Men’s publishers try new approaches in the #MeToo era

In the age of #MeToo, some men’s publications are rethinking the stereotypical men’s brand formula of girls, gear and cars. Instead, they’re focused on plumbing the concept of modern masculinity from mental health to fatherhood.

Recent focus on “toxic masculinity” — a grab bag of ills from binge drinking to sexual harassment to mansplaining — has led men-focused publishers to adapt editorially to focus away from stereotypical portrayals of masculinity.

Next month, Shortlist Media will begin a yearlong editorial initiative focusing on the changing dynamics around gender equality. As well as launching editorial features, video series and custom events that aim to dismantle dated and damaging stereotypes, it will roll out campaigns to encourage other companies to address aspects of work-life balance.

“Everyone has been on a journey looking at the importance of this mainstream conversation,” said Owen Wyatt, managing director at Shortlist Media. “Because of the strength of #MeToo, men are able to think more about the content of their character rather than just their silhouette. Content companies are coming together around this at the right time.”

The initiative aims to replicate the commercial success of Visible Women, a yearlong editorial initiative led by Shortlist Media’s women-focused title, Stylist, that aims to showcase inspiring women throughout history. Commercial partners include L’Oréal and retailer River Island. Launched in February 2018 in response to the #MeToo movement, Wyatt said Visible Women has contributed to a 10 percent increase in revenues on Stylist across print, digital, video and events.

In the U.S., there’s Mel, a publication backed by Dollar Shave Club, as well as Fatherly, a publication devoted to new dads. In the U.K. Joe Media has always aimed to be inclusive, according to head of content Evan Fanning, but since growing the editorial team from 12 to 18 over the last 12 months it’s been able to broaden its editorial scope to cover fitness, lifestyle, politics, nutrition and well-being, and it has built on its coverage of films, music and lifestyle. In September, it launched a podcast series, “Unfiltered,” in which mental health is a core theme, and is soon launching a documentary unit examining stories about modern life in Britain, including topics like religion, immigration and homelessness, through a gender-neutral lens. Expanding its coverage has also inevitably led to growth in its female audience, which has increased by 20 percent in the last year, according to the publisher.

“We have the touchstones our audience is interested in, like sport or football, in order to bring people in through that,” said Fanning, noting that the most popular article in the last week detailed how the writer used football to bond with his son.

In the U.K., the latest entrant is The Book of Man, launched last week, which is the brainchild of Martin Robinson, who along with a team of five, plans for the digital brand to sit between more elite magazine titles like Esquire and social-first viral content publishers.

“Men feel constrained. They’re in the man box; they’re frustrated, and that needs to be broken down,” said Robinson. “There’s a problem in the way we’re bringing up boys to only be stoic and strong. We want to give advice to brands on how to speak to men today. It must change. This is a movement.”

A heightened awareness of how gender is represented in advertising has gathered pace for years, and the shift of brands addressing masculinity and femininity with care and avoiding stereotypes will continue. Last month, agency BBD Perfect Storm launched New Macho, a unit focusing on marketing to men outside the typical stereotype of tough masculinity. More traditionally masculine brands, such as Unilever’s Lynx, are exploring other areas of masculinity.

The closure of more men-focused publishers a decade ago has made partnerships with dedicated publishers on longer-term campaigns rarer. And brands and publishers are often in the firing line when campaigns come off as tokenism or stereotypical.

“The challenges facing ad-funded businesses are well-documented,” said Wyatt. “If you can champion causes and do what you’re famous for, it brings advertisers to your products. You have a centerpiece to talk to the market.”

Image courtesy of Shortlist Media

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