Once upon a time, society was all about men. They were either mostly good guys or mostly bad guys and, for better or worse, men ran everything. Dad brought home the bacon, Mom cooked it.
That was before we became a mobile consumer society, before society fractured along so many lines that it’s impossible to keep track.
Since then, men seem to have largely faded into the buying-things background and mass marketers have lost sight of them to the point that some companies think it’s a good idea to run commercials that show men to be feckless dopes.
Conventional wisdom seems to be that because women buy more things than men do, men are irrelevant.
Conventional wisdom is, as usual, wrong.
Part of the challenge is that the rise of women led to exciting marketing strategies, the most prominent of which is “You can have it all!” That’s the underlying premise of women-focused TV networks, TV programs, commercials, movies, books, and all those magazines you see at supermarket checkout counters … where there are no men’s magazines.
“You can have it all” just makes men shrug and laugh, “Okay, that’s great. Listen, where’s the menswear department?”
My favorite female on the planet can’t drive from Fort Lauderdale to Miami without GPS, preprinted Yahoo Map and cell phone poised to call for help.
On the other hand, she can stroll into the gigantic Aventura Mall through any entrance and know exactly where every store is, how to get to it and what’s likely to be on sale that day.
Advertisers believe that women are complicated and men are simple. In a way, they’re right. But a more accurate view is that women think about a lot of things at once and from dozens of different angles. Men focus.
Women enjoy shopping. They can spend hours at it and not buy anything. Men get in, find what they want and get out as fast as they can.
BTW, none of this is true of 100% of either sex. Think 80/20 instead, then store and forget (for now) all the anomalies you know about. Until recently, I never had to say that in any discussion about marketing, sales, advertising. People just knew that mass marketing is largely about generalities. Now it is inevitable that someone will pop up with “That’s not true, I know a man who …”
I’m sure you do. We can stop talking about tens of millions of American men and focus on the guy you know, or we can file him under anomalies and move on. Your choice.
According to the National Retail Federation’s Big Blog (October, 2010) men actually spend more than women on Christmas shopping. Not a lot more, $698.76 to $679.48, but the fact that it’s even close is surprising.
In broad categories, most of what men and women buy overlaps: food, cars, houses, clothing, technology, entertainment, financial services. The differences are in the details, the scope and the intensity.
A November, 2007 Wharton School study put it this way: “Men Buy, Women Shop”. There’s a ton of research on the topic but most of it predates the current economic disaster conditions in the US.
The details have less overlap and that’s where we see the split between men’s things and women’s things.
Some are obvious. Fashion, for example. It’s not just that men and women wear different kinds of clothes; it’s that women are much more interested in clothes and accessories, including hair, makeup, jewelry and, especially, shoes.
Women tend to be more trendy.
That sharp intake of breath you hear is a gasp of disbelief. But just watch a few movies and you’ll see an interesting difference between men and women.
A man today could wear Bogie’s wardrobe from 1943’s Casablanca without raising an eyebrow. Not true of the women’s outfits. Ditto hairstyles.
1944 gave us Going My Way and Double Indemnity. Same thing.
Leap ahead to 1954’s On The Waterfront and Three Coins in the Fountain.
Women’s clothes and hair are quite different ten years later, men’s are about the same.
By 1970’s Airport, women’s clothing had changed almost completely. Men’s, not so much.
The point is that men are less trend conscious, less attracted by new-for-its-own-sake than women are. Much less.
What that means is that if the things men buy don’t wear out and don’t go completely out of fashion (top hats), they don’t buy new things. A great many men wear the same kind of clothing – even the exact same clothing – for 50 years or more: penny loafers, button down shirt, gabardine slacks, blue blazer. Fine in 1951, fine in 2011. This holds true for more than clothes. In varying degrees, it’s true for toothpaste, food, tools, furniture, art, music …
It’s not that men are averse to change. They’re averse to what, to them, is pointless change. The notion of “If it ain’t broke, don’t fix it” is a man’s notion. Nor do we like old things because they’re old; we like old things that are good … because they’re good.
But we’re talking about marketing now, about people buying things in the near future. Do men matter? Well, no, in a lot of categories men are irrelevant.
But in other categories, men are pretty well the whole ball game. But there’s a problem. Most women-dominated categories are mass market categories. Most men-dominated categories are niches, large niches to be sure, but niches just the same.
And because a lot of the things men buy are for life, we tend to gather a lot of information before we hand over our credit cards. And that’s where direct marketers come in. We’re good at selling to niches profitably. That may be why direct mail is still the best discipline for reaching adult males.
None of this changes the fact that a supermarket’s best customer is a hungry man on his own after he’s had a drink or two.