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Marketing to Men

You think you know them. But selling to men takes just as much skill as reaching any other group. Here’s what you need to do.

You can see most ads aimed at men a mile away: They involve speeding cars, explosions or hard-bodied babes. That’s because many marketers see men in one of two ways: “They’re either oversexed Peter Pans with a lot of money and no common sense, or they’re older family men who are either ignored or reviled by their families, in part because they’re so intellectually stunted that they can’t even find cat food at the grocery store,” according to John January, senior vice president and executive creative director at Sullivan Higdon & Sink, a Wichita, Kansas, ad agency that specializes in marketing to men.

Although marketing based on those stereotypes works for some brands, it isn’t appropriate for everyone—in large part because it overlooks a significant portion of the male population. Indeed, 86 percent of men would describe themselves as principle-driven, according to January. “You don’t see that reflected a lot in advertising,” he says. “Clearly, not enough brands are taking the time to understand how they can really connect with men—which means there are opportunities for brands that really think this through.”

Like most stereotypes, those surrounding marketing to men do have some truth at their core. So be cognizant of the fact that men respond particularly well to information conveyed visually — think glossy beauty shots of menu items, rather than (or in addition to) lengthy descriptions. “Too much information is overwhelming for men,” says Sheri David, managing partner and CEO of IOHI, a New York-based multimedia marketing firm.

Still, there’s a difference between streamlining your message and talking down to customers. January is a fan of marketing that appeals to what he calls the “good man”—as opposed to the “bad boy”—market. “Companies like John Deere do a good job of acknowledging some expertise, some intelligence, in their target market,” he says. “And in every case companies like these are treating customers like adults.”

“The way to a man’s heart is often through his family,” says Brian Reid, editor of rebeldad.com, a blog that tracks media coverage of fatherhood. “Guys are driving more of the family buying decisions, yet they are not only often ignored, they are frequently actively excluded by an overwhelming focus on moms.”

So, for example, a beer-and-wings concept might think about ways to attract families, rather than just dads on guys’ night out. “If you make it a little easier for a dad to bring kids—whether that means a special seating area or changing tables or high chairs—you’d almost certainly expand your client base,” says Reid.

Indeed, January notes that his firm’s research confirms that men seek experience. “They love to go out and have a great time, sometimes with their families and sometimes with their friends. Concepts can look at themselves and [ask], Do we have an offering for either or both of these occasions?”

Simple touches related to decor can make a difference to your customers. For example, Indigo Joe’s sourced chairs designed to be extra comfortable as a way to differentiate its upscale sports bar concept. “I’m not after the 20-year-old kid,” says Troy Taylor, CEO of Indigo Joe’s Laguna Hills, California-based parent, Neighborhood Sports Pub Concepts Inc. “My target customer is 30, 40 or 50 years old, and he wants a chair that’s going to be very comfortable for a three-and-a-half hour football game.”

Indigo Joe’s thoughtfulness extends to the televisions—high-def flatscreens—and the sound system, which includes a wireless voicebox system so guests can get sound at their table if they’re not interested in the game being played on the overhead system. The approach makes sense to Reid of rebeldad.com. “At-home dads, for instance, tend to be rabid sports fans,” he says. “So assuming that the family man won’t respond to the allure of a big-screen showing of the game just because he’s driving a minivan isn’t wise.”

“Men have a very good sense of humor and are able to laugh at themselves,” says January. “They don’t get up off the couch and start letter-writing campaigns about ads that poke fun at men. But the stereotype that humor is the only emotion men experience is not necessarily true.”

For example, research by January’s firm indicates that 78 percent of men define themselves as “family-centric.” Another 73 percent describe themselves as seeking enlightenment or chances for continued learning.

Andy Howard, executive vice president of marketing, purchasing and R&D for Wingstop, is half kidding when he makes this suggestion—but he’s got a point. Troy Aikman has been under contract as Wingstop’s spokesman since 2003. The 350-unit chain, based in Richardson, Texas, already had what Howard describes as a “leg up” with men due to its wings and beer menu.

But hiring the former Dallas Cowboys quarterback, who’s featured in spots that air on late-night TV, has increased the concept’s appeal to young men—and to women. After all, football fans of both sexes revere the hall of famer and his clean-cut, aw-shucks persona. While you’re unlikely to get Aikman himself, think about who else might resonate with your core customers without alienating other potential diners.

"Consider someone your male customers would say they could be friends with—who fits both the personality of your brand and that of your customers. And don’t underestimate the feelings that women in your male customers’ lives might hold about a certain spokesman. They need to like him, too,” says January. “In any case don’t just get a spokesperson because you can. You have to make sure it’s a strategic decision.”

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