Gray Matters: masculinity, sex, politics and emotions

Masculinity redefined

In July 2017, Stuff ran an article, NZ ads likely to be banned under UK’s new advertising standards, in which Dani McDonald made the point: “Kiwi adverts have usually played around with gender stereotypes,” while the UK advertising broadcasting was taking steps to ban ads that perpetuate unhealthy images of men and women and stereotypical gender roles “specifically where men are portrayed as bumbling incompetents around the home, and women are shown as sole home makers”.

This week, Food Navigator.com published a feature based on research by New Macho, a specialist men’s marketing arm of BBD Perfect Storm, that concluded “food and drink brands should avoid using dated male stereotypes in their advertising”. The survey of 2000 UK males also showed that, at least in the UK, “old-fashioned ways of portraying masculinity are not connecting with men”.

The question is, is this the case in New Zealand? A lot of our ads still like to tap into the bro culture, whether they are ads promoting beer drinking or ads highlighting the perils of drinking and driving.

Perpetuating  stereotypes in marketing and advertising was highlighted in Damien Venuto’s 2018 NZ Herald article The Māori woman inside NZ advertising’s white boys club, in which Bridget Taylor, co-owner and executive creative director at advertising agency Contagion, makes the point of lack of diversity leading to stereotyping, saying, “I was at a senior creative directors’ meeting recently, and it was me with 18 other middle-age white males — and that represented our industry.”

In the same article, Vera Dong, who heads FCB’s strategic arm, says: “It’s the inability, conscious or unconscious, to see consumers as people beyond the colour of their skin, beyond long-standing cultural cliches, and too many assumptions that perpetuate stereotypes in marketing and advertising.”

But it’s not just a cultural issue. Men’s understanding of their own masculinity has moved on from that experienced by those “middle-age white males” Taylor was referring to.

As the UK research says, the way we advertise to women changed ten years ago with the Dove campaign leading the way. Now it is time to realise that men are changing and “brands need to help men find a new aspiration’.

I’m not a fan of the Villainesse blog but contributor Erin Gourley made a valid point when she wrote: “Rugby, beer, and “she’ll be right”. It’s not hard to define masculinity in New Zealand. A total stranger to our country, after watching about 10 minutes of TV ads, would come up with some variation of those three things. Every day, the ‘right way’ to be a man is socially enforced.”

A good place to start for those wanting to understand how Kiwi cultural codes have shifted over time is the TRA Kiwi Cultural Codes which reflect the traits of Kiwi humour, earned success, individuality and self-determination, social equivalence, an outward world view and our connection to nature.

It’s time for the oversimplified stereotypical mages of the Kiwi male to be put out to pasture.

Sex sells

I was fascinated to read some new research by Monash University that shows “highly sexualised imagery in advertising causes some consumers to feel ‘physically dirty’ and motivates them to buy products such as toothpaste, soap and face wash”.

1600 participants cannot lie, can they? It’s hard to believe that, “reminders of casual sex, perpetuated through advertisements for merchandise such as perfume and lingerie, might have an unintended effect of turning people to buy personal hygiene products”.

So, does sex sell or not? I’m more inclined to the view of Cole Schafer writing for honeycopy.com, the copywriting blog, who says, “sex sells… when it’s done the right way”.

The problem for copywriters is, as Schafer admits: “Sex in advertising is a practice even more frowned upon than just strictly sex itself. It is viewed as being dirty, manipulative and perhaps a low blow to modern society. And now, more than ever before, this relationship has become strained due to a growing popularity in feminist movements and an increasing awareness of the inequality that women face on a day to day basis.”

Schafer makes the point that a study done in 2012 shows that 92 percent of the 174 songs that made it onto Billboard’s Top 10 had sexual or reproductive references. So, if sex sells music then why not clothing, beauty products and more.

Political advertising

With a New Zealand election less than 18 months away, advertising agencies may well be thinking about pitching for the advertising campaigns of one of the political parties.

“Over the past five years, Facebook has exploded as a site for political advertising and election campaigning,” reports The Conversation.

What is interesting about this after the massive swings in the just held EU elections is that political campaigns spent money on Facebook so they could target adverts or videos at specific sections of the public. There were ads from Labour suggesting that it was the only party that could “stop Nigel Farage’s Brexit Party”, and the Conservatives argued that Labour “won’t deliver Brexit”. These adverts were then set to appear primarily in certain timelines – such as those of users aged between 35 and 44 and/or living in England.

Social media will be a primary influencer in future New Zealand elections. As Heliz Mazouri writes on Sprout Social: “In order to think digitally and to raise digital quotient, political campaign teams must be agile and adaptable. They must understand the risks inherent in using social media and how to reach digitally plugged-in voters without compromising brand image.

The 2020 New Zealand election may well be won and lost in the digital space but dominating Facebook doesn’t necessarily mean winning. B&T report that on Facebook, it was Bill Shorten and the Labor party that dominated in the recent Australian election. “Shorten took out the title of most discussed politician based on mentions and Labor was the most talked about political party on the site,” says B&T. “But it was another story on Instagram, where Scott Morrison led the conversation.”

ScoMo’s personal and behind-the-scenes posts were seen as the most engaging and his Mother’s Day curry pic was the top post of the entire campaign. I’m sure we’ll see lots of toddler Neve behind-the-scenes posts on Jacinda Ardern’s Instagram in 2020.

Matching moods

ESPN and the New York Times are exploring how to match marketing to their users’ emotions. As reported in The Guardian, last year the New York Times launched something called Project Feels, a project to understand and predict the emotional impact of Times articles. The Times surveyed over 1,200 readers and asked respondents how they felt while reading a series of articles, asking them to choose from a number of different emotion categories, as well as a No Emotion category.

Across the board, articles that were top in emotional categories, such as love, sadness and fear, performed significantly better than articles that were not.

Sports broadcaster ESPN and USA Today are also using psychographic rather than demographic targeting to sell to advertisers, including in ESPN’s case, “the decision to not show you advertising at all if your team is losing”.

The Guardian article tells us that media companies in the US are claiming it is now possible for the “mood” of the reader or viewer to be tracked in real time and the content of the advertising to be changed accordingly.

According to the figures presented at a digital advertising event in New York recently, ads targeted at readers based on their predicted moods rather than their previous behaviour improved the click-through rate by 40 percent.

oOh!media and PHD are adopting a similar strategy asking shoppers to smile for first mood recognition, in a campaign for Nutella across Australia and New Zealand. AdNews reported: “A shoppers’ facial expression will determine the ad they see on a new Nutella campaign that uses facial mapping technology to determine their mood and personalises creative to match.” 

Michelle Hood, ANZ media and communications manager at Ferrero, told AdNews the interactive panels were “a great way to bring the morning mood concept to life”.

Tweet of the week

“Advertising has us chasing cars and clothes, working jobs we hate so we can buy shit we don’t need. We’re the middle children of history, man. No purpose or place. We have no Great War. No Great Depression. Our Great War’s a spiritual war… our Great Depression is our lives.” — Oxumo Mykel @quipsy

About Author

Graham Medcalf is a freelance writer and owner of Red Advertising.

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