A New Spin On “Man Up” Marketing

One of the more irritating and clueless cultural nexuses (nexi?) of the last couple of years has been the surfeit of “men need to man up” articles.

I spoke about this at length in two articles about City Journal writer Kay Hymowitz in response to her hysterical and anecdotally-driven Wall Street Journal piece. She has since been joined in the Pantheon of Man-Up Shaming by Peggy Nance, Bill Bennett and Spinster In Chief Kate Bolick.

Hymowitz is one of a class of commentators who claim to be concerned about the lot of men, but are only concerned to the degree that men’s issues affect the ability of women to get what they want – that is, men to finance and forward their dreams of status and comfort. This assertion is self-demonstrating: despite a generation of evidence that the effete, femcentric society rising in the upper classes was dramatically stunting the development of males, these commentators have only seen fit to bring attention to the problem now that the young women they spend their lives around have begun to complain that there aren’t any men they want to marry or who want to marry them. (Hymowitz uses the Judd Apatow film Knocked Up as an bookend fable to her argument, which really shows how empty her concept is of what young men’s lives are actually like.)

While it began as a male-to-male appeal to teamwork, the “Man Up” concept has long been a cultural default for women to exert leverage on men to do something not in their direct interest, via a dose of shaming. Shaming is an appeal to someone’s sense of being, suggesting that their actions cost them value as a person (or in this case, as a male person). [Double-hat tip to Ricky Raw, whose explicatory work on the human psychological system is without equal.]

Seemingly in keeping with the “Man Up” pop-sociology, there’s been a new surge of ads leveraging the concept. I’ve seen three campaigns in particular that employ the

Weight Watchers

  • Tagline: “Lose like a man”
  • Masculine concept: Using a pun to link sportmanship and competition with a program to drop pounds.
  • Endorser: Former NBA player and “round mound of rebound” Charles Barkley

Dove (the moisturizer)

  • Tagline: “I’m comfortable in my own skin”
  • Masculine concept: Adapting the alpha-male values of confidence and congruence to literally making your skin comfortable.
  • Endorsers: Charismatic retired hoopster Shaquille O’Neal, retired NFL quarterback and confirmed philanderer John Elway, Georgetown basketball coach John Thompson III

One-A-Day Men’s Vitacraves (vitmains)

  • Tagline: “Chew like a man”
  • Masculine concept: feats of strength and gluttony
  • No endorsers, just a dweeby white guy

Obviously, these are strong doses of manliness to counter the stigma of female-oriented products. What’s interesting about these is that there is a distinct absence of invective about a man’s “duty” to others (save for a quip about taking out the garbage). Barkley directly engages his own competitive personality – “I hated losing, until now.” Elway is adorned with images of his football accomplishments, when he was one of the game’s best. Thompson tells a story about becoming like his father. Shaq simply shows off his larger-than-life persona.

Thus the key to the spots: buy this and you’ll feel good about being a man – your intrinsic masculinity will be flattered, not your “obligation masculinity” defined by serving others’ interests. We’re being asked to fork over the cash for our own sake, not because we owe it to our wives or children or girlfriends or whatever.

I realized that this motif was pioneered by another very well-received campaign. Most beer ads promote a sort of “drink this beer and women will have sex with you” concept. There’s a notable exception – Dos Equis’ Most Interesting Man In The World spots. The Most Interesting Man is surrounded by women – not because he’s a crazy party animal at the time of the swilling, but because he is the end product of an interesting and well-lived life. The women are an extra benefit to his lifestyle of boating rescues, fencing, and lecturing a tiger while cooking. The spots appeal to a high-concept masculinity, like an aging James Bond, rather than a hangin’ with your bros diorama. It ain’t a Viagra ad with Bob Dole talking to other old men, it’s a older man addressing a younger man about how to be like him when he’s grown old.

There’s a context that people need to understand – marketers don’t know how to reach young men. Radio host Tom Leykis regularly emphasized that young men were his core listener base, and after a silly caller he would satirically intone “advertisers, you too can reach this prime demographic.”

Marketers know how to sell to young women…they can make women feel good about themselves by buying an expensive handbag, a pair of uncomfortable shoes, or a poorly-written book about an abortive BDSM experiment (I’m talking about The Hunger Games). But the most elusive consumer dollar is that in the hands of the 18- to 34-year old pre-middle aged male. They buy plenty of stuff, but the advertisers can’t figure out how to influence them.

I suppose it’s another way of saying men are a lot less susceptible to social pressure and social proof in their preferences. And in keeping with what’s been covered already, they are the least susceptible when they are young and single, and have neither a wife and kids they are expected to provide for (the shaming angle), nor a midlife crisis to cause them to hunt for masculine meaning they can no longer capture on their own.

Lots of male-centric advertising appeals directly to the married-father role, suggesting it is his “manly duty” to the family to buy whatever product in on the make. Cf. ads where Daddy is shuttling the family around, or fixing the family’s gutters, or cutting the lawn or something. Subtextual is the idea that his time and pleasures should be sacrificed for the nebulous “good of the family” – more extreme examples were a guy selling his season tickets because they had a new baby, or a guy being browbeaten by his wife and realtor into buying a house he couldn’t afford.

In what is probably a more effective campaign, companies also market products TO wives that are intended to be consumed BY their husbands. With women controlling something like 80% of a couple’s spending, it’s probably a lot more efficient of a pitch in the boardroom.

However, with the marriage rate going down and the age of marriage going up, maybe the marketers are getting ahead of the game and going directly to the large pocket of single men who don’t (and for some, won’t) have wives to buy their vitamins for them.


Filed under media

28 responses to “A New Spin On “Man Up” Marketing

  1. M3

    I have noticed a marked drop in commercials treating men as idiots. I think they’re catching on that there’s a new market opening up.. one in which they make they’re own buying decisions. Some even DARE to put aside the age old assumption that the wife/so is always right…

  2. “Shaming is an appeal to someone’s sense of being”

    Here’s my take on this: I do not for an instant believe the story of the Garden of Eden is anything but a myth. However, myths don’t last for thousands of years unless there is a great deal of psychological truth to them

    When Adam and Eve are caught breaking the rules, they are ashamed, but not guilty. Psychologists have found that shame does come before guilt. It’s easier to shame or humiliate someone than make them feel guilty.

    The next step is Adam and Eve’s children, Cain and Abel. Cain kills Abel because he feels humiliated. In other words, shaming and humiliating someone leads to rage and he desire for revenge.

    These moron “Man Up” women (and that includes a clown like William Bennett) have no understanding of human nature, and have no idea what these attempts to shame and humiliate men will lead to: some kind of revenge.

    What, I don’t know. Maybe, just saying fuck it to getting married, working to support society, and all of the rest of those things that support society and civilization.

  3. anonymous

    I reject your implied premise that women are the spendthrifts. Women are wired for saving. Marketers have no difficulty finding young men who purchase cars and video games.

  4. Nupnupnup

    This has been solved oh so long ago. If you can convince the blue pill crowd that your product will increase their chances of getting laid, you’re golden.

    Or in two words: Sex sells.

  5. Oddly enough, the call is for men to man up, when the real problem is that women are failing at being women. Badly. They slut around when they are young, have abortions during their fertile years, and have multiple embryos “produced” in a lab later in life, only one which will live to become a child of this failed feminist experiment. Not to mention the long list of unfeminine personality traits (being a bitch), along with the solipsistic assertion that men must be failures for not wanting to marry her. Man up? You aren’t a man if you settle for a woman like that. The call should be Woman Up! Act like a real woman should. They won’t.

  6. Scooby


    I reject your rejection.
    Women buy houses and cars bigger and more expensive than they need.
    The jewelry market, expensive minerals with no practical value to individuals, female market.
    New shoes every other week, don’t get me started.
    Excess clothing, ditto.
    Keeping up with the Joneses, a primarily female mentality.

    Marketers admit that it is difficult to market to men and very easy to market to women. Men have always known that having a woman in your life is tantamount to a shrinking bank account. Women are in no way wired for savings.

  7. supersandwich

    “Women are wired for saving.”

    Is that sarcasm? Why are 90% of consumer magazines aimed at women? Why do companies like Target and Wal-Mart design their stores around women? (Every Target store is designed specifically for a 25 – 50 year old woman with 1.5 kids at home. They refer to their “guests” as “Her/She”) Why has Home Depot made consumer paint products one of their biggest sellers?

    Women do the shopping in our society, and drive the consumer culture. Men shop before Christmas and on video game release dates, but that’s it.

    You should read a book called “Why We Shop” by Paco Underhill. Retail has become an emotional rollercoaster aimed directly at exploiting women. Most of the time when men make major purchases, it’s at the behest of women.

    Men do buy cars, I’ll give you that. But that’s a small, small part of the big picture.

  8. Tom

    “Is that sarcasm? Why are 90% of consumer magazines aimed at women? Why do companies like Target and Wal-Mart design their stores around women? (Every Target store is designed specifically for a 25 – 50 year old woman with 1.5 kids at home. They refer to their “guests” as “Her/She”) Why has Home Depot made consumer paint products one of their biggest sellers? ”

    Not to mention all of those products like women’s razors which cost several times that of men’s because the packaging is prettier.

  9. FFY

    Shhhh… don’t feed the troll.

    She knows she’s wrong

  10. @gooby: I’m just going to assume you were talking about someone else.

  11. Brian

    Sir Charles has already said off the record (read: he told someone and they put it on Twitter) that Weight Watchers is a bunch of crap and doesn’t work. How else are they supposed to sell it then? Simple truth is men have a better bullshit radar than women regarding marketing, and women have no such radar, choosing instead to rely on the perceived future judgements of others when making buying decisions. Not very bright.

  12. Georgia Boy

    To pick out, and on, one of your examples, the fempire has been subtly cheerleading for men to go to Weight Watchers for years. I’ve seen several articles in Slate about it over tge last year, hyping their attempts to sell to men.

    What they never seem to talk much about in those pieces, of course, is that men already have their own fitness culture, namely the freeweight room, and I’m guessing you know their usual opinions of gym culture. So it’s more like, man up, but in those ways we pre-chaperone and sanction.

    IMO it’s not going to succeed anytime soon, we’re not that sackless yet. Some men go to go to Weight Watchers but most prefer the bench.

  13. Georgia Boy

    I think Weight Watchers works, as long as A. you stick with its rules and B. your goals are aligned with it. (I dated a woman who worked for them.) Women start by simething like wanting to fit into a certain dress size and then want to slim down, so: they do mostly cardio and don’t need a lot of gym equipment, and watch what they eat with a system of points for this food or that. Men want to gain strength or bulk up upper body muscles or get a six pack, so they start with building a workout routine and arrange their diet around getting the benefit out of the workouts. Weight Watchers is a system for people with Weight Watchers like goals.

  14. Advertisers are nothing but fancy car salesman, you had to figure they’d make some attempt to get after the “male market” eventually, they won’t let the money sit there as long as there’d schlubs who think they can be cool.

    This commercial makes a nice little mockery of men while attempting to appeal at them simultaneously.

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  16. The Stranger

    @Bob Wallace:

    Actually, the concept of guilt and innocence as things that you feel, or even as socially important, didn’t exist when the Bible was written. It’s very new and it’s very Western — the East *still* doesn’t think that way. It was all about honor and shame. Public face.

    In these ancient cultures, Honor = public status, Shame = public humiliation, guilt is emotionally irrelevant unless and until you are shamed for it, and innocence is irrelevant unless and until your honor is damaged. At which point you try to avenge your honor.

    And lo and behold — Game comes along in the modern world and tells us that women are primarily attracted to things which the ancients would have almost universally counted as honor.

    IMO, Honor and Shame are fundamental psychological and even spiritual (if you buy into that) things, and guilt and innocence AS emotional realities is harmful obfustication. Not a harmful obfustication as factual analasys — objective guilt and innocence are real and important things. But emotional guilt and innocence strikes me as a cultural hankerchief that is unconsciously used to try and cover the deeper realities of Honor and Shame.

  17. Zesty

    I found this interesting: “Subtextual is the idea that his time and pleasures should be sacrificed for the nebulous “good of the family.” Women have already been marketed to this way for years.

    I continue to be fascinated by this blog and the comments. My hope for both genders, is that the field becomes more level. We’re only now at a point where a great percentage of women have options in their lives, i.e. they can be more than mothers, teachers and secretaries if that’s what they wish. I have those options as a result of feminism. However, I think the pendulum needs to swing back somewhat, in that feminist gains have come at the price of women’s femininity. To me, this only makes sense, as women needed to be more like men [initially] to gain any ground and be taken seriously in overwhelmingly male contexts.

  18. Rock Throwing Peasant

    Marketers have no difficulty finding young men who purchase cars and video games.

    Yes, they have no problem selling things to men that they already want. They have been trying for decades to get men to become as fashion and beauty obsessed as women. They want to get man to purchase as many consumables (non-durable) as possible. They spend tens of millions trying to get men to switch beer brands and they just aren’t effective. A guy typically has one or two beer choices that he picks 90% of the time (numbers pulled from my rear, but based on decades of drinking with guys).

  19. Anonymous is funny.

    Cars can be driven for decades, games can be played for years.
    Meanwhile, at a local store, I watched a middle-aged woman use balled up dollar bills and small change to buy 6 kitchen decorations. When she left with her purchase, the cashier commented on the fact that the woman came into the store at least once a month to buy…kitchen decorations. According to the cashier, the woman must have owned at least 100 non-holiday specific kitchen plaques (paid for with saved up money, because she was a fixed-income disability recipient.) When you can find a large amount of guys who are eager to spend limited resources on ornamental items, I’ll begin to take you seriously.

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  21. Infantry

    Disturbing Red Pill Philosophy reinforced through study:

    So men that take on traditional women’s work in the hope of being more egalitarian and progressive are more likely to be divorced? I can’t say I’m surprised, but I’m not happy about it either.

  22. Orion

    Agreed about the amusement generated by hamnonymus comment. I entered marriage with blinders and assumption there was an understanding of budgeting on both sides. We are paying for that mistake now in a huge way. If I had remained single? There is an excellent chance I would have payed off the mortgage on my house. I have always been a disciplined saver, my wife and all other women that are closely related have a future time line that ends with the season – and the idea of buying the latest fashions at that point.

  23. “Women are wired for saving.”

    Once, my mother had come home from shopping. I had four brothers and sisters. She commenced to tell my father how she bought this dress for one daughter because it was on sale and she saved money, and these shoes for me because they were on sale and she saved money. She went through about 3 or 4 more purchases, all on how much she saved and my father said,

    “Evelyn if you continue saving me money, I gonna go broke”

    Another quip he had that I think you might enjoy. My mom was an absolute teetotaler was anti-alcohol. About once every few month my dad would go and tear off a binge. I know he would stay out because he regretted coming home to the fight that he would face, so he stayed out. Once she accused him of possible infidelity. He said,

    “Evelyn, you may not have cured me of drinking but you damn sure cured me of women.”

  24. tg moderator

    Do marketers really want to reach young men? I’m sincere in asking as I have no idea. It seems to me that young men these days don’t have any money. I had an Uncle who owned an airplane for most of his life. He also always had nice cars and he paid cash for his house back in 1960. He was an auto mechanic. I don’t think the kid at my local Jiffy Lube is shoping for airplanes…

  25. “Do marketers really want to reach young men?”
    Not particularly. Heck, marketers don’t generally want to reach out to men, period. Consider that 80% of household spending is done by females. What does that mean? Males only spend 20%. They spend 1/4 as much as females, and tend to be more brand-loyal. They are a smaller (monetarily) and a more difficult market to penetrate. And young men? Like you said, they have no money, and what they have often goes to girlfriends.
    Consider that practically all television is female-oriented. This is not just feminism. This is making a profit. Since women do most of the spending, ads directed at women will be the most successful, and shows that attract a female demographic will get more of the right people to see those ads.
    Consider that notion further. What will bring even more money to these advertisers? Women having more money, of course. Thus their wholehearted endorsement of the strong, independent woman, and women working outside the home.

  26. there’s plenty of shows that aren’t aimed at women. I shall name a few …. Breaking Bad, Sons of Anarchy, Ice Road Truckers, Coal, Top Gear, All of Adult Swim, It’s always sunny in philadelphia, Dirty Jobs, Man v Wild etc etc

  27. Nargun,

    How many of those shows are on network television? The programs you named are niche programs on cable, not beamed over the air into Middle American living rooms between the evening news and the Late Show.

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