When Wang Xing, CEO of Meituan, humorously placed men after dogs on the consumer value ranking on social media it told the story of how little consumption power men have had historically in China.
In recent years, however, men's consumption has grown rapidly, the category has expanded and the quality of consumption is constantly upgrading as more consumers look for higher quality premium brands. As a result, the stereotype of weak male consumption power has become a thing of the past.
Historically, society's expectations of men were around career achievements and being the economic providers for the family rather than consumers. Even categories usually dominated by male consumers, such as automobiles and liquor, mostly focused on career achievement and success.
With the development of online shopping and the increasing post-80s men cohort, groups of first- generation male consumers gathered in online communities, such as “what is worth buying”, along with many other digital gadget KOLs. These channels were basically focused on digital and home appliances, which fit the characteristics of men's consumption at the time, focusing on functionality.
However, with the post-95s and post-00s entering the consumer market, men's consumer goods and consumer culture have undergone subversive change. In addition to traditional digital technology vehicles, male consumption is no less than women in fashion and skincare and beauty, along with many other categories. Changes in men's social and family roles, life values and lifestyles have brought new opportunities to the consumer industry.
From success to multiplicity of masculinity
With the development of the equal rights movement between men and women, economic strength and career success are no longer exclusively male pursuits. Men too, can also pursue their hobbies and realise their dreams more freely.
On the other hand, there is more inclusiveness towards pluralistic masculinity at the sociocultural level. Traditional rough masculinity is still appreciated by men, but ‘premium’, ‘fashion’ and ‘stylish’ have also become aspirations for more and more men.
For example, in the television commercial "Men Want to Live Beautifully", Make Essence challenged the traditional stereotype of male skin care, interpreting "beautiful" as an enterprising spirit for career, a love of life, a rigorous scientific attitude and the embodiment of loving yourself. It conveys that men's use of skin care products is also taken for granted, shaping a new gender identity for male consumers.
Multiple social identities
The breadwinner of the family is no longer the only identity of men. Men live a diverse life with work, socialising, family, or living alone. Many now pay more attention to their quality of life, evident in the fact that more men are making considered choices in regards to looking after themselves.
They have begun to pursue pleasure and enjoyment, learning how to enhance their self-image from rich social networks.
For example, male consumers now pay attention to the fragrance of washing products, which offer a pleasant usage experience and clothing scent, enhancing how they are perceived socially.
The post-95s who pursue their own interests and hobbies have further promoted personalisation and trend consumption. We can see this with the growing social wear sharing platform "Du," which is dominated by male consumers, as well as the development of the trendy sneaker and toy trading markets. Post-95s consumption pays more attention to showing their personality and characteristics, using this to gain social identity and a sense of belonging.
Men's emotional needs
Emotional needs exist for everyone, and although many believe men's emotions are not as delicate as women's, they also face a unique inner conflict. It would be worthwhile for brands to explore the multiple roles of men and their emotional needs.
For example, L'Oréal Men's TVC with Zhu Yilong captures men's anxiety about maturity. Zhu Yilong, who was confused at the beginning of the film, finally realises that maturity is not tough, hard and compromised, but about being flexible, principled, and daring to speak in one’s own voice. Embracing this insight, they deliver the slogan for the anti-wrinkle product; "not loose, not broken, with edges and angles".
Men who are family members also have rich emotional needs. For example, the promotional film "For Love Choice" directed by Han Han for the Volvo S60 presents a family experience from a male perspective. As a father, he is the guardian of the family, the playmate, and the role model of his son. The brand has become a presence that accompanies men to protect their families, accompany their children to grow, and pay and harvest happiness.
How can male brands in the new era capture consumers?
Male consumers in the new era show a variety of characteristics, whether it is values or social roles, and the gender characteristics and aesthetics presented by them have changed greatly. This gives brands more opportunities and space to shape a more differentiated and recognisable brand mentality.
Emotional connections with male consumers are also a focus for brands. In addition to the core technology and functional points, the emotional experience brought by products and brands is equally attractive to male consumers and is an accelerator that occupies their minds.
The author is insight and design strategy lead for Quantum Consumer Solutions in Shanghai.