Research: Men respond negatively to depictions of 'ideal masculinity' in ads

Aug 01, 2012
The male response to depictions of ideal masculinity in advertising is typically a negative one, which has implications for advertisers and marketers targeting the increasingly fragmented male consumer demographic, according to research co-authored by Cele Otnes, a University of Illinois professor of advertising and of business administration. Credit: Photo courtesy Jerry Thompson of Thompson McClellan Photographers

The male response to depictions of ideal masculinity in advertising is typically negative, which has implications for advertisers and marketers targeting the increasingly fragmented consumer demographic, according to research from a University of Illinois marketing expert.

Cele Otnes, a professor of and of who studies how marketing and advertising shapes consumption, says that who compare themselves to the hyper-masculine or over-exaggerated male stereotypes in advertising and popular culture experience a range of emotions, including and .

"While partying and 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," said Otnes, the Investors in Business Education Professor of Marketing at Illinois. "So it's important to recognize that some men may react negatively or be adversely impacted by such images."

According to the research, which was co-written by Linda Tuncay Zayer, of Loyola University, Chicago, six themes emerge from the analysis that reveal how men respond to ad depictions of ideal masculinity. Half of the themes – skepticism, avoidance and indifference – are negative, while the others – enhancement, striving and chasing – skew positive, with men seeing advertising as more of a motivational tool to enhance a certain aspect of themselves.

Although much research has examined the negative impact of advertising depictions on women and children, very little is known about the impact on men, Otnes says.

"The research is a first step toward developing an in-depth understanding of the responses and meanings appropriated to 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.

"As much as academics and some practitioners have called for responsibility in media messages targeting women and girls, attention also should be paid to men and boys," she said.

According to Otnes, men's responses to ads, as well as their consumer behaviors in general, are issues that are especially relevant in today's marketplace. The main shopper in 32 percent of U.S. households is male, according to a study by Nielsen and the NPD Group, which is why it is more important than ever for advertisers and marketers to "find ways to appeal effectively to the male segment, and to do so in an ethical manner," she said.

"People build up certain offensive and defensive strategies when they look at ads," Otnes said. "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."

The male demographic is "way, way more fragmented" than once believed, Otnes says.

"A lot of ads directed at males are still dominated by 'The Player,' 'The Beer Drinker' or 'The Buddy,' " she said. "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."

Explore further: To seek common ground on life's big questions, we need science literacy

More information: The study was published in the book “Gender, Culture, and Consumer Behavior,” co-edited by Otnes and Zayer. www.routledge.com/books/details/9781848729469/

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User comments : 11

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dschlink
3.7 / 5 (3) Aug 01, 2012
Threatened? Hardly. Amused, insulted, disgusted. saddened, but definitely turned off from the product. The Player might fit a small portion of the 20-somethings in every generation, but they are offensive to most men over 30 and that's where the real money is.
Husky
5 / 5 (2) Aug 01, 2012
Houston, we got a "Situation" here... send more dads.
freethinking
3 / 5 (4) Aug 01, 2012
Houston, dads.... yes. They are human males, who children need to grow up healthy. Yes, yes I know, they are maligned, though of as unnecessary, portrayed as stupid by Progressives, but without them in stable marriages to women, children will suffer.
Caliban
2.3 / 5 (3) Aug 01, 2012
Entirely superfluous research.

The "Ideal Male" presented in advertisements is whatever "ideal" the advertiser thinks will sell their shitty product -through whatever appeal to emotion or fear that will achieve that goal.

Beyond that, the "Ideal Male" is just as much a fiction as the "Ideal Female".

End of story.

sennekuyl
not rated yet Aug 01, 2012
Hmm... My impressions of advertising was the major use of males in ads was as "The Doofus" followed just slightly by "The Incompetent".
LagomorphZero
5 / 5 (1) Aug 01, 2012
"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." -Article

Ethical advertising? I lol'd, what a load of BS.
antialias_physorg
5 / 5 (2) Aug 02, 2012
to most men over 30 and that's where the real money is.

But that's not where the real money is spent. The over-30s are more immune to advertising than the younger generation, because the older ones already have made their experiences shelling out money for hyped products...and seen that there is no relation between quality of product and quality of the ad.
...or, if at all, a negative correlation.

It's no coincidence that everyone - from telephone companies to the music industry to alcohol advertising - is targetting 'kids' these days.

Entirely superfluous research. The "Ideal Male" presented in advertisements is whatever "ideal" the advertiser thinks will sell their shitty product

That's the point of the paper: To show that what they thought was ideal isn't - so that in the future advertising can become 'better' (i.e. more effective). And THAT result is certainly worth big bucks to companies and advertising agencies.
ab3a
3 / 5 (2) Aug 02, 2012
"But that's not where the real money is spent. The over-30s are more immune to advertising than the younger generation, because the older ones already have made their experiences shelling out money for hyped products...and seen that there is no relation between quality of product and quality of the ad. ...or, if at all, a negative correlation."

Perhaps such opinions are formed because of toxic advertising and programming that belittles men as fathers. Watch tween-oriented sitcoms (Disney, Nick, etc.) and ask yourself where the father figures are and how they're portrayed.

And then advertisers sit around wondering why their ads don't reach that target audience. Gee. I can't imagine why.
Caliban
1 / 5 (1) Aug 02, 2012

That's the point of the paper: To show that what they thought was ideal isn't - so that in the future advertising can become 'better' (i.e. more effective). And THAT result is certainly worth big bucks to companies and advertising agencies.


Which is exactly what I responding to, AA.

This research will change nothing at all, whatsoever, in advertising.

Appeals to reason are ineffective in advertising -especially in the under-30 market.
It is very difficult, indeed, to persuade someone to buy something they don't need without playing upon emotion or fear, so expect to see the "Ideal Male" continue to be merely whatever distortion is expedient to achieve that end.

You can count on it!

antialias_physorg
5 / 5 (1) Aug 02, 2012
It is very difficult, indeed, to persuade someone to buy something they don't need without playing upon emotion or fear

The article says that by putting idealized males in front of the audience only negative emotions are generated. People don't buy a product they have negative emotions towards.

So advertising will change, because making advertising that doesn't work (or hurts the brand) isn't worth it.
Advertising will have to appeal to positive emotions. Make the conusmer feel like buying the product is his idea...whatever.

Expect the next generation of advertising to be more subtle (read: insidious)
Caliban
1 / 5 (1) Aug 02, 2012
It is very difficult, indeed, to persuade someone to buy something they don't need without playing upon emotion or fear

The article says that by putting idealized males in front of the audience only negative emotions are generated. People don't buy a product they have negative emotions towards.

So advertising will change, because making advertising that doesn't work (or hurts the brand) isn't worth it.
Advertising will have to appeal to positive emotions. Make the conusmer feel like buying the product is his idea...whatever.

Expect the next generation of advertising to be more subtle (read: insidious)


Sadly, this isn't new information. There's a reason the vast majority of advertising consists solely in getting a brand name to stick in the consumer's head. The ad itself is a throwaway. Positive/negative reactions(except of the very strongest kind) are trumped when the brand is recalled when the question of purchase arises.

Nuance? Maybe. Paradigm shift? No.

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