View from the C-Suite: Movember explores the nature of masculinity

The non-profit is challenging gender norms and being more inclusive to expand its reach.


This story appeared in Strategy C-Suite, a weekly email briefing on how Canada’s brand leaders are responding to market challenges and acting on new opportunities. Sign-up for the newsletter here to receive the latest stories directly to your inbox every Tuesday.

Something is conspicuously absent from some of the ads created for “What You Grow Will Save a Bro,” this year’s month-long advertising push in support of Movember, the global men’s health charity, which launched last week.

Some OOH executions, for example, feature a close-up of moustache-less sporty-looking men and women next to a single word: “Move” (encouraging participants to walk, run or walk-run 60 kilometres over the month). Others, without any particular focus on facial hair, show individuals sporting sunglasses or a kazoo with a different one-word prompt: “Host” (reminding that they could always host a trivia night or potluck, instead).

As Movember has aged, the organization has expanded its scope beyond its initial focus on prostate cancer, becoming a men’s health charity tackling a range of causes, such as testicular cancer, mental health and suicide. Its weighty mandate has meant attracting supporters through new forms of advocacy and different ways to participate – beyond growing a characteristic moustache that helped define Movember’s image.

Today, Movember Canada is focused on making its message more inclusive, as it interrogates the very meaning of what it means to be a man. The non-profit’s first Pride campaign, launched in June and featuring a Toronto drag queen, is but one example of the role it hopes to play at a time when brands like Gillette, Schick and Dove’s Men+Care are making their own statements about masculinity.

As Canadian charities across the board face demographic challenges and greater competition for a shrinking number of dollars, Movember succeeded at raising $18.1 million in Canada last year, up more than 6% from the year before.

Strategy spoke with Movember’s Canadian marketing director, Karli Kirkpatrick, and new Canadian country director, Todd Minerson, about where the organization is headed next. Minerson, who was hired in October, previously served as executive director of White Ribbon, director of communications and brand at UNICEF Canada, and was also a senior advisor on the Status of Women within the federal government.

Todd_MinersonAs Canadian country director, what organizational challenges will you focus on as you step into this new role? 

Minerson (pictured left): I see a tremendous amount of potential for Movember to take the branding, fundraising and community that we have and up the game around thought leadership on the issues, convening other partners and players to the table to bring that advocacy and community engagement piece to the work that we do. The other piece, which relates to my past experiences, is the deep understanding that I’ve developed around issues of men and masculinity, working in other contexts around human rights and gender equality and gender-based violence.

At Movember, I want to work to continue understanding the gendered ideas of what it means to be a man and how we can transform them into better health outcomes. When we look at mental health and suicide, there are populations, like Indigenous people, first responders and veterans, that are disproportionately affected by these issues. Bucking the gender stereotypes that [men are] tough, and can’t ask for help, etc., these are going to be critical to unlocking men’s access to all of these services.

Movember has become an always-on organization. But many Canadians must still think of you mostly during the month of November. What are you doing outside of that month to keep people engaged and Movember top-of-mind? 

Karli KirkpatrickKirkpatrick (pictured right): We are embarking on a mission to be true leaders in the men’s health space, activating around other times of the year, such as Testicular Cancer Awareness Month in April, Father’s Day, Pride and National Indigenous Peoples Day during the summer, and World Suicide Prevention Day in September. Those are some of the activations that help demonstrate that men’s health is something that is relevant all year round.

[We’re crafting a program based on the areas that] we believe there needs to be more focus. This year, that’s around fatherhood and the impact that fatherhood can have on men’s mental health, which could be seen in work that we launched in June. Last year, we launched an initiative that focused on the efficacy of mental health services for first responders that will also be active year-round and will help us identify evidence-based programming to support positive mental health within the community.

Some of the ads you launched last week focused on “moving” or “hosting,” and don’t include any references to growing facial hair. As you expand and add new ways to participate in Movember  such as getting people to run or walk 60 kilometres  how have you kept your core focus clear in the minds of Canadians? 

Kirkpatrick: We try to make sure that we are consistent in all of our messaging and bring it back to our main cause, which is we are the only organization tackling men’s health on a global scale. It all comes back to [getting people to participate] under that one umbrella of ‘Save a Bro.’ We know that sedentary lifestyles are dangerous to health, so part of the motivation behind “Move” is making sure that people’s individual health outcomes are improving their level of activity. In terms of our brand and where we fit, we aren’t hosting the next big charity marathon, but we are encouraging people from marathoners to couch potatoes to engage for their own health and fundraising. This is really about that peer-to-peer fundraising campaign and focus.

The Giving Report highlights some of the issues facing the charitable space as a whole, such as a dip in overall giving, demographic shifts, etc. How are you navigating those challenges?

Minerson: In a lot of ways, we are well-positioned. [Being a] predominantly peer-to-peer campaign does facilitate people making smaller or more manageable donations as opposed to huge philanthropic naming-rights kind of gifts, so we’re in a good place. And because the brand is fun and engaging and already close to younger populations, we may not be facing the same kind of challenge as health charities that work with [older populations]. I do think in other areas, we do have a lot of work to do. Like on the inclusivity issue, making sure that we’re getting to the real multicultural realities of what Canada is and that we’re relevant to some of those communities – more diverse populations, non-English speaking communities – because they’re dealing with these issues as well. That’s something that we’re going to have to deal with in a more comprehensive way.

As there is more focus on things like women’s issues, the LGBTQ community and gender identity today, how has the conversation around men’s health changed? What impact is that having on the way you communicate? 

Minerson: It’s tremendous. It’s enabling so many more men to have conversations that I think they’ve been ready [to have] for a long time. When we’re encouraging men to get out of some of those rigid gender roles, to be more proactive about their own health, we’re at the right moment in time for that. In fact, I think we have a role to play in catalyzing that conversation in Canada and around the world, because we are already there and looking at men’s health and wellness.

At this point in our evolution, it’s understanding that not every supporter is going to grow an amazing motorcycle-rider moustache. We have to make sure that anyone who identifies as a man and is concerned about their health feels included in the work we do. And that’s why some of the work that we started around Pride this year was so important, some of the deepening of our ties with the Indigenous communities in this country is so important. Understanding that fathers can be two gay men, single young men, widows, or not married, all kinds of things. This push towards inclusivity is going to help make sure that we’re relevant to the people who are going to see themselves reflected in the work we do.

This interview is part of a series for Strategy C-Suite, a weekly email briefing on how Canada’s brand leaders are responding to market challenges and acting on new opportunities. Sign-up for the newsletter here to receive the latest stories directly to your inbox every Tuesday.

The interview has been edited for length and clarity.