#FoM18 blew my mind. We all know that there’s good marketing and there’s bad. But I left the conference pondering the gulf of distance between marketers and their customers. Such a disconnect gives fuel to outdated, ineffective and frankly tiringly stereotypical marketing. But it’s not just the mediocrity or even sometimes offensiveness of this poor show that blows my mind. It’s the sheer scale of the missed opportunities to serve major pockets of society and to tap into significant revenue sources.

Here are four things I learned at the conference:


I first heard at the event from Harry’s, a shaving company, that “makes products for all men, thoughtfully.”

Harry’s donates 1% of sales to charitable causes that promote positive masculinity. In the UK, they have a partnership with the Campaign Against Living Miserably (CALM)– a charity dedicated to preventing male suicide, which is the biggest killer of men under 45 in the UK.

In the US they’ve disrupted the market and – alongside Dollar Shave Club – are eating into Gillette’s market share. They felt that the old school ‘best a man can get’ image of masculinity doesn’t serve men. They’ve subverted how razors are designed, sold and marketed. So, when it came to launch in the UK they wanted to find out what it means to be a man here.

Their large quant study found that the definition of masculinity is expanding and is complex. They found that men want to be:

  • Bold and nurturing
  • Powerful and sensitive
  • Self-assured and open

And they found a major disconnect between the realities of masculinity and how marketing portrays men. Their Masculinity Report found that stability and committed relationships were clear indicators of positive mindsets for men and that the least happy group was young single men. Yet advertising ridicules the happy, settled man and – particularly in male grooming – advertising peddles the myth of the buff macho single man winning at life.

Subverting this tired stereotype has helped them get cut through, but it’s not disruption for disruption’s sake. Harry’s has a purpose, they’ve understood ‘their guy’ and have built their business around him. Focusing on deep customer understanding has revealed new approaches to product and marketing development, which has driven their success.

The insight also drove an excellent creative campaign: their short film ‘A Man Like You’won them a Cannes Lions.


Next, I popped into a panel discussion on ageism in advertising and unconscious biases in marketing hosted by Gransnet. They kicked off the session by talking us through a survey they’d completed with 1,000 Gransnet members. The results were astonishing.

78% felt they were mis- or under-represented in advertising. Participants referred to two tired stereotypes that get trotted out: either the worried old crone or the unrealistically happy, rich and glamorous cruise ship guest – neither of which they related to. Being ignored by brands in this way has led to them feeling invisible, depressed disheartened and angry.

62% feel they are ignored because advertisers are too young to understand their market.

And 49% actively avoid brands who ignore them. They won’t buy your products.

This is clearly crazy – as the other panel members pointed out. This demographic is cash and time rich, often mortgage free and yet not targeted. They’re in the market for fashion, beauty, technology, entertainment products and yet they are passed by. Brands don’t understand them, don’t represent them and are missing out on seriously untapped potential. To quote panellist Tanya Joseph from Nationwide “If you’re a luxury car manufacturer, it’s not 22-year olds buying your car!”

Advertising – clients and agencies – is hooked on portraying deeply flawed and unrealistic ‘aspirational’ stereotypes. It’s serving no-one. So, I think it’s time to redefine what aspirational looks like.


I was thankful to head into Marketing Week columnist, marketing MBA tutor and author Helen Edwards’ session on loyalty after this. My blood was boiling and a spot of marketing theory was just what I needed to calm down a bit.

Helen’s point was that we need to be much more precise in our definitions when we’re talking about loyalty. She talked about different academic models of loyalty and what they look like in the wild. And warned against conflating the frequency of purchase with brand loyalty. It was clear, educational and just what I needed for the red mist to subside. I’m not doing her session justice here but you can read into her work yourself (here and here) – and follow her on Twitter as she’ll announce the final results of her current research study on this when it’s published.

But I will share her list of the three factors that drive better customer loyalty:

  1. Build a better product
  2. Over-service the customer
  3. Appeal to the customer’s sense of idealised self

For a shortcut to someone’s sense of idealised self, look at Instagram said Helen Edwards. I’m going to let the pictures above do the talking: Albamora anti-ageing cream vs Suzi Grant at Alternative Ageing.


For me, the theme that dominated Festival of Marketing, was the profligate and pernicious disconnect between marketers and their customers. Falling back on well-used tropes is not creative marketing – it’s relying on inertia, it’s driven by cowardice and it’s ineffective. And it will be increasingly so. There is SO MUCH OPPORTUNITY for innovation around product and marketing design, customer experience, loyalty and ultimately REVENUE if we only get close to the customers we serve and seek to understand them.

As the final headliner of the day, Louis Theroux left us with one piece of advice: “It’s about connection. The more we get separated in society the more refreshing and redemptive it is to connect.”

This is a repost from the Decidedly blog.

Postscript – At first glance the screen shot I took from Gillette’s ad is all about men being the best. But I did the brand a disservice here as the campaign in fact does reflect a more nuanced version of masculinity. This piece from AdAge reflects on a range of male-grooming product ad campaigns – and is worth a read.”