Are we OK with who marketers think we are?

I love Sportsball. The words to follow are written by an irredeemable sports nuffie. Over the last couple of weeks when I’m at home one screen has the Australian Open playing, the other whatever is on Kayo and half the time I’m also reading an article about some team on my phone. I love playing sport but I love consuming it just as much. As I write this the Nets and Lakers are playing on the screen next to me and even though LeBron is trying, the Nets are doing a number on them even without KD in the lineup. In the Lakers defence they are missing Davis…however according to the stats they defend better without him on the floor and they are getting carved anyway so make of that what you will. I think I’ve hammered on enough about the influence sport has in my daily routine. With that said, a number of things I’m seeing, particularly on Kayo, are deeply concerning.

The concerns I have are far less about the sports themselves and more about the advertising we are forced to endure to enjoy all the sports. As I said, I love consuming sports and in the last decade, sports coverage in Australia has had a coming out party with the advent of live streaming. This has meant we can consume anywhere and have access to all markets. The price of admission to all this content is seeing a lot of adverts. That’s fine, it’s how these services pay the bills. Advertising in traditional media has always had a broad brush approach, you are paying for your ad to be seen by a lot of people who will never want or need your stuff but it’s exposure to the biggest captive audience you can find and the benefits outweigh the cost yadda yadda yadda. That is changing with media becoming accessible digitally. Ads are curated and deployed to only segments of the market that the advertiser chooses, to a level not possible in traditional media formats. Marketers can get really granular with how they choose their audience. The upshot of all this is when you have a streaming service playing a particular sport, it becomes easy for marketers to pigeonhole who’s looking at the screen and the ads we get shown reflect that.

One job marketers have then, is to stereotype for profit. Who watches sports? Who watches sports on Kayo? Who watches American sports on Kayo? Who watches NBA on Kayo? Once you figure that out, there’s one question left. Who does this person who watches NBA on Kayo want to be? Once you have the answer to that, you know exactly what to show in your ad which will air during NBA broadcasts on Kayo. This is where I start to have an issue. Not with the process, with the answer to that last question.

There is one particular ad which really galvanised me into writing some words about it, which is from a company called Mosh. For those unaware, Kayo is a streaming service much like Netflix, but plays only sports. From this you might be able to make some fairly broad assumptions about who the main consumer of this service is likely to be. The people behind the Mosh adverts have too. They even paid (presumably) a lot of money to Wayne Carey to do the voice over for it. I guess the ad is working because I can remember the opening lines pretty much verbatim:

“Gidday, Wayne Carey here to talk about the one thing more important than footy: Men’s health.”

My ears pricked up when I heard this line for the first time but I thought what was to follow would likely be about prostate cancer, which I could kind of get behind as a message targeted to men. The ad continues by flashing up pictures of before and after photos on the screen:

“Hair loss. Hair loss. Hair loss. Hair loss.”

The rest of the ad is irrelevant. It tells you to get Mosh and it will help your hair grow back or something. Where to even start with this. Firstly it’s inaccurate. Hair loss is not a men’s health issue, it’s a biproduct of aging in a percentage of the population in both sexes – with the exception of conditions like alopecia areata which again, affects both sexes. Men’s hair loss is simply a matter of men’s vanity.

The second and egregiously backwards and damaging issue is the double headed monster of an idea that somehow only one thing could be more important than footy and that it is specifically MEN’s health. This comment doesn’t belong back in the fifties, it belongs in the bin, but that is more the era from which you would expect it to eschew rather than an ad streamed to millions of screens in 2021.

The reasons for which should be obvious but one of the side effects of being a sports nuffie is having an over attachment to stats and figures. So let’s look at some:

The number one cause of death in Australia is heart disease. 43% of those deaths are due to diabetes. This is accounted for mostly in older populations – not who Mosh is targeting; so what about people in the 25–44 age bracket. This would be the wheelhouse for hair loss in men you would assume. The top cause of death is suicide. The age bracket below, suicide. The age bracket above, heart disease. The 4th most common type of death in the age bracket Mosh cares about is heart disease. The 5th most? Breast cancer. How about this one: On average one woman per week is killed due to domestic violence. 16% of women in Australia have experienced physical domestic violence. These are the statistics we know about. The number is undoubtedly larger. Number of deaths from male pattern baldness: 0.

This ad is telling us that footy is the most important thing and if there was to be anything more important than footy, it would be men feeling a bit bad because their hairline is receding. One woman a week is killed by a man, possibly with a receding hairline, but the only thing more important than footy is hair loss – men’s hair loss. The number one cause of death in the target market for Mosh is suicide, but the only thing more important than footy is hair loss. 1 in 6 women, at the very least, has been physically assaulted by an intimate partner but the most important thing is footy and if there was something more important, it would be the hairline of the man assaulting the woman.

Now people might think I’m overreacting and point out the ad is tongue in cheek or not all men or whatever else they can come up with but this is precisely the problem. It goes back to the original question the marketers had to answer and that is: Who does my audience want to be?
They answered that their audience is someone who does, or should, think that man things are the most important things. Not even men’s health things – the status a full head of hair supposedly bestows. The ad is 100% not tongue in cheek but even if it were, it’s a message we have to strongly denounce. It’s fine to have a product to help men regrow their hair if, for equally problematic reasons, they feel more comfortable in doing so (can it help women regrow their hair too? I have no idea. That’s not as important as a man regrowing his apparently) but the message that Mosh have gone with to sell their product is such utter bullshit that I don’t know how it was even allowed to air.

There are so many societal problems that arise from the off hand ignorance to the downright cruelty of male privilege in this country and this ad is so disheartening because it shows us that the progress we should be making is probably no more than window dressing. The way that Mosh has chosen to sell to its audience shows, brazenly, that men still rule the roost and don’t even try to hide it behind a veneer of equality. That in the hearts of who we believe men are, or want to be, that their concerns are more important. This ad is a champion for men who believe they are superior. It’s cementing the much more common notion in men that ignorant and/or casual sexism is still progress towards equality. It’s an issue of deeply embedded culture and if you don’t see a massive red flag with this sort of commercial that is the problem. To be clear, I have singled out this ad but it is one of many. Mosh isn’t unique in how they answered the question of who their target audience is and who they want to be. As a business they are making the smart financial decision to appeal to the mindset of the person who is most likely to buy their product. Why is blatant sexism the smart financial decision? We need to sit back and ask ourselves if we are OK for that to be OK.

Health especially is still viewed predominantly through the male lens. If I asked you right now to write down three separate companies that helped men regrow their hair I bet you wouldn’t have to think too hard. Now tell me what dysmenorrhea is and how many women it affects. Or endometriosis. Or polycystic ovary syndrome. Was it easier to think of three separate companies who deal with a receding hairline than to know anything about the conditions I listed? If you don’t know, dysmenorrhea is unusually painful period pain which often requires medication and a 2012 study showed it affected up to 25% of all women. Endometriosis is a condition where uterine tissue grows outside the uterus and is incredibly painful and debilitating and affects 10% of women. PCOS is a condition where ovaries become covered in cysts and swollen. Again incredibly painful and affects 7% of women. It’s important to note that as we still have a male first view of health, these chronic conditions are only recently having any attention paid to them and the numbers of females affected is likely to be much higher, especially as many have been told to ‘get over it’ because it’s just cramps. To put it in perspective from the ages of 18–29 16% of males experience hair loss. Is it starting to become clear now? Look at the resources thrown at the almost completely harmless issue of men’s hair loss and compare it to how little you know about extremely common and hugely debilitating conditions women face every day. More women than men face these issues, where is the Mosh ad saying:

“The only thing more important than footy is recognising that half of the population has been criminally neglected when it comes to their health and we want to help change that rather than further embed the idea that any perceived male problem should be the most important focus of the health industry.”

As a side note, a large contributor to the shame associated from hair loss stems from the same toxic masculinity that doesn’t give a rats about women’s health.

This is an issue I am passionate about – now. It hasn’t always been. I have never considered myself a misogynist and I don’t know any males in my life who would. However I was quite ignorant to the depth of the challenges that women face in so many areas of their lives. Men face challenges too but if you think for a second that we don’t live in the land of the privileged then you need to read the last few paragraphs again. Men have and continue to dominate the spotlight and we need to call out all sexism and discrimination, be it as brazen as Wayne and his friends at Mosh or simply a failure to think outside our own bubble.

More importantly it’s time women had a fair share of the spotlight, as much as men and maybe a bit more for awhile until we can find an equilibrium where the ads we see can more better reflect the values we aspire to, regardless of where our hairline sits.

If you didn’t think it was that bad, this is your wakeup call: It’s that bad. It has been forever and we need to pay more attention and stop being dicks. Literally. When we refuse to allow space for the the culture that rewards toxic masculinity and make way for women to continue empowering themselves, everyone wins. It’s not like sports, there doesn’t have to be a winner and a loser (which was the Lakers) – women winning doesn’t mean men losing. When women win, men also win, don’t let anyone tell you different. We need to put companies that try to, like Mosh, where they belong: In the bin.