Ad and marketing creatives

Brand Man-agement

Have you heard? This economic slump we're in isn't just a recession: it's a mancession — a downturn that hurts men more than women. The term has been popularized by a University of Michigan economics and finance professor, Mark J. Perry, whose Carpe Diem blog employs lots of charts and graphs to drive home the point that male workers are taking it on the chin.

That's bad news. But it turns out there's one sector men in which men are doing just dandy. I refer, of course, to the market in man-words and man-brands.

There was a time, not all that long ago, when a phenomenon that affected mostly men, or a product marketed to men, would be considered the norm and hardly worth calling out (or "marking," as linguists say). It was an era in which "he" was the gender-neutral pronoun (as in "Everyone spoke his mind") and ad men were men. Men who could tell their troops, as advertising pioneer David Ogilvie famously did, "The customer isn't an idiot. She is your wife."

Have times changed? Sort of. Men still run most of the ad agencies. But now the customer isn't your wife — he's your bud, your bro, or even your man-crush.

Consider manscaping, which Urban Dictionary's contributors define as "the grooming of male body hair." (Sometimes a specific body region is referenced.) The term first reached public ears in 2003 via the (since canceled) cable TV show Queer Eye for the Straight Guy. By the spring of 2009, the concept was familiar enough that the personal-care brand Gillette could launch a series of videos about "beyond-the-face" shaving — "or what some folks call 'manscaping'," as several newspaper reports helpfully added. (Want to take manscaping to the limit? Try the manzilian. If you dare.)

Like manscaping, many man-words and man-brands attempt to masculinize activities and products usually marketed to women. The earliest example may be the manbag — a purse used by men — which first appeared in print in 1968 in, of all places, the Newark (Ohio) Advocate and American Tribune. "The manbag is a natural progression in the men's wear revolution that started a short time ago with turtlenecks," the paper informed its readers. (Turtlenecks!) The manbag (or murse) never became as ubiquitous as those Midwestern metrosexuals may have wished, but it never went away, either. Its survival may have been aided by the robustly male Chewbacca, who carried one in Star Wars. In any event, it exerted a linguistic pull on many other products formerly under the sway of the feminine mystique.

For example, the New York Times T lifestyle magazine, which debuted in 2004, until recently included a section called "The Mantry," a blend of "man" and "pantry" defined as "a manly approach to the culinary arts." Mansoap from Virgil's Fine Soaps, declares: "We want to smell fresh for the ladies, but we don't want to smell like a flower." MANdles and Manterns — two distinct brands — assert the masculinity of candles, considered by some people (not you, of course) to be girly purchases. Manterns have "unique manly scents" such as Bacon, Beer, and Sawdust, while the aromas of MANdles ("Candles on Testosterone") are even more explicit: Stogie, Skunk, Auto Shop, Swimsuit Model, and Vampire Repellent (garlic), among others.

Some man-brands cross over and appeal to "the ladies." In 2007 Gillette introduced the Venus Breeze ManQuarium, a game that invites women to "create the perfect guy" — an aquarium-dwelling cartoon figure who showers you with water-themed compliments. ("If I had a sand dollar for every time I thought of you, I'd be a millionaire!")

But the crossover is more likely to go in the opposite direction. In the summer of 2008 Britain's Superdrug chain introduced Taxi Man, a cosmetics brand for men. Its most prominent products: Guy-liner and Manscara. "These days you can be macho and wear make-up," Superdrug's director of trading, Jeff Wemyss, told the Daily Mail. (As far as I can tell, "Wemyss" is his real surname and not a sly comment on the products.)

Why the boom market in man-words and man-brands? "[M]ost man words are coined to describe men behaving like women, or at least stereotypical women," wrote fellow VT contributor Mark Peters in a March 2008 column in the Boston Globe. "Men aren't supposed to worry about cancer, receive alimony, or get Brazilian waxes, so manogram, manimony, and manzilian are created. In those cases, the prefix is easily translated to 'Whoa, dude, this man is not acting like a man.'"

Or maybe "Hey, bro, let's not take ourselves so seriously." Back in the 1990s, TV's Seinfeld advanced the cause of man-fashion with the man-fur (worn by Elaine's boyfriend David Puddy) and the memorable mansierre, the bra invented by George Costanza's father to support men with, well, man-boobs. The mankini — a lime-green suspender-thong — worn by Borat in the eponymous 2006 movie spoofed not only stereotypical European swim attire but also the whole ?kini clan (bikini, tankini, monokini, trikini). The mankini was fictional,  mostly (check Amazon for the $13.99 costume version), but mantyhose are quite real. Read all about them at e-MANcipate, whose goal is "to mainstream pantyhose for men."You may want to take along a pair or two on your next mancation — a term first heard in another 2006 film, The Breakup, and soon thereafter appropriated by a website (Mancation!) that offered all-guy getaways. The sorts of vacations where a dude can wear mandals — man-sandals — and his buddies won't snicker.

And if they do, he can just buy them a round of Mansinthe, the Swiss-produced absinthe with the highly effective 66.6% alcohol content. It's not technically a man-brand: the "Man-" prefix comes from the surname of the theatrically outrageous rock musician Marilyn Manson (né Brian Hugh Warner in Canton, Ohio). But it's the kind of quaff a guy can toss back with his man-friends on a man-date without breaking a single Man Law.

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Nancy Friedman is the chief wordworker at verbal-branding consultancy Wordworking, and the author of a fine blog on naming, branding and more called Fritinancy. Nancy has named a venture-capital firm, a laser hair-removal device, a mobile-money service, and many other companies and products. A former journalist, she still writes or ghostwrites articles, speeches, white papers, and books. Click here to read more articles by Nancy Friedman.