The marketing challenge almost nobody talks about



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 itis 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.

posted under Observations
3 Comments to

“The marketing challenge almost nobody talks about”

  1. On September 9th, 2011 at 5:43 pm Kathy Snavely Says:

    So, I seem to be an anommality again – not that I mind…. To be what may be construed as more base, marketing is all about seduction. (My students love it when I talk this way!) With no reference to Greene & Elffers book, marketing is learning the art of seduction. And part of that is playing the numbers: how can I pick up large groups of my target market/segments? Sometimes, figuring that out is simply a firm grasp of the obvious. But as time moves on, I believe that becomes more challenging – because our target market is changing more rapidly. More influenced by media, marketing, Hollywood, peer groups – the increasing number of people/things were are all exposed to on a regular basis.

    Some can be classified as “functional,” who make purchasing choices more often on what works, than who is using it – and for others, it is opposite. But it still all comes down to who makes themselves willing to be seduced.

    I was struck by this as I was at an event last evening. As my two middle-aged men spied a buxom, bleached blonde (woman), wearing platform shoes, they both had a strong reaction as they spotted her. While she was considerably taller than both of them, they (for all intensive purposes) stopped, paralyzed in their tracks, as their tongues rolled out of their mouths, saliva dripped from their tongues, and hearts beat, pounding from their chests. I asked, “OK, boys, so you’re really liking her shoes, huh?” And both replied, “What shoes?” Clearly, they both had a firm grasp of the obvious. My thought was, of course, too bad this woman had such poor self esteem to dress in such a fashion. (Take another sip of that martini, Mike.) It took no art to seduce these guys.

    While there are commonalities to some of our marketing segments, I believe it is getting harder to correctly identify some of those similarities. We still have some “old reliables,” but our craft demands we sharpen our skills to identify more subtle, less obvious qualities.

    That is what you were saying, right?? ;0)


  2. On September 12th, 2011 at 3:34 pm Mike McCormick Says:

    Hi Kath – ProfS,

    Thanks for the comment. Marketing is the art of seduction? I’ve never bought into that idea, probably because I’m old school and stuck with original meanings of words. The word seduction means either sex or cajoling an innocent into a criminal act. In both cases, there are underpinnings of deception.

    In marketing, direct marketing anyway, seduction may have been transmogrified into a collecting word for a bunch of tried and true concepts such as Targeting, Aspiration, WII-FM, FAB, AIDA. And maybe seduction in marketing is just a creative skin laid over the skeletal structure of the basics.

    As you know, creative is the easy part, assuming all the basics are right and in place. If it’s creative for its own sake then it won’t work.

    So, yeah, maybe that’s what I meant.

    All the best,
    Mike McC

  3. On September 12th, 2011 at 10:31 pm Kathy Snavely Says:

    Hmmm – not the definition from which I work. Is it wrong to seduce one’s life partner? Perhaps entice would be a more acceptable word. But it doesn’t have the same power, does it? More food for thought. Thanks for, um, stimulating – my mind, of course!


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