Reimagining Masculinity: How Three Iconic Brands Are Shaping the Modern Male Identity in Advertising

vintage safety razor

The winds of change are blowing through the world of men’s grooming

The winds of change are blowing through the world of men’s grooming. Iconic brands long known for celebrating stereotypical machismo are softening their edges and expanding ideas of what it means to be a man. This seismic shift mirrors wider societal redefinitions of masculinity unfolding in the cultural consciousness.

In this post, we’ll see how three giants in the shaving aisle – Gillette, Axe/Lynx and Old Spice – are reimagining manliness through branding and advertisements. We’ll explore provocative campaigns, humorous repositionings and controversial calls for men to step up.

The portrayals cut across a spectrum – from progressive to nostalgic traditionalism. But they share a common thread – speaking to men with messages aligned to fit modern mores while retaining fierce loyalists.

Join us as we traverse the landscape of evolving masculinity through the lens of brands etching themselves into the annals of marketing history. We’ll glimpse windows into societal change while understanding how iconic companies preserve heritage amidst the winds of progress.

Gillette – Harnessing Tradition While Embracing Change

Gillette’s iconic brand image evokes a masculine ideal rooted in tradition – the clean-shaven man’s man, forging his destiny through perseverance and grit. This powerful, authoritative persona has served the company well over its 100+ year history, cementing Gillette as a household name.

Yet in recent years, the brand has warily dipped its toe into modern redefinitions of manhood.

In 2019, Gillette made an unprecedented move by launching a campaign addressing societal issues rather than touting product innovations. The controversial “The Best Men Can Be” ads tackled toxic masculinity head-on, calling on men to hold each other accountable.

This sharp change of direction from Gillette’s historically consistent branding sparked backlash among some loyalists. However, it also demonstrated a willingness to evolve with shifting cultural norms surrounding manliness.

While retaining its core equities of quality and precision, Gillette showed that a traditionally masculine brand could adapt its voice to align with contemporary conversations. The company took a stand aligned to its tagline, implying that “The Best a Man Can Get” means more than the perfect shave.

Rather than a wholesale reimagining, Gillette managed to harness existing brand equity while expanding the conception of its archetypal male customer. In doing so, the brand straddled the line between timeless appeal and modern sensibilities.

Axe/Lynx – Championing the Multifaceted Modern Man

Axe, known as Lynx abroad, built its brand in the 2000s on a singular vision of idealized masculinity – the nerdy nice guy who wins over gorgeous women thanks to the magic of deodorant. This humorous “Axe effect” campaign cemented the brand as a rite of passage for teenage boys.

However, in recent years Axe realized that in order to stay relevant, its messaging required an update. Societal views on manhood were shifting, and Axe’s base of young male customers was aging into new life stages.

After considering these cultural and demographic factors, Axe embarked on a brand evolution centered around empowering men to embrace their unique selves. The former notion of a one-size-fits all masculine fantasy gave way to a celebration of multiplicity.

This new brand purpose coalesced around Axe’s “Find Your Magic” campaign in 2016. Gone were the days of chasing unattainable male stereotypes; now Axe encouraged men to define themselves on their own terms. No matter one’s looks, background or orientation, Axe affirmed that “inside every man there is a kind of magic…when he finds it, he becomes the best version of himself.”

Rather than selling a product, Axe sells an idea – that masculine confidence stems not from conformity, but from self-knowledge and acceptance. This shift expanded their strategic audience while better resonating with modern cultural sentiments.

By evolving from stereotype to individuality, from exterior to interior, and from joke to purpose, Axe found an empowering new definition of manliness. In the process, they’ve aligned their brand with the complex reality of modern men.

Old Spice: Rejuvenating Masculinity with Wit and Wisdom

Old Spice exemplifies a delicate balance between tradition and modernity in redefining masculine branding. Once regarded as a legacy name for aging gentlemen, Old Spice engineered an ingenious brand repositioning centered around “funny confidence” that made them relevant to younger audiences without alienating their mature base.

The transformation began in 2008 with identifying an opportunity for growth: while Old Spice evoked nostalgia and wisdom, it lacked relevance among men under 45. By reinventing their persona around confidence and humor while retaining notes of classic manliness, Old Spice created intergenerational appeal.

The breakout 2010 “The Man Your Man Could Smell Like” ads actualized this strategy to perfection. Blending tongue-in-cheek swagger with physical feats parodying male bravado, Old Spice reshaped antiquated perceptions into contemporary charm. The campaign was viral gold, rocketing Old Spice into pop culture prominence.

Occasional female-focused ads acknowledge a commercial reality: women buy personal care items for their husbands and sons. These communications court not just loyal customers, but powerful purchasing influencers.

By leveraging heritage as an asset instead of liability, Old Spice renewed their image. Their recipe – equal parts tradition, humor, inclusiveness and understanding – allowed Old Spice to redefine masculinity on modern terms without alienating longtime devotees. The result is a masterclass in skillfully evolving iconic branding.

Redefining Masculinity: Progress, Backlash and the Road Ahead

As Gillette, Axe and Old Spice reshape masculine branding, their influence stretches beyond selling products into shaping societal attitudes. By challenging stereotypes and embracing inclusive diversity, these brands further the cause of empathy and equality.

However, change inevitable meets resistance. Gillette’s “The Best Men Can Be” ads tackling toxic masculinity, though well-intentioned, angered many feeling unfairly maligned. Axe’s LGBTQ-friendly ads also received criticism for abandoning its core hetero male audience.

Navigating societal evolution is fraught with obstacles:

  • Brands must weigh business impacts vs moral imperative when pushing boundaries
  • Campaigns seen as inauthentic virtue signaling risk credibility
  • Innovation always has critics; backlash doesn’t necessarily signal failure
  • Progress happens gradually; change minds before changing messaging

The path forward lies in sincerity, nuance and understanding differing perspectives. Brands promoting inclusive masculinity must:

  • Champion diversity with genuineness, not judgement
  • Spotlight positive examples instead of shaming negatives
  • Celebrate masculinity’s strengths while expanding narrow definitions
  • Anticipate controversy; have conviction to stand by purpose

By leading with empathy, brands can accelerate progress with society instead of against it. Gillette, Axe and Old Spice’s efforts show promise in reshaping masculine perceptions, but their greatest victories have yet to come. Brands willing to navigate tension between tradition and inclusion with care, courage and compassion can shift culture for the better.

Beyond Stereotypes: Brands Redefining Modern Masculinity

The old alpha male archetype no longer defines today’s man. From self-care to gender fluidity, what it means to “be a man” has evolved. And brands are taking notice.

Once peddling machismo, Gillette, Axe and Old Spice now celebrate masculinity’s diversity. Their ads spotlight positive examples – the caring father, the supportive friend, the proudly gay teenager. Where outdated notions once narrowly confined men, brands now champion empathy, vulnerability and unconditional self-acceptance.

Progress inevitably meets backlash. But avoiding controversy means endorsing status quo. By boldly confronting issues like bullying and homophobia, brands shape attitudes and behaviors on a societal level.

Still, change takes time. While some may criticize these companies for abandoning tradition, their continued evolution shows commitment to reflect modern consumers. As gender norms become more inclusive, brands embracing fluid definitions of masculinity stand to benefit.

And their influence extends beyond business, empowering men to embrace their full humanity. By spotlighting diversity within masculinity, redefining strength to include compassion and leading with sincerity over judgement, brands move culture forward through inspiration rather than accusation.

Of course, more work remains. But the examples of Gillette, Axe and Old Spice prove companies can accelerate progress when they match society’s pace – listening to consumers while leading towards positive change. Brands daring to redefine masculinity with care and courage can inspire others to do the same, creating ripples of impact well beyond advertising.

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