Setting new aspirational goals
Ultimately, Desouches believes it comes down to releasing the pressure by shifting behaviour, something he acknowledges is uniquely difficult to do. This changing of a belief system is what he says, “we define as a transformational change.” And this is where he thinks brands can come in: “because by brands setting aspirations and changing aspirations and making [men] more relaxed, can help men to reconnect with who they are.”
For years, the aspirations being sold by brands have been in accordance with years, centuries even of societal stereotypes. Physically fit, always in control, emotionless and distant. “All of these values were putting pressure on men who were trying to aspire to that,” say Desouches. But the reality is that, he adds, “if we only have that narrow view then it will be difficult for men to stop performing.”
Fundamentally, as Kemp highlights, who actually decides whether something is aspirational or not? She likens it to the women’s market in which women’s magazines were actually presenting a version of reality that wasn’t aspirational; it was alienating. “It is a suffocating version of what constitutes success and one that’s still very pervasive,” says Kemp. Because seemingly as aspirations have shifted societally, this hasn’t been reflected by brands.
“My hypotheses and the hypotheses of New Macho is the pressure men are facing from these standards of success are the same that women face with the standards of beauty,” says Desouches, agreeing with Kemp. “I think brands are being lazy,” Desouches adds as he highlights that data that makes it clear that men do not connect with the standards being offered by brands; 69% of the UK don’t feel represented by the brands here and 75% of US men don’t feel represented by brands. “So, there is something that is not working,” he adds.
What should brands do?
Fundamentally, Desouches believes there are several ways brands can help in this moment. And the first, he says, is that “brands can help men to understand the journey they are under. Because men are on a journey from being a performer to really being who they are.” He points out that this isn’t an immediate or easy process and so, where brands can help, he believes they should.
He points to an ad from Macallan whiskey called ‘Make the Call’ that he feels relayed that shift perfectly, “because they show how it’s the transformation and the pain of changing behaviours and changing beliefs. But [also how] they pay off as well.”
The other thing he thinks brands should be doing is moving away from a one-dimensional definition of success and opening it up to include other attributes, particularly that of self-awareness and of where men draw their happiness from. But he cautions that, “brands shouldn’t tell men how they need to behave.” He points out that this is where the Gillette ad, ‘The Best Men Can Be’, fell short. He explains that the brand, “tried to have a statement of masculinity and tell how men should behave or not. And that is not the role of brands. Brands can help men to navigate life.”
His last piece of advice to brands looking to play a part in overcoming this crisis is to be as representative in their marketing as the world that exists outside of the company’s four walls. This will in turn help the brand to avoid limiting its audience by stereotyping it. He explains: “It’s about men in all of the forms we have. Body shapes, life stage, different abilities, race, religion. Don’t make a statement. Show that and that will make men feel included and represented by brands.”