From Axe To Gillette: These World-Class Brands Tell Us How To Market Masculinity

We asked brand managers at Dove, Axe and Gillette how they’re re-grooming men for 2020 and beyond.

Max Berlinger |

In 2019, Gillette released two videos, one addressing toxic masculinity, bullying and sexism head-on and another featuring a transgender man being taught to shave by his father. These are a far cry from the ads I remember from my childhood in the ’90s – virile, bare-chested men giving themselves a clean shave, the razor navigating their well-defined jawlines with ease. Meanwhile, ads for the grooming brand Axe shifted a few years back, from a frat-bro swagger to a woke-bro humility. Recent campaigns have implored guys to “find their magic” and have included shots of men dancing in high heels.

What’s going on here?

From the OGs of the grooming and fashion industries – names such as L’Oréal and Dove – to young upstarts, like the shaving brand Harry’s and the internet-born clothing line Bonobos, they’ve all created ads that have pushed a more evolved version of masculinity. Amazon has launched its own in-house clothing line and named it, literally, Good Man (ha). Dove Men+Care has adopted paternity leave as a core issue, and L’Oréal has released an advertisement that reads “This is an ad for men,” using lipsticks of various lengths to highlight the benefits of having women in leadership roles.

Brands With Values

“What [advertising agencies] realised is that younger consumers don’t see a reason why they should support a brand if it doesn’t speak to their values,” says Mark Tungate, author of Branded Male: Marketing to Men.

“A lot of younger people have a strong, ethical stance on things, whether it be the environment or morality in the workplace. Why would they even bother looking at a brand that doesn’t actually speak to them?” We talked to three of the people behind these images and asked them to explain how their companies are advertising to men in a world where the very idea of masculinity is quickly shifting. Here’s what they said.

Axe: “What It Means To Be A Man Changes With The Times”

“Axe, which has always been about confidence and attraction, used to employ a kind of one-size-fits-all approach to it: the guy gets the girl. Around 2016, as we started to pay attention to what younger guys were talking about, what was going on socially, we saw there was a more inclusive approach needed to reflect what guys, what our guy, was experiencing; we felt like we needed to make a shift. As new teen guys come in, you have the opportunity to reestablish yourself as a brand with them. So 12-year-old guys today, they don’t know these [previous] ads. We used who we are – attraction and confidence. But the expression of that, what it means to be a man, that changes with the times.” – Mark Lodwick, Brand Director.

Gillette: “We Wanted To Redefine What ‘The Best A Man Can Get’ Meant”

“2019 is the 30th year of the iconic line ‘The best a man can get.’ We debuted it at the Super Bowl of 1989. As we looked at the line, we wanted to think of the right way to bring it to life. We were already starting to show men in a more modern, contemporary light. We wanted to redefine what ‘The best a man can get’ meant – not just the best razor; we wanted to focus on what kind of man does Gillette intend to emulate and follow. That translated to ‘The best a man can be,’ not just ‘The best a man can get.’ ” – Pankaj Bhalla, Director of Gillette and Venus, North America.

Dove Men+Care: “While The Idea Of Masculinity Had Changed, Media Portrayals Weren’t Reflecting That”

Dove Men+Care advocates paternity leave rights in the campaign #DearFutureDads, featuring men sharing precious (really precious!) memories as new dads.

“Our business model is to sell product, but we did a lot of work in 2015 that showed, among other things, that 86 percent of men felt that while the idea of masculinity had evolved, media portrayals weren’t reflecting that. That was one of the drivers of our Super Bowl ads: College for Dad. Studies show that when men become dads, that’s a huge shift in their lives. But everyone would agree that caring is good. And important.” – Molly Kennedy, Global Senior Brand Manager.

READ MORE: The Ultimate To-Do List If You Want To Be A Better Man This Year

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