Interview Mark Tungate


Mark Tungate (Photo : Michel Zavagno)

Mister Tungate, what makes male-targeted marketing distinct from that aimed either at a general audience, or at women?

“The general consensus is that it’s much harder to sell men ‘the dream’. In male fashion and skincare advertising, for example, you’ll see much more emphasis on science, technology and performance. Even standard advertising techniques like celebrity endorsement walk a delicate line when it comes to men: the endorser must be perceived as ‘real’ (genuinely talented, preferably a sportsman) or at least admirable. Maturity helps. So does being James Bond. Humour, too. But boyish good looks? Nah.

How much has marketing to men changed over the last decade or so? Why did that change come about?

“A big change came in the 1980s with the launch of magazines such as Men’s Health in the USA and Arena in the UK, followed by more mainstream titles including Loaded and FHM in the 1990s. These made it more acceptable for straight men to evince an interest in grooming, fashion and working out.
This led marketers to adopt the concept of the metrosexual: a straight man who shared gay consumers’ concerns with skincare and style. However, true metrosexuals turned out to be few and far between, so there was a backlash, resulting in advertising that used more conventional icons like Daniel Craig, Clive Owen and of course George Clooney. I believe we’re now in a post-metrosexual era, in which men have integrated the need to look good but don’t want brands to lecture them overtly about it. By the way, Men’s Health is still the world’s biggest selling men’s magazine. It has a very practical, ‘how to’ approach – men are quite pragmatic, at the end of the day.

We seem to have gone from an earlier age of perceived elegance, through laddishness and metrosexuality, and back to elegance again. What, if anything, did we learn from the transition?

“I think it’s less of a transition and more of a combination: men have learned that it’s perfectly OK to display certain ‘feminine’ traits – from sensitivity right through to a grooming regime – without in any way sacrificing their masculinity. Men are less confused about their role and far more relaxed. I call them Men 2.0. They can have their electric drill and their moisturizer too.

Has the disposable income of men shifted in recent years?

“Yes. In short, men are getting married older, divorcing younger, and living longer. So, at various points in their lives, they have fuller wallets.

In your book, you say that the 21-to-34-year-old male demographic has gained a new-found importance for many brands. What brought about the change?

“There are two reasons why this age group is interesting. Firstly, younger men are part of the ‘peacock generation’. They’re dressing to impress their mates and to pick up girls, so clothes and accessories are very important to them.
They probably aren’t dads yet, so they’re not spending their cash on child’s toys and school fees, and they can probably resist the desire to invest in a new 3D TV rather than a Paul Smith suit.
Secondly, this is also the period in which men experiment the most. After they reach the age of 35, they tend to have established a checklist of brands that they feel comfortable with, and they largely stick to them. Men are known to be loyal, some might say unadventurous, consumers – so if you can win their loyalty before the cut-off point, you may have them for life.

Several brands that were traditionally for older men have been changing their image and product lines to aim for a younger audience. What do you think are the principle factors that would help a brand succeed in making such a transformation?

“One thing’s for sure: it’s not just about advertising. You have to get the product right first. Excellent design is key, whether you’re talking about packaging, a store, or a fashion collection. Your audience needs to be able to see and feel the change. The designer Hedi Slimane transformed Dior Homme because he created an entirely new silhouette for men, not because Dior poured a fortune into advertising.
After that, you have to walk the tricky tightrope of keeping some elements of the brand’s heritage (men admire authenticity) while ensuring that it doesn’t seem stuffy.

How can a brand successfully walk that tightrope of maintaining a loyal audience while also innovating enough to stay ahead?

“Some brands accept that they will have to lose a generation in order to attract a new one. I see that all the time here in Paris: the gimcrack corner café that revamps into an oasis of cool under its new owners, alienating the cognac-addicted old codgers who used to lean on its scratched zinc bar. (Naturally, I prefer the old places.) However, if you can keep a few elements of the old structure – the zinc bar, the vintage posters, even the bottle of cognac – you might be able to please both parties. Look at Burberry: the brand feels entirely contemporary under Chris Bailey, but my father can still go there and buy the same design of trench-coat that he’s been wearing since the sixties. Always retain the core DNA.

What makes nostalgia such a significant factor in marketing to men?

“Nostalgia can be fabricated: I think heritage is more important. It goes back to what I was saying earlier: men have trust issues with brands. They want some assurance of reliability before they take the plunge. A long history suggests to them that the brand has been providing a solid service to generations and is therefore reliable.
But I do think that certain men respond to old-fashioned images of masculinity: the tailor, the barber’s chair, the trappings of Victoriana. I think they instinctively sense that they ruled the roost back then; men had very precisely defined roles in those days.

How much male-focused marketing is aspirational?

“Men seem particularly drawn to the idea that a product might make them more efficient. It’s why they love technology: it’s that primal urge to design a better spear.

How much of marketing for men is actually aimed at women?

“A great deal. In fact, studies have shown that, when it comes to skincare products and fragrances, women normally make the first choice, presenting it to their boyfriends or husbands as a gift. If the recipient is happy with the product – in other words, if his partner and (especially) other women tell him he looks/smells great – he’ll keep on buying it.
However, those of you who have been paying attention will have spotted a fatal flaw in this argument. As I said earlier, men are getting married older and divorcing younger. In other words, there are a lot of guys out there who have to think for themselves!

There has been a steady increase in aesthetic-based marketing to men. There has also been an increase in male plastic surgery and reported anorexia in young men. How much blame do marketing trends bear for these societal shifts, and should marketing ever be held responsible for negatively perceived shifts of this kind?

“At some point in the 1990s, men began being confronted with the kind of advertising that women had been putting up with for years: images of the perfect body. I’m particularly thinking of the early Calvin Klein ads with Marky Mark (no relation). The Abercrombie & Fitch ads are a more recent example. Having said that, advertising is always a reflection of society. Gone are the days when a man worked at the same company for more than 20 years and got a gold watch when he retired. These days, you can be hired and fired in an instant, so you had better be at the top of your game.
As the workplace became more competitive, younger men felt the need to look fitter, while older men felt challenged by their younger colleagues and thus under pressure to appear more youthful.
By the way, on a slightly different note, when I go to the States, I’m always struck by the contrast between men on the street – big, overweight guys in sloppy shorts and t-shirts – and the hunky athletes you always see in films and TV shows.

Is male marketing international? What kinds of campaigns transcend borders, and which do not?

“Tricky question. In marketing terms, the world is both flat and bumpy.
Some forms of marketing work fairly seamlessly across borders. Global marketing usually targets cross-border tribes: teens, for example, or football fans. Nike’s ‘Just Do It’ message works more or less everywhere. And the pervasiveness of Hollywood has turned blockbusters such as Avatar and Iron Man into useful international marketing vehicles.
Having said that, attitudes to grooming vary. I’m told that Americans prefer citrusy fragrances, for example, while Europeans prefer a more musky, woody aroma. And of course we know that hair types – and therefore the products and the advertising for them – vary around the world.
Finally, different levels of income must also be taken into consideration. The ideal branding campaign would have a single universal message, expressed in different ways in local markets.

Many of the brands and products you talk about in the book are increasingly niche items. Is there still such a thing as a mass-market, male-focused product?

“I think this has to do with the way brands speak to consumers now. In the old days, a bloke might come in from work, crack open a beer and settle down in front of the telly with the rest of the family. He got sold the same after shave as everyone else.
But media is so fragmented these days – more channels, more screens, one-to-one dialogue via the internet – that advertising can target specific types of men. And as marketing abhors a vacuum, this has meant more niche products.

As you say, brands are increasingly using online media to speak directly to their audience, and seeding online viral creations to get attention. How much does this ability to sidestep conventional media change the nature of marketing, and threaten traditional media?

“I think it would be dangerous to have a web-only strategy. Most marketers now try to tell their stories using a blend of different media.
The web is interesting because brands tend to jump on the bandwagon when the latest big thing comes along. A while ago it was Second Life. Then it was blogging. Right now it’s social networking.
You don’t open your tool kit one morning, take out a screwdriver and say, ‘Now, what can I fix with this?’ Yet that’s the way some brands treat the internet: it’s there, so we must use it. In fact, what you need is a good story. Then you open the toolkit and choose the most appropriate tools to tell it.

Are you noticing a rise in new media brands successfully speaking to men?

“I don’t have a particular brand in mind, but I know men are heavily into digital media. In fact, men are gadget freaks. I recently stumbled on some research into iPad sales – conducted by Yahoo – that suggested there were more male owners than female.
Another recent survey, by ComScore, says more men own smartphones (60% in the US and Europe). Which makes sense, as men are early adopters of technology and products are often marketed at them (see any women in those Mac vs PC ads?). Men are also stronger consumers of news online; which is also logical as they are keener readers of traditional newspapers.
But blogs and blogging have caught on with women in a big way; women are also heavy users of Twitter and tend to have more followers.

Can you give me an example of a brand’s media strategy that didn’t work?

“Electrolux wanted to target single men, encouraging them to buy domestic appliances. And so it published a humorous novel called Men in Aprons, in which the hero was a single guy who wanted to kit out his flat. Nice idea, apart from one thing: research shows that fiction is far more widely read by women than by men. Men tend to read biographies, business books and history.
So a novel was not the way to go. In the end, Electrolux turned the book into a series of short films on YouTube. The moral of the story: always do your market research.

Which campaigns do you feel were successful in targeting and capturing the imagination of their intended audience?

“I was a big fan of BMW’s online series of films, The Hire. These were cinema-quality movies, directed by major names, screened online – way back in 2001. As young, affluent men were going online for the first time in a big way, it was the perfect tool. It also generated a lot of free publicity in traditional media. It was a great example of a client taking a risk, and people still talk about it today.
More recently, everyone loved the Old Spice shower gel campaign: ‘The man your man could smell like.’ It humorously updated a ‘macho’ old brand, targeting women while making men laugh too.
However, it does bear a slight resemblance to the Dos Equis campaign ‘The most interesting man in the world’, from last year. That campaign featured a bearded yet well-dressed Hemingway type, sharing stories about his adventures (like the time he beat Che Guevara at poker). The endline was: ‘I don’t usually drink beer. But when I do, I choose Dos Equis.’ The whole strategy is in that line.

When you buy a product, do you analyse how they persuaded you into the purchase?Have you ever felt duped by a brand’s advertising after owning one of their products?

“First a positive example: last Christmas, I bought myself a briefcase called the Newspaper Bag, made by the Belgian luxury company Delvaux. The steps that led me to it were pretty simple, although no TV advertising was involved. First of all, I read an article about Delvaux in the magazine Monocle (good PR). A couple of months later, I found myself in Brussels, where Delvaux has a stylish boutique (effective merchandising). A friendly salesman showed me the Newspaper Bag, suavely explaining its features. The price caused me to hesitate: undaunted, the salesman told me that, if I changed my mind, I could buy the bag on the brand’s website (good service). A few weeks later, I received an unexpected cheque from my publisher. It had hardly hit the bank before I was on Delvaux’s website buying the bag.

As for bad experiences, I find that most high-end fashion garments are ridiculously overpriced. I’ve got some great suits from Dior and Lanvin, but you get just as much wear out of solid, middle-range brands like Agnès B.
It’s worth bearing in mind that luxurious clothes and objects are quite fragile. I prefer things that can take a bit of wear and tear. My rule now is to spend less on clothes but invest in good shoes.

Have you perceived a shift in marketing trends for men since you wrote Branded Male two years ago?

“If anything, current marketing trends are coming into line with some of the predictions that sounded a tad outlandish when I wrote the book. Maybe someone actually read it!”