Why it's time we stop putting emotionless, individualistic men in our ads

Stereotypical male portrayals in advertising cause clear social harm - but the business case for change is undeniable too, writes New Macho's managing director

Lack of access to healthy representations of masculinity destroys lives and stops men and women from reaching their full potential.

So anything that can help deconstruct harmful male stereotypes is a step in the right direction. I very much welcome the news that the Advertising Standards Authority is consulting on expanded guidelines about portraying gender in ads.

Let’s be clear here: men today are in crisis. Every minute of every day a man takes his own life somewhere on the planet. Here in Europe, men comprise 75% of deaths by suicide and it is the biggest single killer of men aged 45 and under.

Many men have been raised to perform masculinity, instead of living it, leading to the wrong belief that men have no other choice but to carry on in this vein.

This is then compounded by media portrayals that emphasize strength, individualism, and risk-taking behaviour as desirable character traits for men.

Reinforcement of these gender roles too often puts men off seeking help. Men think they need to deal with their shit themselves. The resulting sense of isolation and emotional repression can lead to addiction, to violence, and to depression and anxiety, and all their devastating consequences. The results cause hurt to all of us.

Diversity in advertising has come on in leaps and bounds with regard to race, disability and sexual orientation, and now it needs to embrace a new form – what we show men doing in ads.

New Macho is lucky to work with clients who want to do things differently, who want to be a part of changing the conversation and who see making the world a better place for everyone, regardless of gender, as a legitimate brand goal.

But there are still so many brands that aren’t on board, and sadly, so many time-pressured creatives dashing off thoughtless male stereotypes without considering the harm that they cause.

This is why we celebrate the ASA pushing for change, and why I urge other creative agencies to look at it as a great opportunity rather than yet another restriction on what we can show in our work.

For one thing, if agencies have recalcitrant clients who are insistent that they don’t need to change strategy, new CAP guidelines will be a fantastic tool to argue in favour of authentic portrayals of men.

And another reason we welcome the news, and hope others do too, is that the outcome could be a new golden age in advertising, especially for products aimed at men, as creatives respond to the new "obstructions" in innovative ways.

We’re already thinking about how to respond to the ASA’s consultation. Among the dangerous stereotypes we believe should disappear from ads are men who:

  • are emotionless or emotionally clumsy

  • rely on physical strength

  • are always in control and flawless

  • are individualistic.

Out of necessity, the ASA’s guidelines will focus on what to avoid. But why look at what must go, instead of focusing on the positives? Ask yourself: what should we be showing men doing in ads? We think the answer is men who are:

  • smiling

  • caring for others, including other men

  • displaying empathy

  • sharing their feelings

  • allowed to be flawed, sad or even angry.

In other words, we should be creating ads that show men as they really are.

We believe men are social and emotional beings. Repressing those emotions and living in isolation harms men and the world around them. Why we are making this an aspirational ideal to men?

It is our responsibility to end this together.

For him. For her. For us.

Fernando Desouches is managing director at New Macho and former senior global brand director for Axe/Lynx at Unilever.

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