The Male Consumer

Trends / Realness
Carolina Sampaio Lechner
May 22, 2024
Over the decades, advertising has been a powerful mirror reflecting societal norms and expectations. This includes those expectations surrounding gender roles and identities. From Dove’s first Real Beauty campaign1 in the early 2000s to more recent examples by the Danish skincare brand Nilens Jord2 or UK’s Sports Direct,3 women's depiction by the CPG industry is evolving. However, when it comes to men, the pace of change has been slower. A Getty Images' VisualGPS consumer survey shows over 8 in 10 Europeans agree that men should be whoever they want to be, independent of societal expectations. Yet our analysis of men's depiction in advertising over the past 75 years shows brands are failing to reflect evolving societal expectations of masculinity.4

So, what can brands do to repicture the male consumer when showing men as consumers in food, drink, home and personal care and fashion? And how can they break from limiting stereotypes to be more resonant with a male audience?
Around the house
84% of consumers acknowledge that both men and women can contribute equally to household responsibilities. Yet, in visuals popular with CPG customers in the last 12 months, men are depicted 2.6 times less frequently than women engaging in household chores such as cleaning or doing laundry. Additionally, twice as many women are seen grocery shopping as men—and when seen, men are mostly seen accompanied by a woman.

When it comes to cooking, male consumers are 1.5 times less likely to be seen preparing a meal than women and are also 1.7 times less shown cooking with children than their female counterparts. However, barbecues are seen as a totem of masculinity. While there has been a gradual move towards replacing steaks with veggies, handling meat is still mostly the men’s task, perpetuating stereotypes including “soy boy”.5

When visualising consumers around the home, think about equality around domestic tasks. Are men “helping out”? Or are they owning domestic life as much as they are seen owning other parts of their lives? Think about how concepts like care, health and wellness for men can be translated into visuals of domestic life.
Personal style and grooming
Men are being underrepresented in visual stories around grooming and personal care. VisualGPS research reveals that male consumers are seen in only 10% of beauty visuals popular with CPG customers. This is not reflective of what is happening in men’s bathrooms and store shelves globally6 and in Europe.7 While inclusive beauty for women slowly evolves men are still depicted in a homogeneous manner. They are often portrayed with slim, muscular bodies, reinforcing narrow standards of beauty.

Men’s fashion and style have become more inclusive: From international runways8 and red carpets9 to European street style10, men are embracing gender‑fluid, androgynous fashion. However, something as simple as a pink football jersey still causes a media whirlwind today.11 VisualGPS research shows that visuals of men in retail and e‑commerce visuals is limited: For every visual of a man shopping, there are nearly three visuals of women doing the same thing. When shown, men are mostly seen in e‑commerce related visuals or accompanying women window‑shopping.

There is an opportunity to widen depictions of masculinity to include 'softness' which, according to VisualGPS visual testing, resonates with all demographics. When visualising men, think about how styling can help disrupt male gender stereotypes. Showing male personal care and grooming does not have to always take place in the bathroom but can also be implied in visuals of everyday scenarios.
[1] Dove
[2] Nilens Jord via Ads of the World
[3] Sports Direct via Ads of the World
[4] Gathered on a mural unveiled with the Unstereotype Alliance at the United Nations in New York City this February
[5] Plant Based News
[6] Statista 
[7] Statista UK, France, Germany, Italy
[8] E.g., Dior Homme, Loewe
[9] E.g., Getty Images, Vogue, Vogue 
[10] E.g., Zalando, Vogue
[11] ZDF
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