Owning the Narrative for Modern Masculinity
Owning the Narrative for Modern Masculinity

Brands can embrace an empowering narrative for men in the post-John Wayne era.

A brand’s social and political platform has never been more important than it is today. According to Edelman's 2018 Earned Brand Study, 59% of U.S. consumers are now belief-driven, meaning they will choose to switch, avoid or boycott a brand based on its stand on an issue – or seek the brand out because of that issue. This is an increase of 12% from 2017, and it isn’t a generational bump – multiple generations are getting on board with “brandstanding” because brands are seen as a more powerful place for change than government. A brand's stand is now just as important as its product features when consumers make buying decisions.

In the last two years we have seen brands take tremendous stances on issues of immigration, equality, individuality, empowerment, patriotism, veterans, marijuana, climate change and many others. While corporations have fiduciary duties to their shareholders, financials don't drive all these decisions. Organizations listen to their employees and leaders feel qualified to stand up for what they believe is right. As they should.

Among these platform issues, women’s empowerment is especially front and center and led by an extremely talented number of brands and female leaders. Bumble has shown itself to be the clear leader in the overall conversation. Their product offerings have expanded in many unique ways (Bumble BFF, Bumble Bizz), but it is the intentional nature of their messaging and the experiences they are creating for women every single day that drives it home and adds value to their lives.

There is also, however, a huge opportunity for brands to reshape and own the conversation regarding the meaning of modern masculinity, and few are taking the initiative. Primarily because that conversation has not been well defined.

Many men, and especially Millennial men, are lost. The generation that idolized John Wayne and other “tough guy” personas is aging, and modern masculinity has become a murky concept that only vaguely says, “We’re not entitled macho jerks.” To compound the issue, men are confused by mixed messages coming through films and commercials, and they don't know where to turn for a clear social identity. They are still judged by their jobs, their bank accounts, the background of their Instagram posts instead of being asked the important questions: are they a good father, are they good husband or partner, do they bring value to their community?

 

 

Right now this conversation is led primarily by individuals and storytellers. Justin Baldoni and his production company, Wayfarer, are opening up the conversation, breaking down stereotypes and empowering men to talk openly about confusion and how they can be better. Listen to his amazing Ted Talk, and his series Man Enough (sponsored by Harry’s). His message has personally inspired me to host dinners with my male friends where we have honest conversation about our struggles, how we can improve in our other relationships and develop clarity in who we are and who we are not.

And on a more personal note, I have spent time mentoring young men and women. Most of that has been part of my relationship with Big Brothers Big Sisters. I recently took on mentoring a new child, an 11-year-old boy being raised by his single mother. Each of his two siblings have different fathers. Both his siblings have relationships with their fathers and spend frequent time with them. My mentee has never met his father and probably never will. He has become one of the most important people in my life, and time together is usually the best part of my week. But I realized my efforts are only addressing half of the problem and not addressing a larger epidemic. The real problem is men and the absence of good men in so many children's lives.

Very few brands have been willing to really take a stand on this issue. Which is seemingly crazy, because it affects 150 million people in the U.S. and nearly 40 million Millennials, mostly because there are no scripted guideposts as of yet. How do we openly confront and have an honest conversation about defining modern manhood against narratives of toxic masculinity?

As for the handful of brands that have dared to traverse these uncharted waters, they are doing it fairly well. Harry's "A Man Like You" Film, which questions what it means to be a modern man and Axe's brilliant "Is It Ok For Guys" campaign, which explores everyday questions that men are confused by in the post-macho era, both convey the sense that men have been liberated from narrow, “tough guy” stereotypes.

Newcomer brands like Hims and Roman will likely join this conversation as well. But it’s not enough. We need more brands to step up and lead the charge to make men better. There is a huge opportunity here, and brands should feel empowered to join the conversation. Redefining modern masculinity affects our whole society and it needs someone to own it. The whitespace of content and experience is completely open and the financial incentive is seemingly unlimited. No one is better able to lead this charge than brands.

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