Why Package-Goods Companies Should Market to Men

If Wii, Spike Can Appeal to Consumers Once Thought Unattainable, CPG Can Too

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Abigail Posner
Abigail Posner

A great societal shift is under way, and no one is taking advantage of it. Numerous trend reports, even the 2008 census, show conclusively that men are more and more involved in taking care of their children and homes. So you'd think package-goods marketers would jump at the chance to include them in their marketing mixes. But you'd be wrong.

"Men don't shop as much as women." "They don't enjoy shopping." "They're not interested in consumer-package-goods messages," many marketers say. Those are all valid points. It's understandable that with shrinking marketing budgets and a potentially deep recession, companies would tailor their innovation, communications and media strategies to the lowest-hanging fruit, women. But this female-only approach, logical as it may seem, causes us to miss a huge opportunity.

Changing consumer behavior
True, men are still not the primary shoppers or shopping influencers of household goods. But that doesn't mean we can't alter their current consumer behaviors. Of course men are going to ignore products and messages that address women's concerns, attitudes and sensibilities. But if we developed products that suited men's needs, created communications that spoke to men's problems or desires, and designed the store experience to be more engaging to men, then they would have more interest in products that serve their families and homes and, thus, more desire to buy them.

Take Wii. At a time when video-game equipment was squarely targeted at gamers and teens, Nintendo bucked the trend and went after families. The result: Wii sold more units in the first half of 2007 in the U.S. than Xbox 360 and PlayStation 3 combined.

Another example: Spike (also known as Spike TV), the first TV network for men that went beyond just sports. At the outset, Spike President Kevin Kay told me, "We faced a lot of resistance. They would say, 'Men are always going to watch sports, but how are you going to create [other] programming for men?' Or, 'Men don't buy; only women buy.'" Spike thought otherwise. And it was right. Not only has the network grown its base of men 39%, but it appeals to a broad array of advertisers and is better recognized as a network for men by young males than ESPN.

New product ideas
Tough economic times demand innovation to motivate people to buy. And bringing men into the marketing equation doesn't just give you a larger group of consumers; it means a new set of benefits, a new story to tell and even new product ideas.

When Spike decided to target men, new programming, such as "Manswers" (a guy trivia show), the "Scream Awards" and the sports reality show "The Ultimate Fighter," followed. So, too, Wii has continually developed video games that defy the typical kill-or-be killed options. Thanks to its broader target, Wii offers video games that range from "Dance Dance Revolution" to "Wii Sports," the most successful video game of all time.

Abigail Posner is senior VP-strategy director at Publicis, New York. Prior to joining the agency, she spent 11 years at DDB, New York.

We all know that as members of the media and marketing community we don't just reflect culture; we actually change it -- sometimes very quickly and tangibly. In the late 1970s, scientists found a link between a high-fiber diet and a reduced risk of cancer. Few people, however, changed what they ate. But when cereal companies a decade later advertised a relationship between high-fiber foods and protection against cancer, people woke up and actually began changing their diets.

Men as caretakers and shoppers
Given this power of communications, there's no reason we can't appeal to an otherwise unattainable consumer group and maybe, just maybe, affect that group not just as consumers but as people. Marketing to men and portraying them as caretakers of and shoppers for the family can attract additional consumers to a brand while encouraging men to become greater participants in the maintenance of their families and homes. And the more men are accepted and accept themselves in that role, the more they'll be interested in brands that solve the needs or enhance the enjoyment of home and family care. And, of course, the more they'll shop for those products.

Basing strategies for tomorrow on current marketing data, sensible as it may seem, is shortsighted, even dangerous. If the American automobile industry teaches us anything, it's that stubbornly clinging to practices that have worked in the past but don't address a changing environment can have disastrous financial -- even societal -- consequences.

Reaching out to a seemingly less lucrative, smaller target market such as men isn't quixotic but rather a strategy to attract more consumers, encourage greater innovation, and even affect the roles men and women shape for themselves, now and in the future. Instead of emulating those Detroit execs who ignored or resisted change, why don't we embrace, guide and, ultimately, benefit from it?

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