Tall, muscular, promiscuous yet charming is how most advertisements describe the ideal man in the society. However, new research suggests that these popular depictions make men feel insecure and inadequate.
"While partying and promiscuity are often depicted in advertising, some men find these images to be negative portrayals of their gender and are, in fact, turned off by them. So it's important to recognize that some men may react negatively or be adversely impacted by such images," said Cele Otnes, the Investors in Business Education Professor of Marketing at the University of Illinois.
The research, which was co-written by Linda Tuncay Zayer, of Loyola University, found that six common ways men interact with the ads are skepticism, avoidance, indifference, enhancement, striving and chasing. Of the six, three are negative responses while three display a positive interaction of the ad with the male consumer.According to researchers, advertisers have to rethink their ad campaigns or start doing more research on their target consumer to enhance sales. A negative relation with consumers, built on ideas that are now outdated, can lead to a drop in customers. "People build up certain offensive and defensive strategies when they look at ads. If they feel threatened by an ad, it may actually bleed over into the way they feel about that product. So if a man is turned off by how males are portrayed in an advertisement, he'll say, 'I don't want to be that guy' " – and that's the end of his relationship with that brand. So teasing out what's offensive from a sociological or cultural perspective is important," Otnes said.
"The research is a first step toward developing an in-depth understanding of the responses and meanings appropriated to masculinity by Generation X consumers," she said.
It also holds implications for advertisers and marketers, who can use the contributions from the research to "employ masculine themes in advertising more effectively and ethically," Otnes says.
Researchers say that portraying men as fathers or husbands can be a good way to communicate with men. After all, it is men who make shopping decisions in almost 30 percent of households in the U.S., according to a study by Nielsen and the NPD Group. "A lot of ads directed at males are still dominated by 'The Player,' 'The Beer Drinker' or 'The Buddy,' But those stereotypes don't actually fit the vast majority of males. Advertisers and marketers need to broaden the spectrum, and create campaigns centered on more of the actual roles that men play – 'The Dad,' 'The Husband' and 'The Handyman.' Those types of ads weren't easy to find at the time we were doing our research," she said.