What does a man want?!

Ashley Milne-Tyte Sep 15, 2006

BOB MOON: Let’s just say the young American male seems to have a different set of priorities these days. Back in 1970, most men in their late 20s were married. Today, four out of five haven’t tied the knot. That’s a lot of single men ripe for a sales pitch for things to make themselves more attractive to the opposite sex, or just to jazz up the bachelor pad.

Trouble is, TV and magazine pitches won’t necessarily reach them. They could be surfing the Web, sending a text message or playing a video game. Marketers who would dearly love to tap into all that testosterone packed into an event called “The Man Conference” in New York this week. Ashley Milne-Tyte was there:

ASHLEY MILNE-TYTE: The young man of today is not the brawny, Manwich-eating male of yesteryear. He’s a savvy consumer who scours the Internet for product reviews. And he likes to spend.

In a survey released at the conference, 58 percent of 18- to 34 year-olds said they spend more than they make. Manna to marketers. But Advertising Age editor Jonah Bloom says all this shopping doesn’t mean men have gone soft.

JONAH BLOOM:“Men don’t want to be perceived as more sensitive, or perceived as having more different products in their medicine cabinets at home, or grooming themselves more or preening like women, and yet the fact is they are.”

Many respond to commercials like this tongue-in-cheek online ad for a product few guys would have been interested in 20 years ago:

ONLINE AD:“The Phillips Bodygroom has a sleek, ergonomic design for a safe and easy way to trim those scruffy underarm hairs, the untidy curls on and around your (bleep) . . . “

That bleep is part of the ad. As are various fruits that pop up on screen to denote the unmentionable body parts. It got a segment on the Howard Stern show. Men forwarded the link to friends. For eight week the Bodygroom was number one in the personal care category on Amazon. Steve DeLuca of Maxim magazine isn’t surprised.

STEVE DELUCA:“This is a generation that’s really very irreverent, very ironic. You know, they’ve grown up with Letterman, they’ve grown up with Conan O’Brien. That sort of tone is very much what they’re used to and how they communicate with one another.”

Still, DeLuca thinks there are more products marketers could pitch young guys, other than a flat-screen TVs — like furniture and bed linen. But Robert Thompson, who teaches television and popular culture at Syracuse University, says there’s an irony in all this.

ROBERT THOMPSON: “The attempt to kind of identify, categorize, and then market to men is so contrary to what we’re constantly believing we’re moving toward in a more enlightened world, which is to in fact annihilate those differences.”

Ad Age Editor Jonah Bloom says men’s and women’s interests are becoming increasingly similar. And yet . . .

BLOOM:“I think you see it in some of the kind of more vulgar male-bonding rituals in bars that basically, you know, there is still a tribal instinct among men, and perhaps we do actually still want to perceive ourselves as, you know, we’re going to have some quality time with our buddies.”

He says as the differences between the sexes continue to fade, male-oriented marketing may decrease. But it won’t disappear.

In New York, I’m Ashley Milne-Tyte for Marketplace.

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