The narcissistic metrosexual

Like biological evolution in super fast-forward motion, the term 'metrosexual' scrambles from the swamp of zines, crawls quickly on four legs into the pages of Maclean's and the National Post and finally walks on two legs, erect and fully developed, in the form of our newest, coolest piece of target group terminology.

Like biological evolution in super fast-forward motion, the term ‘metrosexual’ scrambles from the swamp of zines, crawls quickly on four legs into the pages of Maclean’s and the National Post and finally walks on two legs, erect and fully developed, in the form of our newest, coolest piece of target group terminology.

Metrosexual! It’s alive! It’s alive!

The other day I was startled to find Rob, ZOOM Media account exec, self-proclaimed ‘true metrosexual,’ smiling down at me from a poster strategically placed above my favourite urinal here at work. Rob’s arms were folded, his shirt carefully arranged outside of his black pants, his black, square-toed shoes shining. He was smiling slightly, his hair fashionably clipped short.

Rob is positioned as the epitome of metrosexuality. He represents ZOOM, a medium that promises to deliver copious numbers of metrosexuals to media planners and buyers, who in turn are currently unaware they need to reach metrosexuals. But that’s going to change if ZOOM has anything to say about it.

Russell Smith, the Virtual Culture columnist for the Globe and Mail, neatly sliced and diced the term ‘metrosexual’ last October when he wrote, ‘It is de rigueur for every lifestyle commentator to mention that he/she is aware of this new idea but also to sneer at it.’

I’m not here to sneer; I’m here to provide a word of caution to all you planners and buyers out there interested in picking up a hot new phrase to sex up your dreary media plans. Metrosexual is a loaded term and could easily backfire. As Smith pointed out, the ‘defining characteristic of the metrosexual was not his sensitivity but his narcissism.’

The negative aspects of the term ‘metrosexual’ are reinforced in The Word Spy (www.wordspy.com), a fantastic site that provides background and definition for newly minted words and phrases.

metrosexual

(MET.roh.sek.shoo.ul) n. A dandyish narcissist in love with not only himself, but also his urban lifestyle; a straight man who is in touch with his feminine side.

Word Spy traces the origin of the term to Mark Simpson. Simpson is a U.K. writer who describes himself as the ‘deadbeat dad of the metrosexual.’ He appears to have originated the term and first put it to work in an article he wrote for Salon.com in July 2002. It was a word he created when the term heterosexual just didn’t seem to work as a way of pigeonholing international soccer star and renowned narcissist, David Beckham.

In the article, Simpson observes how Hollywood has become ‘metrosexualized.’ He describes The Fight Club storyline as Brad Pitt, America’s most famous metrosexual rebelling against metrosexualism. Meanwhile, Spider-Man is the story of how a nerd turns into a lycra-wearing metrosexual before his very own eyes.

The more I read, the more uncomfortable I become with the use of this term as a targeting characteristic. The practice of falling over oneself to adopt the latest in targeting terminology is as old as marketing itself. There’s nothing wrong with adopting new targeting segments according to the product of global war-mongering (baby boomers), birth date (Generation X) or a peculiar mix of demographic characteristics (yuppies). But these targeting terms are clear, well defined and exclusionary. They also reflect contemporary shifts in society.

What good is a target group made up of everyone?

The problem with the term ‘metrosexual’ is that it is vague. I’m a sensitive guy. I paint. I draw. I write. Am I a ‘metrosexual’? Hope not. Also the term seems to include more males than it excludes. What good is a target group made up of everyone? And it is hardly a reflection of contemporary society. It seems ‘metrosexual’ could define males from the court of King Louis XIII of France (circa 1600s), David Beckham or millions of males in Canada today.

Metrosexuals! They are from today and yesterday. They’re almost everyone. They’re sneered at by the person who invented them. They’re laughed at by the media that wrote about them. And they’re best left out of targeting statements.

Rob Young is one of the founders of Toronto’s PHD Canada (formerly HYPN). He can be reached at: ryoung@phdca.com.