the victims.’ Kimmel’s point here is that even though there are signals that men are in decline – twice more businesses are now being opened by women than men, reports of male suicide and depression are on the rise – it should be an opportunity to collaborate. Women need men as allies and vice versa, because greater diversity means greater creativity, because ‘great minds don’t all think alike!’

All four speakers agreed on this and identified a shift in media affecting audiences to audiences affecting media, because of attitude changes amongst consumers. The takeout here is that one size does not fit all: the narrative has changed and according to Nelson, to be successful marketeers, we must also move past this outdated idea of masculinity and ‘just teach people to be good humans.’

So what does it mean to be a man today?