Thinking outside the man box


“I’d love to see a pretty bird behind the counter, now that would make me shop there”

Concealing a groan and a roll of the eyes is a skill all quallies will have mastered during their formative fieldwork experiences. Nothing prompts inner despair as much as a focus group of youngish blokes threatening to descend into a session of posturing and posing.

For obvious reasons, this behaviour is a huge challenge in qualitative research. Moderators work hard to reveal attitudes and emotions that consumers struggle to express even to themselves. Posturing male groups make this job even tougher which can lead to narrow and stereotyped insights. At worst, this results in communications that don’t truly reflect the audiences brands are attempting to engage with.

The walls of the man box restrain the ability to express emotions, desire and especially weakness. Men feel under pressure to display a very narrow range of behaviours and attitudes to avoid being belittled or thought less of: strength, athleticism, promiscuity, lack of emotion. Whilst it can feel good to play up to this role, it can lead to potentially damaging behaviour.

But now this issue is being brought centre stage by a succession of personal and inspiring accounts by public figures willing to expose their emotions and ‘weaknesses’. Rio Ferdinand’s raw and honest account of his struggles to express his emotions while grieving, offered a powerful display of how hard it can be for men to accept weakness and emotion. Prince Harry, Skepta and Bruce Springsteen have all recently discussed their personal experiences with mental health and depression in important pieces that are starting to challenge ideals of laddish machismo.

Few brands are catching on to the idea that promoting healthier attitudes towards masculinity can be beneficial commercially as well as for society. Those who recognise and subvert tradition really stand out. Pot Noodle recently took a humorous look at stereotypical masculinity with a twist ending to their ‘You can make it’ TV advert forcing viewers to challenge the way they think about masculine roles. Lynx have also been commended for creating content and advertising that radically changed the outdated perspective of a brand typically associated with laddish masculinity. Importantly, the dramatic change in perspective was borne out of research conducted on young men’s attitudes, behaviours, and understandings of manhood.

Just as brands must reassess how they represent and communicate with women, there is an equally big challenge when it comes to engaging their male targets. Research can and should be the catalyst here. We have the tools and competences to create an environment where the walls of the man box can be broken down, allowing men to open up and help us recognise a much broader, multifaceted vision of masculinity.

By Sam,



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