It may have started with an appeal to the “hipster” guy, but marketing to men is big business. And smart brands are using packaging that speaks men’s language.
Want to get a man’s attention? Combine action and visuals. Allude to competition and victory. Include a touch of sex, but keep it smart. And throw in a little humor.
When brand marketers reach out to women, they typically use packaging that connotes something soft, soothing and comfortable. But images that invoke sex, gadgets or allusions to freedom are more likely to appeal to men.
Call it nature or nurture, men’s brains tend to react to certain cues. Play on those themes and you’re using what experts call social shorthand—an insider’s handshake—to sell your product.
“There are codes in the marketplace,” says Dan Hill, president of Sensory Logic Inc., a St. Paul-based emotional research consulting firm. “You might be able to push the envelope a little bit. But you make more money if you speak the code.”
In today’s fragmented media environment, where consumers fast-forward past commercials and other traditional marketing vehicles, brands are increasingly focusing on packaging to “deliver” that code.
“The notion that we can use packaging and points-of-sale as surrogates is a powerful idea,” says Ira Matathia, development and integrated strategy director in the New York office of Taxi Inc., a Toronto-based advertising and design firm.
You wouldn’t think flax seed oil could have a gender. But Barlean’s Organic Oils, a maker of essential fatty acid products, includes gender-specific formulas in its line.
The ingredients are different and the language on labels “is benefit-driven,” says Andreas Koch, marketing director for the Washington state-based company. But the men’s formula addresses male concerns, among them: sexual and heart health; athletic performance; fat metabolism and lean muscle mass. “It’s really hitting the things guys look after,” he says.
When it comes to words, marketers need to think bigger, faster, better, advises Hill. “Guys like to deal with superlatives and competition.”
Want to reach men quickly? Think in terms of iconic images, like the hero, the celebrity or a sports figure, says Michael Gurian, co-founder of The Gurian Institute, a facility in Spokane, Wash., that trains businesses on male/female brain differences.
And go for visuals over verbiage. “One phrase, maybe two is enough,” he says. “Men trust actions more than words.”
John Gray, author of Men are from Mars, Women are From Venus, the classic guide to communication between the sexes, suggests the use of facts, figures, logic and charts, and photos that depict action. “It’s something that appeals to the male brain,” he says. “Men are way more visual than women.”
Anthony Sosnick, founder of Anthony Logistics for Men, a New York-based skin care company, agrees. Sosnick chose red packaging for his Anthony Sport For Men product line extension, which debuted in March. “It really pops on the shelf, really attracts men,” he says.
So does success. For men, the attention of a woman is a sign of achievement. So if you want to get a guy’s attention, include a woman along with the man in your visuals. “Ironically, it’s not the man but the woman being happy with the man” that is effective, says Gray.
And, if she’s showing a little skin, that makes him appear more successful. The reason? Gray says, “The more successful a man, the more he is able to woo women, who are then willing to show more skin.”
With men, it pays to be simple and direct.
While Aveda skin care offers a men’s line, many of the brand’s standard products appeal to both men and women. Two years ago, the company launched a straightforward approach to reach the guys. Shops and salons “set aside a place in the store for men,” says Chris Hacker, senior vice president of marketing and design for the Minneapolis-based company. The areas featured shelves of products from the men’s line, along with some items from the standard line. Across the top was a picture of a smiling guy and one word: Men.
“Our research showed that it made men more comfortable coming into the store,” Hacker says.
In addition, “the shelf talkers were written in a slightly different way,” he explains. “More informational, more direct.” Across the store, the same products in the same packaging were pitched to women “in a more experiential, more feeling way than we wrote them for men.”
Guys need to know ‘this is for a man’, says Paco Underhill, author of Why We Buy: The Science of Shopping. “Men want a clear, unequivocal statement that this is marketed to them.”
Keep choices simple, too
Barlean’s Omega Man, comes in a 12-ounce liquid or a 120-capsule bottle, while the brand’s Essential Woman product is available in 8-, 12- and 16-ounce liquid or 60- and 120- capsule bottles.
A guy says “give me liquid or give me capsules,” says Koch. “It comes down to that.”
And never underestimate the value of humor with men. “Marketers know they can go right to the heart by using humor,” says Gurian. “It cuts across any hierarchy and can be a very powerful shorthand to talk to customers.”
For example, Anthony Logistics For Men uses an objective and strategy on each label as a one-two punch to catch the buyer’s attention. The objective on one moisturizing shampoo: ‘hair so rich it’ll pay for dinner’.
It’s an effective label, Sosnick says, because it includes “a little bit of an edge.”
The strategy line names a handful of key ingredients with a word or two about what each accomplishes. “It’s simple, yet informative,” Sosnick says. “Too little text: that won’t be effective,” he says. “Men want to feel smart about their purchases. Too much: they’ll become overwhelmed.”
Is it manly?
Sometimes men use or want to use a product, but they don’t feel comfortable with its traditional, feminine connotations. So smart marketers are changing the presentation.
One example: Pepsi One. The drink contains one calorie, but “the word diet is nowhere to be found,” says Dave DeCecco, director of public relations for Pepsi-Cola North America. “And that’s intentional.”
“More men are drinking diet soda drinks than ever,” he says. “But a lot of them are hung up or bothered by the traditional diet soft drink imagery.”
“Taking the word ‘diet’ out can eliminate those concerns,” he says.
The second part of Pepsi’s plan: man-friendly colors. The new package, redesigned when the company changed the formula and re-launched in March, is black with silver and white stripes.
The colors serve “to give it a more masculine and less diet look,” and make it stand out on the shelf, says DeCecco.
From the Oakland Raiders to the San Antonio Spurs, “there’s no question those are very appealing colors to men,” he says.
Image and perception are important, says author Paco Underhill, also founder of Envirosell, a New York-based behavioral research and consulting firm. Key to the male buyer: “What does someone think of me” when they see the item in my cart?
Experts say manufacturers should also allow for cross-over female buyers. “There are no absolutes,” says DeCecco. “But it’s more likely that a female will buy a male-targeted product than a male will buy a female-targeted product.”
Which crayons are in his box?
Pepsi recognized that in its revamp of Pepsi One: Color catches a man’s attention. Though manufacturers, marketers and social scientists are still debating which colors are most effective. The one point of agreement: not pink.
“Stay away from all the stuff that could possibly be called ‘girlie,’” says Underhill. That includes lavender, purple and pink.
“Women see more colors than men do,” says Gray. “And they are much more aware of how colors harmonize.”
Hill agrees. “Women have a much richer vocabulary for discussing color,” he says. “I often joke that guys have the 24-crayon box when it comes to discussing color and women have the 64-crayon box.”
Some of the more popular choices for men: brights like red, orange, blue and yellow and basics like black, white and silver. Some companies also like neutrals or earth tones—shades of beige, forest green and brown.
But not everyone agrees that men are more basic when it comes to their appreciation of color. “There can be sophistication,” says Hacker. “Just not bordering on pastels.”
For many manufacturers and marketers, color is a strategy to reinforce simplicity or effectiveness.
When Barlean’s recently redesigned the labels for its entire line of organic flax seed oils, it selected green for Omega Man because “we wanted something fresh,” says Koch. “Green was a standard fresh color, which has to do with our industry.”
“Color choice is about not only what is male, but control of the section,” says Underhill. “It has to stand out, and it has to stand out contextually.”
Anthony Logistics uses color and design to cultivate an almost clinical appearance. Also important: the packaging allows customers to see the product.
“It’s a great shelf display, and men want to see what’s inside,” he says. And since colors reflect the ingredients (for example, green for eucalyptus-mint), “it lends credibility to the product.”
Atypical product sizes can also grab a guy’s attention. Sosnick believed the Anthony Logistics 8-ounce shampoo bottle was getting lost in a sea of similar-sized products. His people pumped it up to 12 ounces without raising the price. “And the sales have increased significantly,” he says.
Shape is another hook. Men tend to be fascinated with the way objects move across three dimensions—think aerodynamic or technical—hence the appeal of things like high-performance cars, says Gurian.
“Men prefer gadgets,” says Cameron Jones, director of packaging for Unilever, the maker of Degree for Men.
But when it comes to men, most manufacturers are missing “potentially the biggest opportunity: package ergonomics,” says Taxi Inc.’s Matathia. “Literally, how it sits in the male hand” can help sell it, he says.
Sosnick uses shave cream tubes that are “extra wide, extra big,” he says. “It fits a man’s hand and feels like a very masculine product.”
The focus widens
Many marketers, especially in the personal products arena, initially approached the concept of marketing to men by focusing their efforts on metrosexuals—hip urbanites familiar with grooming and the finer things (see BRANDPACKAGING, May 2004). Today, though, companies are reaching out to a wider spectrum of men.
“I think that by categorizing [men] too narrowly, we miss a lot of people,” says Aveda’s Hacker. The current approach is similar to what also works with women: multiple interests, multiple approaches.
Sosnick’s “typical” customer can be anybody. “It’s a mix of blue collar and white collar, he says. “Some guys who work with their hands are looking for great hand cream. Some guys who are mechanics are looking for good face cream to get the grease off.”
Metrosexuals and so-called NASCAR males are “both coming into the same store looking for the same product,” he says. “They may be using them for different reasons. We see customers from all across the board.”
Men are diverse, and the marketplace is beginning to reflect that. “I think what’s going on is less about a single focus and more about multiple focus,” says Hacker.
Keeping it real
Staying true to the product, though, even while refining the approach to reach men, “is critical,” says Hacker.
Aveda has built its reputation on eco-friendly ideals. So green remains the first priority, whether selling to men or women, he says.
Packaging for men is not plug-and-play. “You need to understand your consumer, your brand and the category as a whole,” says Unilever’s Jones.
One manufacturer doing just that is Kelty. A leading outdoor equipment maker based in Colorado, the company has a customer base that’s 80 percent male, according to marketing manager Ann Obenchain. When it started producing diaper bags, baby carriers and strollers, the company “was already bringing a lot of outdoor design sensibility to the [product] itself,” she says. So the packaging echoes that approach.
Kelty packaging shows the product in an outdoor setting, and labels highlight a variety of features, some of which appeal to men.
So how do you sell a baby carrier to a guy? By touting its “easy-to-adjust suspension system,” and features like “weather protection,” and “convenient storage for GPS and cell phones.”
“It reaches out to the male because we’ve found that, with backpacks, [their] number one reason for purchasing is convenience or durability,” says Obenchain.
It’s all about finding out what the buyer wants and showing you’ve got it. “At the end of the day,” says Matathia, “we’re all looking to find ways to engage and involve people in our brands.” BP
The August issue of Packaging Strategies reveals our annual Top 100 Food and Beverage Packaging Companies and the trends that have come up during the year. Also in these pages, you will find feature articles on a toy packaging trend that’s a big hit, color management, an adhesive solution that left a frozen foods processor chilled out, how flexographic printers can help with sustainability, produce packaging trends, and more.