With so much conversation about men’s mental health, masculinity is more topical than ever. It’s an important time for men’s magazines like Healthy For Men as we’ll be helping redefine masculinity for a positive future. Because of this, I was lucky enough to be invited to the Festival of Marketing to talk on a panel called The Future of Gender: What Masculinity means Today and How you can drive Significant Change.
The Festival of Marketing is the biggest marketing event in the world with a total of 12 stages and some renowned speakers. This year it saw the likes of Davina McCall, Professor Green, Fearne Cotton and Rose McGowan take to the headliner stage. I took to the Realising Your Potential stage just as Jon Snow was stepping down from his discussion about creating a culture of volunteerism.
Speaking to a room of 300 plus people, my panel was chaired by Martin Robinson, the editor and founder of The Book of Man, a support network offering advice and inspiration for modern men. I was joined by psychotherapist and professor at Westminster University Damien Ridge, Henkel marketing director Nikki Vadera, and director of communications at the Advertising Standards Association Craig Jones. With such a diverse panel of experts, the topic of gender was approached from some exciting angles.
Having Craig Jones from the ASA on the panel meant that the topic of censorship was brought up a few times, especially in the wake of the recent controversial incident of censoring two ads for portraying men and women in negative or limiting ways – a Philadelphia cheese ad, where an inept father puts his baby on a sushi conveyor belt, and a VW ad, where men are portrayed as adventurous and exciting and women as mothers.
I’m uncomfortable with the idea of censoring media – it’s good when brands show their true colours, so we know what we’re buying into. Censoring, for me, silences authenticity. But at the same time, I understand that these ads exist in a landscape that needs to be regulated or more damage will be done to men, who have been traditionally served up toxic expectations and a mythology of domestic incompetence.
My biggest takeaway from the audience questions was that marketers are generally concerned about approaching the LQBTQ audience. The panel agreed that brands should target a specific group of people only if it comes from a place of authenticity, otherwise consumers will see through it as disingenuous.
Masculinity and gender issues are important to me because they drive our perception of each other, so I was overjoyed to be invited on the panel. Following the discussion, Martin asked me to add a final word – something positive on which to bring it all to a close. I told the room that we should be excited about masculinity as I believe that we’re able to take control of it and turn it into something positive. The very idea that we were having the conversation showed that it’s going in a positive direction. Perceptions of men are changing, and hopefully this will help men to thrive in their own skin