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Having men as your primary target audience has become a bit of a communication challenge for many brands as they can no longer aim to connect with them using conventional male figures in their narratives. The discourse on gender is changing nowadays and the younger generation does not look up to men who are hyper-masculine in nature as they deem them as products of toxic masculinity.

Male-centric brands have thus found themselves in a tricky position, of wanting to appeal to their customer base by capitalising on gender norms but being afraid to rely completely on cultural stereotypes of gender as that could evoke a reactionary response from the youth. 

While it is easier for brands to advertise products for men by portraying a toned-down version of masculinity as the advertisement is more focused on the product than the protagonist, it is difficult for them to do the same around a cultural day such as International Men’s Day. Men’s day gives brands an opportunity to show how their brand views masculinity. What they’re advertising here is a celebration of manhood as a cultural premise, from the point of view of the brand rather than a product. And since it is not a product, but a cultural event, the brand is thus forced to take up a position to touch upon the cultural identity of men.

The ideal modern man is no longer considered a hyper-masculine, high-powered one, but rather one who is in touch with his emotional side. He is sensitive and understanding of the people in his life, especially women. He is no longer just a provider as women can provide for themselves too now, but he is sensitive to their emotional needs as well and is an equal partner in a relationship rather than a domineering one.

Most brands are well aware of this dilemma and thus male-centric brands try to position themselves as bearers of gender neutrality in the sphere of emotionality. A lot of the communication by brands around this International Men’s Day has revolved around acknowledging the fact that men have emotions too that should be normalised in the larger cultural sphere.

Here are some examples:

1. Boat

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The social media carousel of Boat on Instagram is a rather interesting one. The message of the post is that men have emotions too, but instead of going about it the conventional way and relating emotions with sensitivity, it has also tried to talk about a range of emotions that men experience while performing male-centric activities only. 

Each post in this carousel asks the question, “Who says men have no emotions?” and the answer to that is varied in response. One of the posts answers the question by quipping “Meet them after leg day” as a response, while another says “See them watching their favourite team lose a match”. The activities of going to a gym for leg day or watching a match are perceived to be male-centric in the larger cultural context.

Thus, while Boat does talk about men being emotional on one hand and breaking the gender norm in effect, it also retains some of the gender conventions by relating those emotions to ‘masculine’ activities. 

2. International Men's Day | Siyaram's

Siyaram’s is a textile brand that manufactures fabrics and garments, especially for men. The association of Siyaram’s brand identity has been one that has a certain regal quality to it. Amongst all the ads and marketing communications from brands around International Men’s Day, Siyaram’s is the one that has put in the most amount of resources towards capturing Men’s day and making it its own.

The message behind Siyaram’s ad campaign is that within the discourse on gender and equality, men often get left behind as they don’t get enough credit for what they do for their families. The idea is that their good deeds go unnoticed and yet they continue to do the work that they do, even if no one appreciates them.

The ad starts with a lone man wearing a pink Kurta while watching the sunrise. The background voice-over narrates how no one gives men any credit. The ad then showcases various men helping the women in their lives, an old man playing with his granddaughter, a man teaching his daughter to ride a cycle, an auto-waala helping a pregnant lady get out of his auto by holding her bags, a husband comforting his wife by listening to her patiently, a son gifting his mother a car.

The brand has portrayed men as benevolent and altruistic. The way they’ve done it in a lot of the sequences of the ad is by positioning them as guardians of women. While it does show men in different roles – such as grandfather, father, husband, son, and even driver; one thing remains consistent – they are very protective towards the women that they’re associated with.

Siyaram’s ad is in its own way - old school. The men in their narratives are not breaking any gender norms, but are rather conforming to them, by being the guardians of the women in their lives. Apart from the first frame of the ad where a man is standing alone watching the sunrise, all other men in the ad are helping women.

The end of the ad says it all, an elderly woman drapes a shawl around her husband, the same lone man we saw in the first frame. The ad clearly tries to communicate to the viewer through this long-drawn narrative that men often do a lot for the women in their lives, but sometimes they need comfort too and support too.

Playing with the colour codes of gender

Siyaram’s has very subtly tried to showcase the break of the gender norms within the younger generation by the use of the colour pink. The younger generation men who are more emotionally aware are shown wearing pink, while the older generation of men are not.  However, they’ve definitely made a conscious effort to highlight the role led binary of men and women rather than mix it up and move towards gender neutrality.

3. Sabko Sambhalne walon ko Sambhalne wale kam hote hain | Zakir Khan | Men’s Day 2022 | @MensXP

MensXP is yet another brand whose primary target audience is men. It has built an identity of being a lifestyle portal for men that disseminates discourses on its website about the problems facing men in their professional and personal lives. Thus, it was obvious that MensXP would choose to build a campaign around the problems that men face because of their gender identity.

For this task, they chose Zakir Khan – one of India’s premier stand-up comedians, who also has built an identity around himself as being a sensitive man who in a humorous way talks about the inner lives of men and their emotional problems which to a large extent do not find a space in public discourses.

Zakir’s stage persona is also that of a sensitive man who is not only in touch with his emotions but also looks after the emotional needs of others. He also positions himself often as an elder ‘Bhai’ (brother) of his audience in his acts.

The tone of MensXP’s campaign is conversational. It appears as if Zakir is just having a chat with his brothers through MensXP’s YouTube channel, the intention is to make it seem like a friendly chat between siblings rather than making it seem preachy. 

The camera angle is also at eye level and Zakir is not sitting on any sort of a pedestal like Ayushmann Khurana did for the campaign of The Man Company last year. The background score is subtle and starts when Zakir narrates a personal story about masculinity. We also see many close-ups to make him appear more vulnerable and connected to the audience.

Overall, the message behind the campaign is a tad bit similar to that of Siyaram’s – it portrays men as altruistic, and focuses on their responsibilities as men. However, unlike Siyaram’s, it also asks men to indulge in a bit of self-care. It asks them to spoil themselves a little too, with their hard-earned money.

Our suggestion

If you are in charge of managing a male-centric brand and need to navigate this complicated terrain of gender identity and gender discourse, you need to define your position and start from there. The positions can be placed on a binary from role bound vs. gender neutral role performance. A related binary is an authoritarian and non-expressive way of relating vs, a more egalitarian and emotionally expressive way of relating. The examples above showcase how some brands have taken positions on the binaries and found ways of connecting with a wider audience of men.