Gray, Black and Blue All Over: A Stroll Through the Land of Man Brands

By Maryann Mitkowski

February 12, 2014


Gender roles are changing, and marketers aren’t far behind with a range of man brands. Over the past five years, there’s been study after study showing that men are taking over more traditionally female roles. Nielsen noted back in 2009 that nearly a third of men now do most of the household shopping, and the Mintel Group found that a third of modern men pick up a scrub brush and handle the bulk of cleaning chores.

When all these men head to the store, they find plenty of manly branding staring back at them. Everyone from Hamburger Helper and Tide to Dove are trying to turn male heads with their masculine looks. It’s a smart move, but we’re starting to notice a common playbook for these manly products: Big strong man wants dark package, bold type. The “approved” man color palette seems to include black, gray, and dark blue. And not a whole lot more.



Let’s start our tour of man brands with Dove Men+Care. They’re largely sticking with the approved palette (black, check; blue, check; grey, check) and bold all-caps type to man up that cute little dove.


To counteract yogurt’s girly rep, Powerful Yogurt adopts black as its signature color along with a tough-looking bull icon and the manly adjective “powerful.”


Powerful Yogurt totes a tagline type treatment that would make any engine, power saw or ride-on mower proud.


Not one to be left out, Tide Plus Febreze Sport appeals to men with an NFL partnership and a healthy dose of black on the caps and labels.


Even regular Tide Sport featuring a woman includes a manly black cap (“TACKLES TOUGH ODORS,” naturally) and label stripe.


They’ve ventured beyond black, but not too far. Vaseline bottles look like a row of navy-blue suits ready to march into a conference room, plus a few small pops of color to help grab the eyes of shoppers.


Nivea Men takes a leap with their Energy line, using silvery-steel cans and a zing of electric yellow. But tech-inspired graphic shapes and a deep blue logo keep them tethered solidly in man-land.


We’re hoping men have sharp eyesight. They’re going to need it to distinguish between some drugstore lines targeted to them.


As this Bloomberg Businessweek article notes, General Mills discovered that more young men buy and love Hamburger Helper, and a new black band across the package hopes to win over even more men at shelf. The re-design also adds the word “Ultimate” and removes the Betty Crocker logo.


With a bright orange color and a clever tie graphic on one bottle, L’Oreal Men Expert breaks the man-brand mold. But L’Oreal hedges its bets with a Men Expert “PURE POWER” line prominently featuring … you guessed it, black.


Even upscale department store brands like Clinique seem to adhere to the man-brand code and color palette.

As man brands continue to evolve, we marketers might reconsider our decision making process around gender. Perhaps we appeal to our audience by honoring their hard work—and complex roles—by moving beyond visual generalizations to create brands that appeal to them on an emotional level. It’s a lofty goal we can only accomplish by digging for real consumer insights instead of relying on instinct. A little color wouldn’t hurt, either.

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