Are you a typical dude?
Probably not. But most advertisers think differently.
It’s time for those advertisers to face reality, researchers say. In fact, some men will actually avoid ads that depict them in an unrealistic or unflattering light.
“There’s a misconception that men are always tough and that they are not impacted by these advertisements,” says Linda Tuncay Zayer, a Quinlan professor of marketing who co-authored the research with her colleague, Cele Otnes, of the University of Illinois.
But what Zayer and Otnes found was that some men are offended by the hyper-masculine stereotypes portrayed in certain ads, while others say the ads can leave them feeling inadequate or vulnerable. So much so, Zayer says, that some men may ignore the ads altogether.
Zayer has been studying consumer behavior for more than a decade. But while scores of studies have been done on how women react to advertisements, few researchers have focused on men.
“I wanted to know how men respond to these idealized depictions of masculinity in advertising,” Zayer says.
So she and Otnes interviewed Gen-X males (men born between 1965 and 1981) to find out what they thought about print ads pulled from magazines such as Sports Illustrated, ESPN Magazine, Maxim, and Playboy. Many of the men said the ads were so unrealistic—Six-pack abs! Bikini models! Hot tubs!—that they simply ignored the message. And that can spell big trouble for companies.
“Advertisers need to be conscious of the images they’re putting out in the marketplace,” Zayer says, “because sometimes it can have a negative effect on men.”
What can companies do to reach men?
“They really need to find positive messages of masculinity that resonate with the consumers,” Zayer says. “Something like fatherhood can be a really powerful message that connects with men.”
Zayer recalls the Volkswagen commercial from 2011 in which a young boy, dressed as Darth Vader, tries to use “the Force” to start his dad’s car. After trying for a few seconds with no success, the boy suddenly gets the car to fire up—much to his amazement. The camera then cuts away to show the father inside the house, holding the car’s remote starter and winking at his wife.
That, Zayer says, is a great example of an advertiser moving beyond stereotypes.
“Men are multifaceted and fulfill lots of different roles,” she says. “So let’s see them in lots of different roles.”
Linda Tuncay Zayer
Hometown: Grew up in Northwest Indiana, now lives in Wicker Park
Professor at Quinlan since: 2005
Courses taught: Consumer behavior to graduate (MARK 467) and undergraduate students (MARK 310); research practicum seminar to business honors students (BHNR 353)
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