Brands need to take a fresh look at what it is to be male in today’s world, says Ben Lambert, Director at PB Creative, global brand guardian for Lynx – but there’s no need to be ‘worthy’ about it.
Boys are confident, tough and powerful. Girls are emotional, nurturing and passive. Most of us know – or at least hope – that these exaggerated versions of femininity and masculinity are on the wane.
With the likes of Welsh rugby star Gareth Thomas coming out, and Aussie flanker David Pocock courting controversy when he called out the sports world for not tackling homophobia, notions of masculinity are being challenged in some of the most traditionally macho environments.
Masculinity in all its forms has been dominating the headlines recently. Former Lynx global brand boss Fernando Desouches has just joined advertising agency BBD Perfect Storm to head up a New Macho unit and tackle what he calls ‘the gender stereotypes of toxic masculinity’. Lynx is supporting Brighton-based anti-bullying charity Ditch the Label, which encourages guys ‘to be their own man’. And Zoë Ball threw a light on male mental health during a 350-mile cycle for Sport Relief, following the suicide of her partner Billy Yates.
The message is clear. For too long, being a man has been about putting up a façade and acting tough – no matter how you felt inside. Thankfully, that ‘front’ is coming down and men are talking about what’s going on internally.
Because that’s the thing. Men haven’t actually changed that much – we’ve always been the same on the inside. What has changed is we’re letting that show through more.
When PB Creative developed the design, packaging and visual identity for Lynx’s Find Your Magic campaign, we supported the repositioning of the brand from being targeted firmly towards a young male demographic, with messages revolving around traditional notions of masculinity and attractiveness, and moved it on to a radical, progressive point of view, which focused on allowing men to find their own individual style and inspiration.
The challenge brands have is not to go too far the other way and swerve around all the things that actually make us ‘blokes’. After all, masculinity is not a one-dimensional concept, nor is it inherently a bad thing. Guys still want to have fun, be attractive and in great relationships, and brands should reflect that.
In choosing heavyweight boxing champion Anthony Joshua as a Lynx brand ambassador, the message was about striving to be the best version of yourself, of celebrating the unique quirks and flaws that make you ‘you’. Joshua is one of the best boxers in the world, but he doesn’t fit that macho stereotype. There’s no trash talking. As a character, he breaks boundaries – he’s a joker and a normal guy, as well as an outstanding athlete and spokesman for his sport. And he still lives with his mum.
Of course it’s great that we are talking about things like men’s mental health and starting to address some of the horrific statistics out there – the 84 male sculptures that have been placed on top of ITV Tower by CALM (Campaign Against Living Miserably), representing the number of men who kill themselves every week, is a brilliant example of how far the debate has come.
Branding’s job, though, is to strike the right tone and message, not serve as a kind of self-help manual. Brands should be focusing on and celebrating all the different versions of masculinity out there. It’s important to remember that branding isn’t changing masculinity – but changing masculinity should inform branding.
Ben Lambert is co-founder and director of London-based brand and packaging design agency PB Creative.