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Want to Understand the Modern Man? Forget Gender Roles

In the world we are living in today, the modern man is complex and if we cannot make the effort to understand them then how will we ever start to get there? Is it just about selling product, or can advertising now be a tool for which we guide lifestyles? Can we show the modern man that he can share on social, that he can be a stay-at-home father and that he can evolve his role?
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Let's go back 50 years, to a time where families were depicted in a very cookie-cutter way -- two parents, each with very different roles and their children. Reminds me of a show I've heard a lot about, Leave It to Beaver and the Cleaver family. At the time, Ward, June, Wally and Theodore "The Beaver" Cleaver were the quintessential American family with Ward and June, the parents, falling into two clearly defined roles. Ward played the father, the breadwinner and the moral educator of his sons. June played the loving, stay-at-home mom who maintained the Cleaver household. Fast forward to 2014 and we have seen a drastic shift in household roles. Families are a much more dynamic and complex entity, and in fact, men, now more than ever, are taking a much larger role in helping with household decision making and child rearing.

Similarly, advertisements are also evolving to target those that make the household decisions. Back in June Cleaver's day, a cleaning ad typically targeted women because they were seen as being responsible for the upkeep of the house. Now, if you visit any major cleaning company's website you will see a blend of females, males and families taking a shared responsibility of the cleanliness of the home. In this commercial for Cascade Complete, it shows a man trying to contribute to the household, making an economical decision which he believes in the best interest of his house. The essence of the Cascade commercial brings to light the importance of men being informed consumers within the household. The reality is that the modern man is evolving, and according to Microsoft and Omnicom's Modern Man report, 52 per cent of men have high levels of decision-making and responsibility in the home.

It is interesting to note that despite evolving roles, there is still a gender imbalance in the purchase decision making within the modern household. When you take a closer look at the actual decisions men are contributing to, they lie within purchasing power (advertisers, please take note). In fact, men lead the charge in major monetary decisions -- 40 per cent of men are responsible for major electronic purchases and 63 per cent are responsible for car maintenance. When do men rely on their female counterparts? Well, men defer to females when it comes to smaller purchases, such as small electronics or appliances. Although men are contributing more to the household, it seems as though they are just having a louder voice in purchases which they believe should be dominated by men. Are men making the decisions because they are best suited to, or rather because they feel they need to?

Gender Barriers Be Gone

Growing up I remember very clearly my mother caring for the home and family, and my father always working. When I married my wife and as we had kids, the environment around me was changing and so the role I played was very different from that of my father. Like half of men today who share child rearing responsibilities equally with their partner, my wife and I made decisions together, from finances, to where we would live and work, to what we'd have for dinner. In order for our household to function and our children to develop to the best of their abilities, we worked as a team -- and I am not alone.

As a dad, I have been part of the shift in involvement between fathers and their children's upbringing. Now 26 per cent of men would consider staying at home to raise their kids vs. 79 per cent of women. According to the Microsoft and Omnicom Modern Man report, 70 per cent of men want to spend more time with their kids whether at home, at school or elsewhere. It is interesting that men are stating they want to spend more time with their children but at the same time 57 per cent say they are the primary breadwinner in their family and 4/5 of them work full time. Clearly, there is a disconnect between what men want to do and what they feel they have to do. Although men believe in sharing the responsibilities of raising children and they do care for their children with 62 per cent of men with children stating their kids are the most important thing to them, they are hesitant to drop their careers for a full-time parenting role. Men seem to feel a responsibility to "bring home the bacon" but all the while understanding the importance of spending time with family and balancing their careers and life. Is it incumbent upon men to be breadwinners? No, but why is it that they still feel this way? Is it a residual effect of patriarchy? Are men ultimately afraid to challenge their roles and prioritize differently?

Modern Man

The clear fact here is that men's roles are changing and so are our priorities, interests and mindsets. In addition to an increased focus in the home and to family, men are honing in on their own personal development. Health and fitness have been growing trends. The modern man is more health focused with upwards of 68 per cent showing an interest in nutrition and believe in the importance of a balanced diet. To reflect this trend, we see more and more companies incorporating fitness into traditionally sedentary activities such as Xbox One's Xbox Fitness changing how people can interact with their gaming consoles or the treadmill desk, which revolutionizes how we work in a traditional office environment. The average man is now on-the-go, managing multiple priorities and taking on greater responsibility.

Social media is also beginning to play a larger role in the modern man's life; 52 per cent of men using smartphones use their phones to access social media daily. However, despite this usage, men seem to be more critical of social media than women, stating that they believe people share too many personal details on social media, and claiming that they would never share this content themselves. It would appear they are more observers than engagers in the social realm.

Despite this, we see that the most commonly shared element by men on social media is personal pictures with 47 per cent of men sharing personal pictures. To the modern man, is personal data such as name, phone number, and marital status more personal and intimate than a photo of your child, pet or home? Should we place more emphasis on photography in communication with these men through social networks?

As a modern man, and speaking on behalf of other modern men, I must say that we are always evolving and that does not make it easy for marketers. While we say one thing, we do another. While we prioritize one area, we focus on the next. How can marketers go to where we are when we don't even know where we are going? While we start to narrow on the new path and mindset of men, we have to recognize that it doesn't apply to all men and in fact, marketers must now be more nimble, agile and adaptive than ever before. Marketers need to work quickly, be willing to take more risks and be provocative in order to reach us.

And if we're wrong, we need to try something new and take a different approach. In the world we are living in today, the modern man is complex and if we cannot make the effort to understand them then how will we ever start to get there? Is it just about selling product, or can advertising now be a tool for which we guide lifestyles? Can we show the modern man that he can share on social, that he can be a stay-at-home father and that he can evolve his role? This is an opportunity for marketers to think differently. The bigger question is if they will.


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