The Many Faces of Cannes Man

Written by Bill Reihl, Director of Ketchum’s Global Brand Practice

Ben ReihlPrint@billyreihl


The Cannes Lions Festival is where the world’s top communicators come to share ideas, gather inspiration and compete for awards.  Cannes Lions, like the creatives who are drawn there, is complex and sometimes contradictory.  The hidden depths, nuances, and surprises of the festival and its participants are a big part of what make the festival a success.


There has been much focus in recent years around equality for women in the industry with organizations like the 3% Conference; and many campaigns that aim to improve the lives and portrayal of women and girls have deservedly received awards and accolades for their creativity and impact. Indeed this is the inaugural year of the Glass Lion which recognizes work that addresses issues of gender inequality or prejudice, through the conscious representation of gender in marketing – campaigns that in some way represent a shift towards more positive, progressive and gender-aware communication. The odds makers are also predicting victory and buzz for campaigns like Procter & Gamble’s Always brand #LikeAGirl and Under Armour’s “I Will What I Want” featuring Gisele Bündchen.


So it may seem odd to stop and think about how men are evolving and changing as society advances and whether or not they are portrayed accurately in marketing today.  Are we still using the same old stereotypes for guys and are those messages resonating with the target consumers or are we presenting men as shallow archetypal figures short on complexity and big on classic clichés?


As with women, things are starting to move in the right direction.  Last year the NFL Superbowl was called the Superbowl of “Dadvertising” because of the more evolved portrayals of men in numerous campaigns from brands like Tide showing a dad playing Princess with his daughter (and cleaning her dress) and the Cheerios father setting the example with #HowToDad.  I am hoping to see this trend continue at Cannes and see an evolved and more accurate portrayal of real men in marketing.


In our multi-year “Language of Men” study, we found that while some basic tenants of how the media portray men are still true, the male consumer is a sophisticated animal.  On the Dad side, he is not playing Mr. Mom, he is Dad with a capital D!  For those men without families it’s not all about beer, babes and sports (although those themes are still relevant) modern man has more diverse interests, passions and viewpoints.  He has as many female friends as he does male friends and sometimes he needs emotional support and understanding.  He is not, and does not aspire to be, Alpha Male 24/7/365.


Some of this is driven by how as the gender gap has begun to close, more men have stepped in to take on household duties.  We believe that by 2020 these “new roles” will be normalised and men will no longer be balancing “traditional male roles” versus new ones.  Helping at home, raising children and being emotionally available to friends and family will all be authentic masculine traits. I hope the evolved portrayal of women can act as a lightning rod for a revised portrayal of men.


Ultimately the risk for marketers is that if consumers can’t see themselves in the work they will turn away and ignore our campaigns.  I believe marketers have to think about, not just gender and demographics, but also life stages and today’s psychographics.


The Cannes Lions Festival is a magnet for creatives from around the world because it is multifaceted and a reflection of what is happening in society at large.  Perhaps it’s time for the gentlemen to shine at Cannes too?