A Guy Walks Into a Bar…

July 14, 2015

I know, it sounds a bit like a setup to a classic joke, but we are actually very serious about what’s on the mind of the modern man. So serious in fact, that Ketchum held a special event at Ginny’s Supper Club at the Red Rooster, the 1920s-themed Harlem speakeasy owned by world-famous chef and entrepreneur Marcus Samuelsson, to discuss marketing to men in the 21st century. While we were at it, we also had a few delicious cocktails and a few laughs.

“A Guy Walks Into A Bar” was conceived to curate a lively, unscripted conversation with relevant thought-leaders on how marketers should think differently about engaging the 21st century male consumer.

The conversation featured experts with varying backgrounds: Celebrity chef Marcus Samuelsson; Patrick Caulfield, Senior Brand Manager for Jameson Irish Whiskey (and Ketchum client); Evan Orensten, the co-founder of the lifestyle website Cool Hunting; Dave Holmes, Esquire contributor and TV personality; Bill Reihl, Managing Director of Ketchum’s Global Brand Practice; along with yours truly.

As for the conversation itself, it has long been established that men no longer live the prescriptive lifestyles of their fathers and grandfathers. As traditional gender assignments have shifted and strict sexuality stereotypes have blurred, men can now focus on “how” they want to live, versus how they’re “supposed” to live. Men think and act differently and, by extension, their interactions with friends, family and loved ones have shifted.

Ketchum recently conducted research under the banner of the “Language of Men” to understand how men talk about relationships, sex, health, appearance and careers within this new paradigm. Ultimately, as marketers, we not only want to understand the nature of the conversation, but specifically the language that is used, and what better setting than a bar for that assessment? When a guy walks into a bar, what happens? He orders a drink. He chats with friends, bartenders, strangers, etc. It’s this natural conversation that intrigues us. So, with Jameson Whiskey in hand, the six of us set out to create our own conversation before an audience at the bar to understand how brands can insert themselves into the lives of men in a meaningful way.

As is often the case with a conversation centered on brand marketing, the need for authenticity rose to the top. Patrick Caulfield remarked that, “Straying away from your authenticity is damaging for your brand. Don’t go for the quick wins (click to tweet).” This was a clear reference to the fact that companies can abandon their core ideals to embrace fleeting trends that ultimately hurt them in the long run when those trends fade.

The necessity for balance was also a key topic. Men are now expected to wear many hats and don’t want to be labeled. As Bill Reihl remarked, “No guy wants to be referred to as Mr. Mom, yet some brands still make dumb dad ads.” The point is that guys can be nurturing fathers, cook meals, change a tire, earn a living, and all in the same day. We don’t babysit. We’re fathers. We’re husbands. We’re dudes who love talking football, James Bond movies, and crude jokes, but we’ll also ask you where you got those shoes, and often in the same conversation.

Maybe Marcus Samulesson put it best, “Once men entered the kitchen, it became gadget driven. The kitchen became a garage in a way.” In other words, we adapted. We made it our own. We haven’t lost our masculinity because we take pride in our sautéed Mahi-Mahi. We’ve embraced the new definition of manhood. Now it’s time for marketers to embrace it as well.

Clark is a senior vice president/client director in the Retail Sector within Ketchum’s New York office. He has extensive brand marketing experience, with over 25 years in the public relations industry. Clark provides strategic counsel in specialty communications areas including brand-building programs, employee communications and CSR for leading companies and organizations. Clark graduated from C.W. Post with a bachelor of fine arts degree in public relations. He resides in Chappaqua, NY.