Last Updated: December 5, 2020

The men’s apparel business is expected to generate $402 billion in 2014. That’s not from the careless purchase of boxer shorts and sweat pants. Everything from designer jeans to business suits and sportswear are flying off shelves all over the world, and the competition for clothing makers is stiff.

A successful men’s clothing company has to build a strong brand that captures the attention of men who want their clothes to project a particular lifestyle. The difference between a successful design and just another off-label shirt on the rack is a company that knows what its customers want to be and how to convince them their clothes will help.

Selling a lifestyle through men’s apparel advertising requires an understanding of who the customer is and what he wants. This is where the science of psychology is vital to good marketing. Talking to people from the target demographic, gathering data about their behavior, and using that information to make more effective advertising can help marketers connect with their customers on a deeper level than simply raising awareness about a product.

The Psychology of Marketing Men's Apparel

Brand and CommercialExplanation of AdvertisementPsychological Response Elicited
“Pulling Up the City”A young man in a plain-looking apartment pulls on a pair of Levi’s 501 jeans and the colorful, exciting city at street-level bursts through his floor, including an attractive woman in a phone booth.Excitement: When the man in the commercial puts on his pair of Levi’s jeans, he is instantly transported to a bustling environment full of possibility. The city setting makes the man’s casual dress seem appropriate and his nonchalant response to his sudden change of scenery makes him look cool. The overarching suggestion is that Levi’s jeans are what hip, city-dwelling men wear and that the jeans are an essential part of a man’s busy life.
“Housekeeping”A female maid in an upscale hotel is cleaning a room when its occupant, an attractive, muscular man, puts on a pair of Armani jeans and wanders around the room looking for his shirt. The maid wants to keep looking at the shirtless man, so she hides his shirt and continues to pretend to clean.Wealth and sex appeal: The luxury hotel setting and the black-and-white film instantly connects Armani clothes with money and success. This is meant to appeal to not only wealthy men, but men who fantasize about wealth. The commercial is also meant to appeal to men who fantasize about being as uncommonly muscular as the man in the hotel room. The commercial suggests that Armani is the preferred brand of attractive, successful men that women want to look at.
“Brands We Carry”A commercial featuring four people wearing outfits purchased at Milano Luxury Clothing, pointing out the specific brands of each item. The first person is a bald, middle-aged man in a business suit, the second is a younger, bearded man in business casual, the third is a young man in jeans and a leather jacket, and the fourth is a young woman in casual clothes.Desire for Emulation: The commercial is straightforward because it doesn’t attempt to tell a story like many advertisements do. Instead, it shows several people who all embody a certain lifestyle and depicts them getting their clothes at Milano, implying that the viewer can be like the people in the ad by shopping at Milano. The commercial also highlights the designer brands Milano Luxury Clothing carries in an attempt to catch the attention of consumers who are aware of those brands.

Brand loyalty is king

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When the Logic Group market research firm surveyed over 2,000 consumers about their buying habits in 2010, they found that loyalty of some kind is what drives multiple sales over a long period of time. The survey found that men tend to develop loyalty to a specific brand, rather than the women’s preference of loyalty to certain personalities. “Loyalty succeeds when the brand messages are tailored to build an experience that resonates with different customer types,” says Logic Group representative Anamaria Chiuzan.

In the apparel business, men want to see the brand reflect a particular lifestyle and personal image. This is why some clothing lines market their jeans by showing consumers images of casual, rugged men while many high-end designer labels sell jeans by depicting men who are wealthy or even famous. In short, a man who believes a particular brand represents the kind of life he wants to lead is more likely to buy clothes from that brand.

The power of image

Men’s apparel is most frequently advertised on television and in men’s magazines, though the Internet is becoming a bigger part of many campaigns. Regardless of medium, ads for men’s clothing tend to be highly image-driven to capitalize on the tendency of men to prefer visual stimulation. Marketers juxtapose their products with indicators of the lifestyle they are trying to sell. For example, a commercial could suggest that a particular designer’s suits make those who wear them more appealing to women by featuring a woman touching a man in one of the suits.

Presenting clothes as transformative is another common advertising strategy for men’s apparel. Advertisements depict men undergoing lifestyle changes by putting on clothes. For instance, one ad features a man being transported from his boring office to a sunny beach by putting on a pair of designer sandals. This type of ad exploits men’s needs for change and a better, more enjoyable life.

Fashion Ads in Men's Magazines

According to Chris Mitchell, vice president of GQ, the September issue every year accounts for as much as 17% of the magazine’s annual revenue. Other style-focused men’s magazines like Details and Esquire have a similar boost in September. This is because September is when fashion designers launch their Fall lines, so they buy a larger amount of advertising space. It is one of many signs that the gender gap in apparel consumption is closing.

Men’s fashion magazines are still considerably slimmer than their counterparts for women, but the cultural concept that men don’t care as much about clothes as women do is starting to fade. Men’s apparel marketers need to recognize that male consumers are becoming more likely every year to respond to the same kinds of advertising strategies as women. Read more about marketing men’s apparel.

Why psychology matters

Selling Clothes by Showing Less

Advertising psychology experts Tom Reichert and Jacqueline Lambiase conducted a pair of studies between the late 1990’s and the early 2000’s to determine how sexual content in advertising has changed over the past three decades. In their 2004 report, “How to Get Kissably Close,” Reichert and Lambiase found that the prevalence of sex in ads for men’s products has remained constant since the early 1980s, but the explicitness of sex in ads has increased over the years. They state, “In 2003 almost four out of five women who appeared in ads were suggestively dressed, partially clad, or nude. There is little doubt that men are generally more favorable to sex in advertising than women.”

Sex in ads for men’s products is getting more explicit every year, suggesting that advertisers are competing to have the sexiest ads in the market or that male consumers require more intense stimulation today than they did 30 years ago.

Source: Reichert, Tom, and Jacqueline Lambiase (2003) How to Get “Kissably Close”: Examining How Advertisers Appeal to Consumers’ Sexual Needs and Desires. Sexuality and Culture, 7(3), 120-136.

No matter what lifestyle a clothing company is trying to depict with its marketing materials, the marketing campaign needs to be informed by reliable data about what the company’s target demographic wants. Consider the contrast between the Levi’s ad and the Armani ad. They are both selling jeans, but they use two, very different approaches. The Levi’s ad is an example of a “clothes change your life” narrative, turning the jeans into a magical way for the man in the commercial to live a more exciting life. The Armani commercial depicts a man who doesn’t need to transform. He already embodies the beauty and luxury Armani is trying to sell, so the jeans appear to be another part of his appealing lifestyle. Both companies have researched what their customers value and what kind of image they want to project. Levi’s, Armani, and many other successful apparel companies use psychology to maximize the appeal of their products to certain kinds of consumers. Read more about the psychology of marketing here.

Men’s apparel marketing careers

Those interested in the psychology of marketing men’s apparel have a wide variety of career options. The following are just two examples of jobs that use the science of psychology to sell men’s clothing and many other products.

Brand Manager

A brand manager is a creative leader who oversees the process of building and maintaining the look, feel, and name of products and even entire companies. Because a brand is intended to make the product attractive to a certain kind of consumer, it is important for a brand manager to understand what those consumers value and will want to see in the image of the product. Find out more about brand managers here.

Market Research Analyst

A market research analyst gathers consumer behavior data that can be used to make marketing materials more effective. This includes surveying consumers, reading business statistics, and seeking other sources to give marketers in creative positions useful information about consumer habits. The information provided by analysts helps a company determine what marketing strategies will increase sales. Explore more info about market research analysis.