- Advertising has historically painted masculinity in simple, broad strokes but that is starting to change, according to a new report in The New York Times that highlights recent campaigns from Unilever brands such as Axe and Dove Men+Care.
- More brand messaging is portraying men as dads, caregivers and educators in what the Times called "dadvertising," echoing a trend toward "femvertising" from a decade ago. Nick Soukas, Dove's vice president for marketing, told the publication that, "Taking care of yourself and those around you is actually a sign of strength today."
- A study from Axe conducted in conjunction with the nonprofit Promundo found young men in the U.S., U.K. and Mexico feel pressure to adhere to male gender stereotypes and that those who don’t fit into those norms are unhappy, with 20% considering suicide in the past two weeks, per the Times.
The Times report highlights how traditional — or stereotypical — depictions of men often don't connect with large pockets of consumers and might even be off-putting. Messaging pivots from marketers like Unilever's Axe, embodied in its "Find Your Magic" platform, are indicative of how more industry players are broadening their definitions of what it means to be male in order to reach more diverse audiences.
In the past, Axe's ads have been hyper-masculine, implying users of Axe products would become irresistible to the opposite sex, but a new campaign called "Is It Ok For Guys?" instead challenges those rigid gender roles to break a cycle of "toxic masculinity." The effort was built on questions men actually search on Google such as whether they can be emotional, wear makeup or experiment sexually, and has received critical praise for its progressive approach.
The changing norms around advertising, including questions of how it impacts and perpetuates stereotypes, are part of a larger push for greater diversity both within the industry and in the way brands present themselves to consumers. While efforts like Unilever's might be read as a positive step, thought leaders including Airbnb CMO Jonathan Mildenhall have recently pointed to poor hiring practices and a severe lack of both women and all people of color in advertising.