How to Speak Man (Amsterdam)

Our next breakfast event in Amsterdam sees Crowd DNA's Joey Zeelen set about reframing masculinity...

Date: September 27

Time: 8.15am-9am

Location: Crowd DNA, Sarphatistraat 49, Amsterdam

Brands are increasingly taking political, environmental and social stands. Many are addressing female aspirations and feminism with great effect.

But what are we doing about men?

This session explores changing attitudes to masculinity and, in particular, what being a man means among millennials. Looking at the tensions that have evolved around male identity, we’ll help brands harness opportunities – and speak better to men AND women.

Join us for delicious pastries and even more delicious insights. Contact Judith Lieftink if you and/or colleagues would like to attend.

Watch the trailer below:

First published in the MRS' Impact magazine, Crowd DNA associate director Jake Goretzki explores the fast-shifting attitudes to masculinity and male identity...

In May I presented ‘Gendershift: How To Speak Man’ at Crowd DNA’s regular breakfast event. This piece looks at shifts in attitudes to masculinity among Millennial men in the West and the opportunities this presents for brands.

Male identity is ‘hot right now’, in and beyond our sector. From Stormzy’s musings on male mental health to comedian Robert Webb’s forthcoming book ‘How Not To Be A Boy’. At Crowd DNA, we’ve developed a close interest in masculinity working with clients seeking to remain relevant to a young male audience – in an age where men aren’t the ‘lads’ they were a decade ago. The debate about ‘what makes a man’ isn’t, of course, new (remember the ‘New Man’ and the ‘Metrosexual’?), but is especially visible today.

For Gen Xers like me, raised by feminists and moisturising since their teens, opining on male dilemmas still feels, frankly, uncomfortable. Look: we still live in a patriarchy. Power is male. Wealth is male and the UK pay gaps grants men a 9.4% bonus over women. Outmoded ideas of men as promiscuous risk-takers and women as meek and emotional remain ubiquitous. ‘My heart bleeds for you’, my mum would tell me.

Male identity has been changing among Millennials. The drivers range from the (slow) advance of women in society to the mainstreaming of gay male identity. Male and female space has converged (from pubs to stag dos). Health and body are greater male preoccupations than ever before.

Today we see a more fluid, ‘individual masculinity’ that’s less binary and less ‘one size fits all’. Only 2% of men aged 18-24 said they were ‘completely masculine’ in a YouGov survey in 2015. Closer in, men have become more intimate and emotional (‘bromance’ is a word and US Presidents can cry now). When they do have children, men are more ‘Involved’, embracing fatherhood and not trying to escape the fact.

Yet for all this heartwarming progress at the leading edge, we’re seeing new tensions around masculinity. Most prominent is what’s called ‘toxic masculinity’, embodied by the (paradoxically make-up-wearing) Leader of the Free World (we did the crying when he was voted in). And behind him is a parade of back-to-the-kitchen growlers, ‘pick up artists’ and alt-right misogynists.

Worse still, Millennial men are living with a ‘misery epidemic’. As the charity ‘CALM’ reminds us, suicide is the biggest killer of young men (a subject touchingly covered by Professor Green). Being told that ‘boys don’t cry’ and appeals to ‘just be a man’ aren’t helping.

There are lesser tensions too. We see an increasing divergence between generations over what ‘being a man’ is, and a tendency among older men to misconstrue today’s men as ‘victims’ of female success (ask the Boomer icon Jeremy Clarkson how he feels about male identity today). We see a continued grapple to pin down an aspirational male archetype for today (strength and grit still dominate; witness the surge of Weekend Warriors and Tough Mudders).

Brands are increasingly reflecting changes. Unilever’s ‘Find Your Magic’ campaign for Lynx/Axe has long been a gold standard case study for us, celebrating a more nuanced, diverse idea of masculinity – the more so coming from a brand once associated with a laddish posture that irritated women. Fashion brands have been relatively brave too – Diesel’s ‘Make Love Not Walls’ doesn’t hide whose proposed wall it’s talking about.

In drinks, Coors now lets us laugh at Jean-Claude Van Damme’s faded machismo; Southern Comfort liberates with a pot-bellied beach walker. Over in the Deep South, Jim Beam is now fronted by Mila Kunis. (And suddenly, Jack Daniel’s gruff men of Lynchburg Tennessee are looking a little unreconstructed).

There are many opportunities for brands to speak more meaningfully to today’s young men. Brands can take a stand against toxic masculinity by talking to men and women as one, not two camps – tapping into male goodwill for female progress. Nike’s ‘Unlimited You’ is a bracing male and female story. ‘Walking the talk’ as an organisation is essential as well (American Apparel’s seedy casting of young submissive women won it few friends and bordered on the ‘toxic’). As Elina Vives, Senior Director of Marketing at Coors has said “Any brand nowadays has to stop insulting women first and foremost and be much more inclusive”.

Brands can also work on the ‘male happiness project’: stoicism and old masculinity are a straitjacket and, frankly, young men need ‘cheering up’. Friendship is now a kinder, warmer experience than the ‘lad bantz’ and locker room of old. It’s time too to banish the stock ‘doofus dad’, bemused by parenting and shopping. As Axe/Lynx’s shift showed, disrupting conventions of masculinity and bringing greater nuance to the man you portray can invigorate a brand and win over enemies. Today’s man? He’s not the man he was. And a good thing, too.

Our next breakfast event in London sees Crowd DNA duo Jake Goretzki & Ken Wallraven set about reframing masculinity...

Date: May 4

Time: 8.15am-9am

Location: Crowd DNA, 5 Lux Building, 2-4 Hoxton Square, London N1 6NU

Brands are increasingly taking political, environmental and social stands. Many are addressing female aspirations and feminism with great effect.

But what are we doing about men?

This session explores changing attitudes to masculinity and, in particular, what being a man means among millennials. Looking at the tensions that have evolved around male identity, we’ll help brands harness opportunities – and speak better to men AND women.

Join us in the Lux Building for delicious pastries and even more delicious insights. Contact Jason Wolfe if you and/or colleagues would like to attend.

Watch the trailer below:

Crowd DNA’s Elizabeth Holdsworth considers the cultural impact of men wearing makeup...


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In October 2016, CoverGirl Cosmetics signed model James Charles as their first ever male makeup ambassador. Maybelline followed suit in January 2017, announcing YouTube star and makeup artist Manny Gutierrez (also known as Manny Mua) as the latest face of their brand.

These two signings – while a notable innovation for the almost completely female-facing lower price range or ‘drugstore’ makeup industry – not only reflect the persistent increase in the male grooming market over the last decade but also a crucial recent shift in mainstream perceptions of masculinity.

Unilever and Coty (owners of Maybelline and CoverGirl respectively) are making the move toward marketing makeup products to men as well as women. But this isn’t about gender, argues Gutierrez, who has 3.2m followers on Instagram and captions his pouting and perfected full-face looks with statements such as, “I believe makeup is genderLESS” and that “men need more cosmetic recognition”.

Nor is this drag, the social media star is keen to clarify. Manny’s decision to wear makeup is no more costume than the daily grooming ritual of makeup and skincare many women perform. Makeup is purely about creative expression, argues Gutierrez in an interview with Marie Claire. “It’s an art form for me. I’m still confident as a boy and I will always be a boy. I can be confident with bare skin and with a full face.”

Male face of Covergirl Cosmetics, James Charles
Male face of Covergirl Cosmetics, James Charles

The male grooming industry, worth $50bn last year, is experiencing phenomenal growth, not to mention looking thick, luscious and silky. According to the FT, retail sales of male grooming products at Procter & Gamble, including its Gillette brand, are more than $11bn, while Unilever, which sells the Axe and Lynx brands, sold nearly $5bn in 2015.

While in terms of cultural acceptance the industry has found success marketing a plethora of products to men including moisturisers, pomades and body hair removal products, until now makeup has remained an unacceptably emasculating proposition, and remained hidden inside the bathroom cabinet. The idea of a man in makeup has stayed a taboo, like lipstick on the teeth.

Yet, it’s easy to point out that men wearing makeup isn’t quite as ground-breaking as we might initially think. In past centuries, it was common for upper class men to powder and rouge their faces as part of their grooming routine. And while more conservative voices have decried the signing of Manny et al as the “rise of the sissy boys”, it’s not only avant-garde artists like David Bowie, or those at the leading edge of challenging gender norms who dabble in makeup. The President Of The United States himself, while in some areas quite the über-performer of semiotic codes for traditional masculinity, is a dedicated if clandestine wearer of makeup, including tanning products, bronzer and foundation. While it’s unlikely that Trump will dabble with mascara and lipstick, across society as gender identity becomes increasingly fluid, we can expect to see a resurgence in the practice of men wearing makeup, and a wider acceptance of the painted male face in the public’s imagination.

Part of GenderShift, a series exploring how identity is changing in modern times

Oculus Nights Out

Crowd DNA associate director Eleanor Sankey didn't think she was a gamer until she played with Oculus. Now she wants to use it in her day job...

Last week we attended an event hosted by Oculus to showcase the new content landing soon on their Rift and Gear VR. Rubbing shoulders with premier league footballers, tech and gaming bloggers, and Jonathan Ross, I wasn’t convinced it was going to be my thing.

I swore off computer games in the 90s, when SimCity 2000 saw it fitting to destroy Eltown with a hurricane, and it was going to take a lot to make me reconsider.

Kicking off, we coordinated our troops in real-time strategy game Brass Tactics before singing our hearts out in a virtual stadium in SingSpace and finally slashed our way through zombies on Killing Floor.

The experience was exhilarating, if not a little overwhelming at times! With our senses seamlessly transported into these virtual worlds it took no time at all to forget our audience and become unselfconsciously immersed in the physicality of the game. I was hooked.

2017 looks to be a pivotal year for VR with anticipated growth evolving the technology from a curiosity to a tangible tool. Transcending the gaming market, we’re already seeing it used in sports and film with the NBA broadcasting one game a week via VR headsets and Amsterdam establishing the first VR cinema in 2016.

Moving beyond the entertainment space, the technology is being used by the military to replicate conditions of real world combat when training soldiers in bomb disposal and piloting drones. Equally, in the healthcare sector, it’s proving vital for educating staff but also has the potential to revolutionise how we treat pain and physiotherapy.

At Crowd we’ve already been using VR to help immerse our clients in the lives of consumers across the globe in an intimate way that they would otherwise never have the opportunity to experience. And given my experiences last week, I’m very excited to see what we can do next.

 

In this long read, Crowd's Joey Zeelen considers how big business sustainability goals will impact consumers and political parties...


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In recent years, we’ve seen more and more multinational corporations committing to make their organisations fully sustainable, while the geo-political trend (Trump et al.) is attempting to backtrack on the Paris Agreement on climate change. I find myself questioning why this progressive takeover of the private sector is happening right now? And how does this affect the consumer zeitgeist? When it comes to sustainability, are ‘progressive’ consumers still best led by governments and politicians or are they perhaps better off shifting their gaze to the corporate world?

To understand why corporations are making the sustainable switch, we need to go back three years to the desert 50 kilometres south of Dubai, where a giant solar panel project called DEWA left a tremendous mark on modern history.

There in UAE – a state paradoxically largely known for its oil reserves – a company called First Solar managed to produce renewable electricity at 5.84 USD cents per kilowatt hour. For the first time in history, thanks to this unsubsidised solar park project, it was possible to produce renewable energy for less than natural resources. Since then, projects in China, Australia, Chile, California, Italy and Jordan have followed suit, after reaching the same energy tipping point.

The simple laws of manufacturing economics are that the more you manufacture with a renewable resource, the cheaper products will become versus the more you deplete fossil materials, the more expensive products will become. The crossing of the fossil and renewable energy cost curves in Dubai opened the financial floodgates for corporations and financial institutions around the world. It sparked a revolution that according to Deutsche Bank ‘will make solar energy cheaper than fossil energy in 80% of the world in only a few years’.

By the end of this year, all Google’s offices and data centres will be powered entirely by renewable energy (from 44% to 100% in one year). The internet giant is the world’s biggest corporate buyer of renewable electricity. “We are convinced this is good for business, this is not about greenwashing,” says Marc Oman, EU energy lead at Google. “This is about locking in prices for us in the long-term. Increasingly, renewable energy is the lowest cost option. Our founders are convinced climate change is a real, immediate threat, so we have to do our part.”

Another example is Unilever; CEO Paul Polman is even known as ‘the Bono of the corporate world’. The company produces 97% less waste from its own production compared to 2008. Unilever is also aiming to reduce its water usage and CO2 emission by 50% compared to 2008 levels. In total it’s saving around $200 million a year due to less logistical, packaging and energy costs. And because investing in sustainability strengthens Unilever’s business plan, its targets are anchored into all layers of the company, even employees have to hit yearly sustainability targets.

And then there is the mighty IKEA that plants a tree for every one it cuts down. 50% of its furniture is sustainable right now and in three years this will be 100%. Last year IKEA had an annual revenue of close to €30 billion and it’s investing €2.5 billion a year in the development of renewable energy and resolving climate issues. IKEA chairman, Peter Agnefjäll, told The Financial Times that since the end of 2015, the company has continued to invest €600 million a year in the further development of wind and solar energy, and another €400 million in helping regions that are hit hardest by global warming. Incredibly, this $1 billion comes on top of the €1.5 billion that IKEA has been investing in renewable energy annually since 2009!

Obviously, this is all good publicity but it also makes perfect business sense. Since renewable production has decreased so substantially in price in the last few years, investing in renewable energy means short-term and long-term growth. Getting involved in sustainability will give corporations a leap over their future competitors that fail to do so now. Take these short-term and long-term business cases and mix them up with an incredibly unstable political climate (which means energy uncertainty) and a lot of consumer expectancy (from the latest Ubiquity Global CSR Study we know that 9/10 consumers expect companies to operate responsibly and address environmental issues) and it seems obvious that more companies will join the sustainability cause in the immediate future.

Now back to our original question: where does this leave the ‘progressive’ consumer? Strangely, but surely, I think that the contrast between the exponential growth of sustainable businesses and the eroding landscape of climate politics will account for a real paradigm shift for consumers. I expect the more ‘progressive’ consumers are let down by governments with short-term solutions for long-term problems, the more they’ll put trust in corporations to lead them forward. Consequently, in the forthcoming years, brands are going to be increasingly taking over responsibility for the future of the world in which consumers live in. This will have major implications on the relationship between consumers and companies in terms of trust, loyalty and salience, and ultimately, it will drive sales.

 

Twitter Passions Meets LFW

We're excited to see Twitter release the first of our Passions film series to coincide with London Fashion Week...

Keep your eyes peeled for more Passions films – covering music, food, health, news, tech and more – over 2017.

See Crowd DNA\Socialise Director Anna Chapman discuss this and other types of superfandom over croissants on March 2. Book your place now.

Brands can do more by creating experiential retail spaces where storytelling plays a crucial part, says Crowd DNA's Essi Mikkola. It's time to help consumers feel a deeper connection with the brands they love…


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If you went shopping in a department store 100 years ago, you might have found yourself being followed by a floor-walker. Their purpose was to politely ask whether “Miss or mister was going to buy something?” (if the answer was negative, you’d be asked to leave). Today, retail is facing a challenge that is quite the opposite: how to bring people into the physical stores when almost any product can be found at a lower price online and be home-delivered in an instant.

We know that time has become a luxury for many, and customers go to stores after doing their research online; even checking these reviews while in-store using their phones. So how can brands elevate the physical store experience above the online? As Armand Hadida, founder of the Parisian fashion and lifestyle concept retailer L’Éclaireur explained at the Future Of Retail seminar, creating the perfect experience is like orchestrating a performance. It should spark emotion, inspire and educate, and – in addition to the design – staff play a crucial part in this.

The Store, Berlin
The Store, Berlin

Recently opened in Berlin, The Store is a great example of how physical stores are transforming from points of sale to points of experience. The Store offers a beautiful space where visitors can hangout, eat, get a haircut, see some art and admire a carefully selected collection of artefacts that are displayed so visitors feel as if they are in a friend’s home. And naturally, everything on display, from the vinyl spinning to the couch you sit on, is for sale.

This concept of a hybrid retail, gallery and social space is actually an idea from the past brought into the modern day. As architectural writer Jonathan Glancey explains: ‘Opened in 1909, Selfridges offered bedazzled customers 100 departments along with restaurants, a roof garden, reading and writing rooms, reception areas for foreign visitors, a first aid room and, most importantly, a small army of knowledgeable floor-walking assistants who served as guides to this retail treasure trove as well as being thoroughly instructed in the art of making a sale.’

It seems that many brands are overlooking this art of sale and don’t realise the power their staff could have, if they were trained better. Hadida argues that people love to learn and hear about inspiring real-life stories; staff are ideal brand advocates who can pass on this inside knowledge about the brand, its heritage and the people behind it. Interestingly, the retail prophet Doug Stephens sees a phenomenon in which ‘the store is evolving from being a distribution channel to becoming a media channel.’

Brand loyalty is harder to achieve and maintain than ever, but when consumers find a brand they love, they often become superfans – a passionate group who readily share their experiences on social media. In the saturated world of marketing messages this is exactly what brands need: real stories from real people. Physical stores are ideal places to communicate brand stories through their design and staff, and consumers have the power of a media agency in communicating these forward to the world through their mobiles.

Latest fads like shoppable images on Instagram are encouraging impulsive mobile buying, so physical stores will need to justify their existence even more in the future. For me, multi-sensory experience was one of the biggest trends of 2016 and it’s still continuing to grow. However, brands should keep in mind that the point isn’t just to create sensational experiences with the latest gadgets; it’s to spark personal and meaningful memories, as this is what helps form stronger bonds with their customers.

Part of InterFace, a series exploring – across digital and physical – how our touchpoints with brands are changing…