Using the image of manliness to sell products to men has been around since the dawn of advertising. From Ronald Regan selling cigarettes to Marky Mark selling underwear, there are a host of glossy images associated with masculinity.
As Don Draper illustrates on Mad Men, there’s power in advertising, and a Canadian research team set out to determine just what type of power is being used to sell products to young, impressionable men.
Megan Vokey, a Ph.D. candidate at the University of Manitoba, and colleagues published a study in the journal Sex Roles examining the use of hypermasculinity—an over-the-top portrayal of masculine stereotypes—in magazine advertising.
Hypermasculinity in Advertising
The term “hypermasculinity” first appeared in a 1984 study by Donald Mosher of the University of Connecticut. According to Mosher, is consists of three factors:
- callous sexual attitudes toward women
- the belief that violence is manly
- the experience of danger as exciting
The danger in these stereotypes, the Canadian researchers said, is that they are linked to social and health problems in North America, such as drug use, reckless driving, and domestic violence.
The Canadian research team sifted through eight popular men’s magazines on varying topics directed at different reader groups, from Golf Digest to Game Informer. They looked for advertisements that were directed toward men through their imagery or wording.
The team found that at least one hypermasculinity variable appeared in 56 percent of the 527 advertisements they identified. Some magazines’ advertisements included hypermasculine messages a whopping 90 percent of the time. Publications with the highest rates of hypermasculine ads were aimed at younger men of lower socioeconomic status.
The Effects of Hypermasculinity
The authors of this latest study on hypermasculinity argue that the concentration of advertisements targeted toward young men is “an area of real concern, as they are still learning appropriate gender behaviors, and their beliefs and attitudes can be subtly shaped by images that the mass media repeatedly represent.”
They also said that men with limited social and economic power are more likely to adopt a tough persona and to use violence to gain respect. These kinds of advertisements send a message that these traits are acceptable.
“The widespread depiction of hyper-masculinity in men's magazine advertising may be detrimental to both men and society at large,” the researchers concluded. “Although, theoretically, men as a group can resist the harmful aspects of hyper-masculine images, the effects of such images cannot be escaped completely.”
While the press release announcing the study was entitled, “Aggressive advertising makes for aggressive men,” the study authors fail to demonstrate a cause-and-effect relationship. Further research is required to prove that advertising is driving these hypermasculine ideals, not the men in the audience.
The Truth Isn’t Always in Advertising
Women, of course, are not immune to stereotypes in advertising. Open a copy of Cosmopolitan and you’ll be bombarded with images of Photoshopped beauty queens selling everything from perfume to tampons.
From the Marlboro Man to Dos Equis’ Most Interesting Man in the World, idealistic views of what it means to be a man will be forever present in advertising.
Whether or not we buy into them is another thing entirely.
Here’s one easy way to determine whether an image is a reflection of real life: if someone is trying to sell you something, they’re probably not afraid to distort the truth.