Talking about talking; brands, bravado and positive male mental health messaging

Published by Shots, July 2022

Our Director of Innovation Martin Jordan, argues that brands need to stay the course as men continue to walk the post-Covid tightrope of loneliness and depression.

Mental health awareness

Recent times more than any other historically taboo area witnessing liberation in recent times is that surrounding male mental health.


With loneliness and depression spiking as a serious side effect of Covid, governments, brands and health professionals were all encouraging us to be aware of our mental health and talk about depression, loneliness, sadness, anger and so on - with a specific focus on the male population.

"Encouraging men to talk about their mental health is critical, and branding and promotion will go a long way to normalising male mental health."

Changing times


When you consider three times as many men as women die by suicide, with the 40-49 age bracket being the highest in the UK, it is a sobering topic and a taboo that must be overcome.


Encouraging men to talk about their mental health is critical, and reinforcing positive message in advertising, branding and promotion will go a long way to normalise male mental health conversation.


Thankfully the tide is turning and brands of all kinds are stepping up and brokering the conversation.

Nivea's recent advert campaign aimed to tackle male loneliness.


Earliest adopters

The UK's most popular male-oriented TV channel, Dave, has been one of the early adopters. Since 2018, tune in and you will often find spots promoting CALM (Campaign Against Living Miserably) woven into their programming, as well as content on their website and social media.

"At one time a flag flyer for toxic masculinity, chauvinism and misogyny, Lynx has recognised its place in modern society."

Tackling the taboo

More brands (especially those with a male-oriented audience) are using a bit of 'borrowed interest' in male mental health atop their promotional efforts.


Whilst occasionally trite and somewhat unrelated to the brand, it is encouraging to see the taboo of mental health, especially male depression, loneliness and suicide, being tackled by established brands.


Nivea can be commended for their recent Never Alone campaign, in which they partnered with Liverpool FC to target male loneliness.

Normalising the conversation

A special mention must go out to Unilever's Lynx. At one time a flag-flyer for toxic masculinity, chauvinism and misogyny, Lynx has recognised its place in modern society and moved to use far more real-world male actors and models in their advertisements.


Reflecting more positives body types and eschewing the ripped, muscular and tanned bodies of the past, Lynx will be going a long way to make teen males have better self worth than they have done so in the past.


Regardless of their motives, it can only help to normalise the conversation, even if many of these brands may have historically played up to the male bravado stereotypes that perhaps caused the taboo to deepen in the first place.

Lynx has eschewed their previous approach to advertising to be more inclusive and reflective of the real world.


Social platforms

The role of digital in mental health is well documented. Social platforms like Tik Tok and Instagram are increasingly under the spotlight for promoting content based on looks, deprecating those who don't 'fit', and creating a culture of perfectionism.


In a recent BBC News article it was noted that The Vamps' lead guitarist, James Brittain-Mcvey, has told MPs that pressure [from social media] to conform led him to have liposuction to remove breast tissue, aged just 20.

"Talking about mental health has never been more normalised, but brands and digital platforms need to stay the course"

Positive link

Social platforms are clearly beginning to recognise the damage they cause. However, their efforts to help have been weak at best.


In a blink-and-you'll-miss-it campaign called #HereForYou, Instagram ran a one-minute campaign attempting to forge a positive link between social and mental health.


This argument does hold true, in part. Digital can also be the bastion of male mental health. It can be a place to connect, meet your own 'tribe', erase stereotypes, and bring confidence and togetherness.

Escaping the noise


But there must be positive forces at work to drive better content to the audience and educate the young about where to find reassurance and escape the noise.  


Brands have a role to play in the content they publish, where they can be found, the images they present and the messages they share. After that, it's down to digital platforms leaders to ensure their platforms are engineered for social good first and profit second.


If we are to read more about male depression and suicide because of social media, we will likely see legislation step in where the platforms have failed.

Moving forward

As we enter a post-Covid world, talking about mental health has never been more normalised, but brands and digital platforms need to stay on the course.


Men of all ages need positive role models, believable messaging and, above all platforms where they feel they can be authentic without being judged.


Let's keep toxic masculinity out of advertising and let's not build platforms that put revenue before their user's own wellbeing. Let's go forwards together.

This article was originally published by Shots, July 2022.

Read more