The softer side of ‘all-male’ brands

The softer side of ‘all-male’ brands

Mumbai: A couple of years after their swashbuckling cowboy dropped his grimy, rugged attitude for something more fashionable, Wrangler, the jeans brand from VF Corp., popped another surprise by launching ‘Wrangler Girl’—a special range of denim for women—early this month. Something that most brand gurus would consider an antithesis to what Wrangler—considered a rugged, all-male, jeans brand—stood for all these years.

Much like the introduction of the Marlboro Lights by Philip Morris USA Inc. to entice social smokers who preferred a low-tar version of what the Marlboro Man smoked, several intrinsically male brands are softening or feminizing their brand communication to appeal to a wider audience.

“In a male-dominated society like ours, advertising for practically every product has been aimed at the man, who was till recently considered the primary decision maker," says K.V. Sridhar, national creative director, Leo Burnett India.

However, with the change in the gender power equation, there has been a softening of brand communication across categories considered the male prerogative such as insurance, automobiles, two-wheelers, consumer durables, etc.

So, whether it’s auto company General Motors India’s decision to get Bollywood actor Rani Mukherjee as its brand ambassador along with Saif Ali Khan or ICICI Prudential Life Insurance Pvt. Ltd’s decision to rope in the wife as the decision maker, it is clear brands are dropping their male-centric communication to reach more people.

And it’s about time. “In a country where women make up practically 90% of all automatic scooter users, imagine how stupid it is for all the communication to be either male-oriented or unisex, because you think men won’t buy a scooter aimed at women!" says Sridhar.

In recent years, Hero Honda has been aiming its product at women, with its “Why should boys have all the fun?" campaign. As have auto companies such as GM India. GM’s Chevrolet Aveo U-VA ad features actor Rani Mukherjee, while its Chevrolet Optra ad features a woman in the driver’s seat, signalling the company’s recognition of women as an important target group.

“You can’t show men in skirts. That was pretty much the argument used to insert a woman into a car ad. But that has changed; not only are small cars being aimed at women, even companies such as General Motors are coughing up big bucks to get a woman to endorse their brand," says Santosh Desai, managing director and chief executive officer of Future Brands.

This tide has also been turning against all-male, macho brands, in India.

Unlike the West where, the image of the all-male, grimy, cowboy riding into the sunset is the epitome of masculinity, Indians tend to view these with a class association, where being rough and dirty is not for the genteel or refined classes.

Here, the contest of masculinity has for very long been fought largely on the premise of the man’s ability to provide for his family and fulfil hisresponsibility, says Desai, citing insurance, the ultimate patriarchal category, where almost all the ads have been aimed at males.

Over the past few years, companies such as ICICI Prudential Life Insurance have gone from ads with images of the man as a protector to those of the wife playing an equal partner, where she educates the husband on the benefits of life insurance.

Cola major Thumbs Up dropped its guy-bashes-up-goons-for-girl imagery for something that was less about mindless physical machismo and more about mental machismo. “Today, that external machoism has been internalized, and is represented through strength of character, and an individual sense of self rather than being perceived as a lone ranger," says Darshan Mehta, managing director, Reliance Brands Ltd. So, the Thumbs Up ad—in which the macho male beats up the goons to get the girl—from a few years ago has given way to one in which actor Akshay Kumar ditches a bike race with some hooligans to stay back at the start line with the girl.

The Mentos ad shows a young man walking backwards into the class to fool his professor. “This form of machoism is extremely desirable, and socially acceptable—where the young man exhibits the qualities of a witty, lovable rascal," said Sridhar. After all, few people would actually buy into an ad with angry young men such as Amitabh Bachchan or Ranjeet putting their feet up on the professor’s table.

“It is more about being an urban cowboy, rather than one that stepped right out of the wild, wild West," said Anshul Chaturvedi, marketing head, Wrangler, who says that several ‘all-male’ brands in the apparel segment, such as Provogue, Van Heusen and Louis Philippe, have softened their communication to appeal to the metrosexual male and woo female consumers, a growing area of interest for that category.

The softening of brand communication and positioning has also been seen in products for men, which now emphasize colour, texture and fragrance—qualities that were never talked about or discussed when it came to a male grooming product.

“Even when you look at ads for products such as mobile phones, computers and white goods, they all go beyond functionality and focus on design and aesthetics," says Sridhar.