Young Men On Masculinity
TABLE OF CONTENTS
01 02 03 04 05 06 07 08 09
FOREWORD CONTRIBUTORS INTRODUCTION METHODOLOGY MASCULINITY MENTAL HEALTH GENDER & EQUALITY RACE & RACISM ADVERTISING LESSONS FOR BRANDS 10 CONCLUSION REFERENCES CREDITS
Young Blood is Amplify’s ongoing and ever-growing exploration of the hopes, fears and realities growing up in the world today. As an agency, it’s vital we’re at the forefront of the inspirational but ever-changing attitudes of youth. To truly understand the behaviour of our young audiences, their attitudes and motivations, we needed to know ‘why?’. For brands and marketers it’s vital we understand these nuances for today’s campaigns, and those of tomorrow. But Young Blood is more than that. Today’s youth have a hard time. Amplify’s social mission is to connect with, enable and champion young creative talent from all walks of life. Through Young Blood we wanted to give Britain’s youth a much needed platform to have a voice and say what they really think. We wanted to challenge the stereotypes they face whether at best broad, generic and unhelpful labels like ‘Millennial’ or ‘Gen Z’, and at worst consistently being called out by the media with terms such as ‘snowflakes’, ‘robots’ or ‘enfeebled youth’. While our first Young Blood study in 2016 reported on an optimistic group that believed the world was their oyster, by 2018, a succession of global events and decisions taken on their behalf had knocked their faith in the world. And now, as they emerge from the pandemic years, it is perhaps unsurprising that an alarming majority of young men are experiencing mental health issues. Fears around a lack of financial mobility to attain the markers, commonly attributed to more traditional beliefs around masculinity, still abound, yet against this, there’s a groundswell of awareness of how the portrayal of modern masculinity must evolve to benefit all. Brands have a vital part to play in addressing stereotypes of how men are perceived in society, with the young men surveyed already backing those that are moving the conversation around masculinity forward. The young men in our survey want brands to focus beyond the physical stereotype of masculinity, focusing instead on the emotional. Focusing on feelings - whether, positive or negative – has traditionally been seen as a sign of weakness and vulnerability. Today’s youth want this to be acknowledged and brought to the fore - not as a weakness but as a sign of who they really are. Jonathan Emmins Founder & Global CEO of Amplify firstname.lastname@example.org
ABOUT AMPLIFY Amplify is a global creative agency, specialising in culture and experiences. Named both ‘Brand Experience Agency of the Decade’ and ‘Global Experience Agency of the Year’, Amplify works with some of the world’s most forward-thinking and progressive brands including: adidas, Airbnb, Google, Netflix, Pinterest, PlayStation, Porsche and Spotify, creating campaigns and experiences that join the dots between people, brands and culture. Headquartered in London but operating all over the globe, Amplify also has hubs in Sydney, LA and Paris. www.weareamplify.com
WHAT IS YOUNG BLOOD Young Blood is Amplify’s ongoing exploration of youth culture, a follow up to our critically acclaimed 2012 thought leadership film FanCulture. Our research is born from our continued desire to understand the hopes, fears and realities experienced by young people growing up in Britain today. In 2022 Young Blood, in collaboration with DECENT magazine, turns its attention to the present state of modern masculinity in the UK. It puts what it means to be a man, the Gen Z generation, gender roles, race and equality, post Brexit Britain, identity and mental health under the microscope. www.weareamplify.com/young-blood
ABOUT DECENT DECENT is a new men’s magazine, curated by women. It aims to smash some of the dated stereotypes surrounding masculinity and highlight positive modern male narratives. With an all female team, DECENT subverts the traditional male gaze and creates space for men to explore their identity and talk candidly about mental health and emotions. Its main verticals are music, fashion, sport, mental health and art & design. The first issue, featuring Jordan Stephens, Romesh Ranganathan, GAIKA and Ojie Edoburun launched in winter 2021 and sold out by May. Issue 02 is released in April 2022 and will be distributed in key magazine and book outlets in London, Brighton, Manchester as well as Paris, Amsterdam, NYC & LA. www.instagram.com/decentmagazine www.decentmagazine.co.uk
How much does gender actually matter in 2022? Is what it means to be a ‘man’, ‘woman’ – or neither – already outdated? The emerging generation might move fluidly between identities, but are gender stereotypes so embedded into culture, power structures and media that they continue to hold them back from expressing themselves as the kind of humans they’d like to be? Based on this research, the answer is yes. While women have been discussing, defying and expanding the old stereotypes around femininity across several waves of feminism now, the same kind of debate hasn’t happened amongst men. And when you don’t discuss and challenge, nothing changes. But something needs to change. Male violence, rape culture, incarceration rates and declining education levels (compared to girls) are just some of the issues linked to toxic masculinity. This, in turn, has roots in the ‘man up’ culture, which allows
little room for anyone identifying as male to show emotion or vulnerability, or explore their own gender expression(s) without the fear of being ridiculed. Gen Z is wired and technologically tooled up to invent, spread and adopt new cultural ideas, so the future is already looking brighter. But the process of progressing constructs of masculinity is far from straightforward. And it’s only just kicking off. This research aims to fuel conversation by uncovering some of the attitudes and behaviours of young men aged 18-25; from how they construct their identity, and what role gender plays in it, to how they feel about the current expectations for ‘being a man.’ We examined the post-pandemic landscape, and it’s impact on mental health, as well as participants’ thoughts on identity, their sense of belonging and
the ramifications of Brexit, plus racism and discriminationin the UK. We talked about male body shaming (more widespread than you’d think), the pressures to be (or look) rich and avoid debt, and the fairness of 21st century feminism. We discussed everything from consent and harassment to role models – Tom Holland, KSI and much more. And of course, we talked about brands. The majority of young men, across all ethnic groups, employment status and regions, believe that brands and advertising can have an important role in shaping modern masculinity. Yet what kind of expressions of ‘maleness’ do we see around us? From Supreme’s mildly sexist ‘boys will be boys’ attitude that once made them so covetable, to streetwear brands promoting mental health, Prison FC memes and rappers launching nail polish lines, there’s a huge range of expressions of masculinity in the media for young men to choose from – or discard completely in favour of building their own. So, is the question of ‘what does it mean to be a man’ still valid? Perhaps more than ever before. Maria Kivimaa Strategy Director at Amplify Founder & Editor-In-Chief of DECENT email@example.com
For this study, a mixed methodology approach was taken. The research was conducted using an independent online survey agency - Censuswide - for Stage 1 and a combination of freelance qualitative researchers and internal strategists for Stage 2 and 3.
STAGE 1 Quantitative research of a robust, random sample across the UK, broken down by age, region, ethnicity and socioeconomic demographic between 12 - 26 January 2022. Total participants 2,016 respondents aged 16-25 Breakdown by gender 98% cisgender male 2% transgender male Breakdown by age group 16-18 - 26% 19-21 - 41% 22-24 - 33%
Breakdown by location East of England - 10% London - 20% East Midlands - 8% West Midlands - 10% North East - 7% North West - 11% Northern Ireland - 3% Scotland - 4% South East - 12% South West - 6% Wales - 4% Yorkshire and the Humber - 7%
Breakdown by ethnicity Arab - 1% Asian - 17% Black - 9% White - 61% Mixed descent - 9% Prefer not to say - 3% Breakdown by employment status Full-time - 30% Part-time - 21% Full time parent - 5% Student - 29% Unemployed - 7% Other - 8%
Note Cis or Cisgender is defined as a person whose gender identity and sex assigned at birth are the same.
STAGE 2 Qualitative research using telephone and face-toface interviews was conducted with a mainstream sample of ten 16-25 year olds across the UK from 31 January - 1 February 2022.
STAGE 3 To bring our findings to life we deep dived into the lives of three individuals and filmed their answers for further insights between 1 February - 4 February 2022.
74% of cis men and 59% of trans men think the role of men in current society is at least somewhat clear 82% of cis men think they can meet the expectations for men but only 36 of trans men feel like they can 70% of cis men and 90% of trans men agree that masculinity, or elements of it, are toxic
Whilst the role and expectations of men are seen as mostly clear, to the young men we interviewed, modern masculinity is seen as somewhat contradictory since it combines the pressures of having to fit into the traditional masculine mould with subverting those same traits.
NICK, 21, BOURNEMOUTH “When you look at the differences between a traditional man and the retaliation against the traditional man with the modern man, it’s hard for you as a man to grasp.” MICHAEL, 24, LONDON “It’s a double edged sword. There’s the privileges that we get as men, but there’s a drawback to it. Men are meant to be seen as strong and powerful all the time. That has an effect. You can’t fully express yourself or you’ll be seen as ‘not a real man’.” RILEY, 25, LONDON “I’m not a traditional man. But all of these things that most people wouldn’t associate with being a ‘man’ are the things that make me feel even more fiercely a ‘man’!”
Ultimately, the most valued indicator of masculinity within the group was the courage to be exactly who you are, regardless of whether that fits into people’s opinions or expectations. For the young men we interviewed, the most masculine thing one could do is show emotion or wear something feminine – the measure of masculinity being that you follow what you truly feel inside.
DIAS, 22, MANCHESTER “I feel very blessed to be able to be exactly who I want to be. And I think it’s just good to see the transition and evolution into who I’ve become. It has a lot to do with how you’re raised, the environment you’re in, the culture that you’re in.” NICK, 21, BOURNEMOUTH “I would have never even conceived of the idea of starting something like yoga, because in my mind it was something that was extremely feminine. All my friends would laugh at me. But once I tried it, I realised that as young men, we have so many of these beliefs or conditioned thoughts of “this is for women”. Where’s the freedom in that?”
The general feeling was that, though amongst Generation Z the notions around masculinity are progressing and the traditional norms are becoming more flexible, as a wider society, we’re nowhere near there yet.
DIAS, 22, MANCHESTER “The way social media, and media is going, there’s a lot more positive examples of manhood that deconstruct the traditional standards of manhood.” ANON “There’s so much progression we have to do as men.”
There was also a strong sense that it is impossible to emasculate a man because manhood is inherent - whatever you do as a man is therefore ‘manly’. In reality, however, the social narrative is different - a man can fairly easily be seen to have lost his manhood as a consequence of certain actions.
EVAN, 18, LONDON “Sometimes the idea of what masculinity should be isn’t necessarily what I feel like I can live up to, so that’s why sometimes I’m hesitant to say that I feel masculine.” JAY, 23, LONDON “I mean, if you’re a man and do something feminine, it shouldn’t matter s*it. But in movies, music and even in my group chats, I guess that’s still a thing.” RILEY, 25, LONDON “If I tell a man that they look a bit ‘feminine’ that day, and it throws them off, then I don’t think they are very ‘masculine’ in the first place. To me, that’s fragility.”
Today’s celebrities are more androgynous than ever before: from Harry Styles and Timothee Chalamet to Tom Holland and K-pop groups, the “ideal” man at least looks more feminine than Millennial icons. Still, there are huge pockets of society, outside of fashion, TikTok and magazines, where men don’t feel comfortable expressing themselves through fashion, for fear of their own safety.
MICHAEL, 24, LONDON “If you don’t conform to what other people may think a man should look like, then you can be vulnerable and be put in a level of danger.” EVAN, 18, LONDON “So if I want to go out and not feel panicked or not feel stressed, I’ll wear a more masculine outfit.”
Those interviewed recognised that the recent celebration of gender-bending or gender-neutral fashion is mostly reserved to white men (Harry Styles being a case in point). But, Black men have done it too: Prince being a trailblazer, and more recently Billy Porter and Lil Nas X. Yet the aesthetics of Black masculinity remain constricted and policed by wider society.
EVAN, 18, LONDON “Harry Styles is doing a great job of ‘being masculine’, but also showing that he can be accepted in whatever he wants to.” NAS, 19, BRISTOL “I feel like as a Black man, you’re only allowed to play with fashion, if you’re otherwise hyper-masculine.”
LOUIS, 24, LONDON “I would consider myself my own version of masculine. I don’t think other people would typically describe me as masculine. I think society sees masculine as someone who’s strong and silent and tough and emotionally disconnected. But I think masculinity is about freedom to express yourself. Someone who’s free to enjoy the things that they do and unashamedly be who they are and learn about who they are. Yeah, I would want masculinity to be someone who’s generous and kind and shows up.”
Despite this, or perhaps exactly because of it, there’s a long-rising trend of (straight) Black rappers wearing nail polish; considering the backlash Kid Cudi got after posting his painted nails on Instagram last summer, it’s still largely considered boundary-breaking. Or, perhaps, it was a masterclass in trolling. While the discussion around the progression and expansion of masculinity has begun, largely led by the younger generation, even amongst Gen Z men, there’s still some division over what modern and positive masculinity are - and whether ‘modern’ masculinity is automatically ‘positive’.
LOUIS, 24, LONDON “Boris Johnson, with all the lying and cheating and the backstabbing, is a very ugly representation of what it means to be a man.” MICHAEL, 24, LONDON “Role models? Fashion designer LaQuan Smith and activist Marlon Riggs” JAY, 23, LONDON “My dad. He’s the kind of strong and silent type but still incredibly kind and caring. I hope I can be like that one day.”
86% of cis men and 95% of trans men think men face body-shaming and pressure to look a certain way 34% of cis and trans men believe this to be at a level equal to or more than women.Consistent across all ethnic groups. 81% of young men experienced mental health issues within the last year 75% of cis and trans men think there should be more support for young men’s mental health
Mental health is a huge issue for this generation. Perhaps unsurprisingly post-pandemic, money and loneliness are the key negative drivers, and a lack of available resources means that the mental health needs of young men are not being met. As a result, the stigma for men to admit they’re not doing OK still lingers. It has in many ways flipped to the other extreme, with shows like Euphoria being accused by a number of media and organisations of glamourising mental health and making them appear almost trendy.
LOUIS, 24, LONDON “Some of my ‘football lads’ friends, who were strong, closed off and quiet about their feelings through school, are posting about mental health awareness and going on mental health walks and being honest about the reality. And that is, they don’t feel good all the time. And that’s fine. Let’s show up for each other and build community and change that.”
NICK, 21, BOURNEMOUTH “I try to do a lot of things to make sure that my mental health is intact.” EVAN, 18, LONDON “When you’re close with a man it kind of feels like you are still lonely because you’ve not really opened up about anything about yourself.” Changing beauty standards and the (slow) rise of plus sized male models, such as at Savage Fenty, seem to not be enough: body shaming and the pressures to look a certain way remain a widespread issue amongst young men. Why are the only plus sized mannequins in the London Nike Flagship store front female? LOUIS, 24, LONDON “I’ve worn a lot of oversize clothes to like, hide my body. I have definitely felt body shame. I’ve definitely seen the shape of my jaw being like. Nah, you need to run more. I felt I wasn’t skinny enough. I was too skinny. Needed to put some more muscle on, needed to change to look like other people, And that’s not healthy.” EVAN, 18, LONDON “When I’m working out and going to the gym, I feel like that’s the body that I should be aiming for.”
Money and loneliness being the top drivers for poor mental health amongst those aged 16-24 might be a hangover from covid and lockdowns (Mind Charity, 2020), but are they also a sign of some of the traditional ‘markers of a man’ still affecting the next generation? Loneliness is often a result of not feeling like it’s OK to share your thoughts and emotions – even though you might have your crew around you 24/7. Money worries tell a tale about the dire post-pandemic economic situation young people are facing, but how much is it also down to men still feeling he pressure to ‘provide’? How much of this is a result of social media success stories about young crypto traders, or the ever-increasing new luxury and streetwear space that features constant envy-inducing drops? Or new school finance brands like Klarna recruiting A$AP Rocky to encourage a mindset of: think drip first, affordability later? (Klarna, 2021) The lucrative creator economy has caused a paradigm shift in how young people can make a living out of their creativity, but also added to the pressure. By scrolling TikTok and listening to Gen Z CEOs such as KSI, it can easily feel that everyone could and should be a self-made millionaire by the age of 24. After all, we all have the same 24hrs per day… right, Molly Mae?
DIAS, 22, MANCHESTER “I see a lot of men living very surfaced where it’s all about materialistic things. You know, the clothes, the girls, the money – and very poor self-esteem.” NICK, 21, BOURNEMOUTH “There’s this idea that women won’t go out with a man who is not successful. So, as a man without money, you can’t get a decent girlfriend. You can’t essentially get a decent life. This is the conception of men these days, and they definitely try to convey that into the drip.” MICHAEL, 24, LONDON “Loneliness is definitely a thing, especially during the pandemic. Now we’re coming out of it, but I just don’t have the same sense of community that I did when I was younger.”
EVAN, 18, LONDON “As a man, you almost constantly have a guard up for what you can and can’t say. It’s because in society’s eyes, men shouldn’t feel certain emotions, or they’re not allowed to express them. That’s hard. Nothing ever gets resolved because you’re dealing with a lot of stuff on your own, even though you’re around people.”
71% of cis and trans men think the topics of consent, sexual harassment and inappropriate sexual behaviour should be taught in school 1 in 3 cis men admit they’ve been knowingly sexist towards women, girls and/or marginalised genders 21% of men interviewed feel feminism is fair, this was highest in Scotland and amongst the Chinese community. But only 12% of young men surveyed describe themselves as a feminist
Those interviewed believe that feminism is fair to 21% of men, but only 1 in 10 of them would call themselves a feminist. While the definition of feminism is somewhat clear to the men we talked with (“promoting equal rights for women”), it’s not a part of most young men’s identity. Are gender-related battles still seen as men vs women? Furthermore, our research indicates that more young men believe in equality of the sexes but not in feminism. In the best case scenario, this indicates merely a dated definition of feminism -“women are superior”. The worse scenario is an “all genders matter” sentiment – that highlighting the lack of female rights somehow undermines men’s rights.
DIAS, 22, MANCHESTER “As far as the feminist movement, I do agree with that, but I agree more with womanism (a social theory/ type of feminism which focuses on the experiences of Black women) because it tackles the issues faced by women of colour and Black women. This is especially important because Black women were often excluded from white spaces within the feminist movement..” RILEY, 25, LONDON “If you understand feminism as something that isn’t saying women are somehow superior, but is fighting for equality amongst all the sexes, how can you not be a femininst?”
From our investigation, we found that our interviewees were extremely selfaware about the privileges they have as men, and simultaneously recognised that patriarchy isn’t an enemy only to women and marginalised genders but also to men themselves – especially men of colour, non-cis and non-het men.
MICHAEL, 24, LONDON “We live in a society that is too patriarchal – there’s a lot of privileges that men still get.” DIAS, 22, MANCHESTER “Feminism still encompasses men – you have got issues too because of the patriarchy, and how society is structured. You are still a victim of what goes on. Feminism is supposed to help men too”.
What’s more, consent, catcalling, gender-based violence and pornography are all tangled up in one big and complex web, the dismantling of which has garnered a new-kind of urgency in the past year, particularly in the wake of the murders of Sarah Everard and Sabina Nessa (Independent, 2021). These two cases spurred a debate that made many men, perhaps for the first time, think about themselves as a ‘threat’. Few of our interviewees admit having been knowingly sexist – is this the truth, coloured by unconscious bias, or simply a lack of understanding about the variety and range of sexist actions? Encouragingly, amongst our interviewees, there was a clear sentiment that it’s important to call your mates out for sexist behaviour – and most of those we spoke to have done so.
NICK, 21, BOURNEMOUTH “Yes, I have called out my friends who’ve been moving mad in the past and I’ve cut them off as a result.” JAY, 23, LONDON “We don’t really talk about these things with my friends, but I know we all think about it, especially when stuff like the Sarah Everard murder happened. That really made me think: is this what men are like? And seeing girls being afraid of us. That’s quite a striking realisation.” EVAN, 18, LONDON “A boy or a man who hasn’t really spoken to many women, I don’t think they have the best idea [of what consent actually means].”
DIAS, 22, MANCHESTER “But would we even need to protect women from men, if men were being taught to respect women? You know, I mean, it creates a paradox to me. Why are we not teaching them [men] how to value women? And, how to value themselves?”
42% of cis and trans men agree that Brexit has negatively impacted their sense of belonging in the UK 74% think racism is an issue in the UK 67% think the UK government is racist
Racism is unanimously considered a serious issue across all of the UK, to all of those who took part in the study. Most painfully, the young men surveyed feel that there’s racial discrimination in the UK government and police, and 7 in 10 men feel that racism is an issue in our general culture: education (67%), advertising (59%) and dating (58%). Racial stereotyping and discrimination against Black men was seen to be slightly higher than that against those of Asian origin. There is still a strong feeling among the ethnic minority groups interviewed that advertising does not represent them enough or even at all. Yet more worryingly still, half of all respondents felt that today’s advertising discriminates against particular ethnic groups. As easy as it is to say “it’s only advertising”, the effects are being felt beyond TV’s and billboards, with exclusions for racism rising sharply in English primary schools in 2020 (BBC News, 2020). According to the latest study into racial and ethnic stereotyping in advertising by the ASA (2022), ethnic minority groups were almost three times more likely to feel under-represented or not represented at all in ads (66%) than white respondents (23%). Around half of the participants from ethnic minority backgrounds said they were not portrayed accurately. Half of all respondents felt that ads that show discrimination against particular ethnic groups, or which present ethnic groups in a degrading way, have the potential to cause harm.
MICHAEL, 24, LONDON “Yes, the UK is racist. You see it in the institutions, in the media, in the way that they talk about us. You see it in the schools, in the prison system, in hospitals. You see it everywhere and everyday – how people just think that they can try and take advantage of new people of colour in this country.” LOUIS, 24, LONDON “I’m very lucky I’ve got a posh accent and I’m white and I’m a man. I’ve been lucky enough not to experience the racism and all that is put on people who don’t look like me or sound like me.”
Our interviewees were on the cusp of voting age when Brexit was decided, so they had no say. The older respondents feel slightly more acutely that Brexit has robbed them of opportunities, but there’s a sense across all ages and ethnicities that the UK is less open to people from different backgrounds as a result– and they themselves feel like they belong less to the UK.
LOUIS, 24, LONDON “I think Brexit has enabled lots of really sad ideologies and led to missed opportunities. It’s brought up some really ugly things in people” MICHAEL, 24, LONDON “I definitely wanted to remain, and I feel like even now we’re seeing a lot of issues that are affected by Brexit.”
MICHAEL, 24, LONDON “Especially as a Black man, there’s certain spaces that you might be seen as a threat in, or you might be seen as violent or a criminal.” LOUIS, 24, LONDON “I’d like to be proud to be British, but there’s not a whole lot here to be proud of. I see Britain as a country that has stolen lots of things and slyly made shady deals and houses grotesque billionaires. It has enabled lots of hate.”
61% of cis and trans men think that brands have a responsibility in shaping modern masculinity 60% of cis and trans men think brands and advertising have a responsibility to promote gender equality 59% of cis and trans men believe racial discrimination in advertising to be an issue Only 54 of cis and trans men feel seen in advertising
Most of us still remember, and cringe, at the femvertising era - a wellintentioned but luckily short-lived overcorrection from brands telling women not to be themselves, to brands forcing women ‘to be themselves’. Thus far, we’ve not seen similar explicit efforts to redefine masculinity, apart from the infamous Gillette advert in 2019, which turned their brand platform “The Best a Man Can Get” into a provocative question: is this the best men can be? The campaign unsurprisingly angered Piers Morgan, who claimed that men were under attack for ‘just being men’ (Morgan, 2019). This is mildly ironic, considering the fact the campaign showed men calling their friends out for sexist behaviour, being present fathers and daring to show emotion.
MICHAEL, 24, LONDON “Brands can help shape views of masculinity. But there's a need for a wider conversation, that's something much bigger than brands.”
The result? Only around half of young men feel seen in advertising. LOUIS, 24, LONDON “So much of so much of what’s advertised is just shiny, strong men in big, oiled bodies with big beards. The reality is that men come across in all different sorts of shapes and sizes and identities.” RILEY, 25, LONDON ‘I don’t really feel seen, no. Only very recently has this started to get better.” NAS, 19, BRISTOL “There are lots of brands coming to us now, because Black culture is cool. But you can always tell when it’s not real.”
Thus, though there’s been a lot more focus on diverse representation since the Black Lives Matter protests in 2020, there’s an underlying feeling that many brands still aren’t doing enough – in the US, according to research conducted by Creative Investment Research, only 1% of the businesses who pledged to improve diversity in the wake of BLM have actually invested (Financial Times, 2021). On the other hand, there is a positive rise of independent brands who genuinely cater for different audiences.
MICHAEL, 24, LONDON “There’s a lot of Black-owned brands that I can definitely say I relate to, because I’ve seen people that look like me in the commercial business, and people that look like me wearing their clothes.”
DIAS, 22, MANCHESTER “Brands and media and all these companies can’t just walk through life anymore and follow the “status quo”. They have to have all these diverse voices and different opinions, and shape the opinions and experiences of people that don’t look like them”
Most young men are increasingly demanding of brands. The majority agree that brands have a role in, as well as a responsibility to, promote healthier gender images – and take part in reshaping masculinity, especially if the brand claims to represent certain values.
DIAS, 22, MANCHESTER “How people look, how they are and what’s desirable within society… I think brands have to be a lot more aware of the message and that what they’re saying” LOUIS, 24, LONDON “I think brands play a huge part. They need to set an example. Right now, it feels like they’re just setting the trends and just selling whatever is popular right now.” MICHAEL, 24, LONDON “If you’re saying your brand is about freedom and inclusivity etc, then potentially you should be talking about things like masculinity and gender.”
Male grooming is a huge growth category: globally, the market for men’s grooming products is expected to nearly double by 2031 (Business Wire, 2021). It’s evolved from soaps, deodorants and beard products to cover increasingly more nuanced skin care routines and body treatments, and is fuelled by celebrities such as Pharrell and his skincare brand Human Race. In the UK, some of the biggest players include Gillette and Lynx – both of which are at least trying to shake things up a little. However, the semiotics of the category are still quite traditionally masculine, just look at brands like Bulldog or Warpaint.
MICHAEL, 24, LONDON “I go to the gym, I do some yoga and do a lot of self-care: I like to look after my skin and just relax.” NAS, 19, BRISTOL “My girlfriend has this crazy 10-step Korean routine. I’ve adopted like, 4 steps by now. It feels pretty good, can’t lie!”
Compared to older generations, young people are paying less and less attention to distinctions in clothing. In 2019, 56% of Gen Z shoppers bought “outside their assigned gender area” and 65% of Gen Z believe brands should provide the option to search for gender-neutral clothing (The Fashion Pack,
Unidays, 2022). Brands are playing catch-up, however. Most younger shoppers think the industry overlooks minorities, including trans and non-binary people.
EVAN, 18, LONDON “More brands should realise that there isn’t a massive need for female and male clothing, because half the stuff can just be the same.” RILEY, 25, LONDON “In lockdown, I discovered fast fashion – after years of only wearing charity shop stuff. Something just clicked. Now I’m obsessed with the way I look. It’s very fashionable to be gender-neutral now, and brands like ASOS definitely capitalise on it. But, I guess there are much worse things to capitalise on” AXE/LYNX “What’s happened is that men have been taught to behave in certain ways. And they are dated ways and sometimes irresponsible. We put it in our boys not to express our emotions, but with a lack of expression, comes a disconnection” - Fernando Desouches, Former Senior Global Brand Development Director
Top 10 brands our interviewees felt best represents modern masculinity 1. 2. 3. 4. 5. 6. 7. 8. 9. 10.
Nike Lynx JD Sports YouTube PlayStation Premier League North Face Gillette adidas Netflix
The first runner-up brand on our modern masculinity list, Lynx, has come a long way since its sexist adverts a decade ago. It was one the earliest brands to tackle toxic masculinity, with campaigns such as “Is it OK for men to….” that focussed on taboos and mental health. With it’s most recent campaign, the focus is back on ‘attractiveness’ but in a refreshingly inclusive and non-binary angle. Nike topping any list doesn’t come as a surprise – after all, it’s one of the most powerful youth cultural forces in the history of marketing. From its social and racial justice messages in the 80s to defending trans athletes, Nike’s progressiveness is authentic – and with that, they’ve earned their place as a cultural force. However, when it comes to their representation of men, since the iconic overweight boy running over the hill in one of Nike’s most famous ‘Find Your Greatness’ adverts, there hasn’t been much groundbreaking representation – quite the opposite: the lack of varied body shapes and abilities in its campaigns is starting to feel dated.
LESSONS FOR BRANDS 1. Rethink representation - Brands and their advertising aren’t just a mirror on society, they have the ability to shape it. Our study found that many young men feel constrained about the way they are allowed to express themselves, visually and emotionally. It’s crucial that brands don’t perpetuate harmful or outdated stereotypes in their advertising, instead projecting a more progressive and varied depiction of the many forms masculinity can take. Embracing a diverse and inclusive approach can empower young men to be themselves, in turn helping brands to build authentic connections with the next generation by making them feel seen. 2. Progressive partnerships - A powerful way in which brands can embrace these new, varied definitions of masculinity is through the people they partner with. The young men we spoke to wanted to see brands champion and collaborate with progressive role models across culture. It’s no surprise then to see a brand like Nike at the top of their list of brands defining modern masculinity. By partnering with progressive ambassadors and giving platform to their perspectives, from Colin Kaepernick to Marcus Rashford, Nike has successfully shifted expectations of what masculinity in traditionally macho environments can mean. 3. Activate your allyship - Across our research, there was a clear demand for brands to do their part in building a fairer and more inclusive society. In particular, one of the most urgent issues facing young men, regardless of their ethnic groups or geography, was racism. As youth audiences increasingly expect brands to act with purpose and not shy away from wider, societal and cultural issues, it’s crucial we understand what’s important to them and define ways in which the brand can play a positive role.
4. Upskill and assist - As this audience looks to navigate the challenges of post-pandemic life, they are eager to learn new skills that will help them do so. In particular, financial savviness is increasingly craved by this generation of young men, as navigating money matters remains one of the key drivers to better mental health. There’s a clear opportunity for brands to play a role in upskilling this audience, providing experiences and content that equip them with new knowledge and tools. 5. Practice what you preach - We know young men expect brands to play a key role in creating the equitable society they want to live in. This generation smells performative brands from miles away so how that role manifests for brands needs to be internal as well as external. Patriarchal power structures have started to crumble and the majority of modern men we spoke to are in favour of this. To convince this audience of your purpose, they expect to see changes inside and out.
Our first Young Blood study in 2016 reported on an optimistic group that viewed the world as their oyster. Fast track to 2022, following the unprecedented, collective experience of a global pandemic, and today’s young generation is understandably less sure of their place in the world. Questioning how they define and express their identity and bearing the weight of wider societal issues like racism, depression and financial instability, today’s young men are rejecting traditional definitions of masculinity that don’t match their new reality. In the face of these issues, we found a widespread awareness of how modern definitions of masculinity must evolve, as well as a general consensus that
changing how young men are portrayed in the media and advertising will be an important step towards creating a more inclusive society. In order to engage with this generation, brands need to consider how they can empower and reflect new thinking and expectations of what masculinity means to young audiences in the UK. More than ever, brands must embrace diverse representation, internally and externally, and help break down stereotypes to connect with young consumers in a purposeful and authentic way. We look at this young group with sheer respect as they navigate their way out of the pandemic and seek to fulfil their hopes, striving to ensure that each and every one of them feels honestly represented.
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6. Morgan, P. (2019) 14 January. Available at <https://twitter.com/piersmorgan/ status/1084891133757587456?lang=en> (Accessed 5 March 2022). 7. Persistence Market Research. 2022. Global Market Study on Men’s Grooming Products: Demand for Natural & Organic Products Rising Rapidly. [online] Available at: <https:// www.persistencemarketresearch.com/marketresearch/mens-grooming-products-market.asp> [Accessed 21 March 2022]. 8. Practice, A., 2022. ASA publishes findings on racial and ethnic stereotyping in ads. [online] Asa. org.uk. Available at: <https://www.asa.org.uk/news/ findings-on-racial-and-ethnic-stereotyping-in-ads. html> [Accessed 21 March 2022]. 9. UNiDAYS, 2022. GEN Z’S ATTITUDES TOWARDS GENDER-FLUID FASHION. The Fashion Pack. [online] UNiDAYS. Available at: <http://file:/// Users/bethmcduff/Downloads/UNiDAYS%20 FASHION%20PACK%202022-1.pdf> [Accessed 21 March 2022]. 10. WIRE, B., 2022. Global Male Grooming Products Market (2021 to 2026) - Industry Trends, Share, Size, Growth, Opportunity and Forecasts ResearchAndMarkets.com. [online] Businesswire. com. Available at: <https://www.businesswire. com/news/home/20210416005164/en/GlobalMale-Grooming-Products-Market-2021-to-2026--Industry-Trends-Share-Size-Growth-Opportunityand-Forecasts---ResearchAndMarkets.com> [Accessed 21 March 2022].
Words by Maria Kivimaa, Strategy Director; Yasmin Arrigo, Brand and Editorial Director; Bryn Walters, Senior Creative Contributors Emma Cockeram, Business Lead; Beth McDuff, Project Manager Book Design by Catarina Neves, Junior Designer Photography and film direction by Daniel Harris, Associate Creative Director Film production by Verity Snow, Senior Content Producer Film editing by Monty Wilson, Content Creator Edit assisting by Tyanna Tulloch-Smith, Junior Editor Special thanks to Eleanor Turner, Sophy Vanner Critoph, Pippo Khalwa, Rosie Copland-Mann, Yusuf Ntahilaja, Simon Richardson, Montell Hemmings, Liv Wall, Tosh Ohta and our 2,029 interviewees. For more information please contact Tosh Ohta, Global Head of Client Development firstname.lastname@example.org
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