Monday, April 21, 2008

Men's Health Magazine - Mars gets an Operator's Manual

I have a confession to make.

I read Men’s Health. Faithfully. I even have a SUBSCRIPTION.

Here’s how it started.

I wanted to learn more about men. I write about them, so I figured, the magazine targeting them might tell me a thing or two that I could use to enhance the writing process. And maybe help me understand the enemy, ahem, the Martians a little better. Let’s face it, my ancestors may have been dinosaur slayers, but we’re still fascinated by those strange, amazing creatures: Men. We’re also devious. So why not study up, right? Exactly!

To be fair, I also purchased Women’s Health. The scientist inside of me, the mad one of course, had to do a comparison. Or perhaps it is the crazy Gemini. Who knows. So side by side I read. I think in a way I did it also so I could say: well, Women’s Health is representing with X percent accuracy, ergo I can apply that same level of accuracy to Men’s Health. I know I know: you true scientists out there are cringing right now at this completely spurious and unfounded extrapolation of mine. But bear with me. Wild ass and anecdotal it all may be, but the results were interesting to say the least.

First, I learned a bit about what the magazine creators believe is the receptive communication style of Mars and Venus.

Venus likes it busy. When Venus gets a recipe, it’s big, brilliant Technicolor pictures scattered artfully across the page, amidst which resides a raft of semi-complex directions, all in way more agonizing detail than simple sentence structure or bullet point style.

Mars cuts to the chase with the kindergarten equivalent: flash cards pictorals of the ingredients, which tend to be five or less. Each picture is separated by a plus sign until you reach the finale, which is preceded by an equal sign and shown in it’s completely assembled state.

Venus gets in-depth nutritional articles about what and what not to put in the physical temple/power plant.

Mars gets more flash cards. Two pictures topped by the words “Eat this, Not that”, along with directional arrows similar to the ones you see on the shopping mall map that announce “You are HERE!”. In fact, Mars has a cook book comprised of the flash card and This not That approach.

Venus gets articles filled with words. Lots of them. No one word more important than the other. A symphony if you will, that when deconstructed is atonal and no where near as pleasing as when taken all together, lingered over, savored. There are points, there are asides, there are considerations, even in the short sound byte style factoids. Venus has her chaise lounge, her mineral water spiked with lemon and mint, and time to relax and ponder the larger mysteries and smaller mysteries and all in between, so let her have at it and enjoy.

Mars gets yellow highlights. Sure, he gets words too, but no where near as many as Venus, and certainly not in such complex, lengthy, languid fashion. Mars, laconic, has a need to know basis only, recognized by the editors and pandered to in the form of “Dude, this is what you need to extract – the main point of all these words boiled down to a single handful of words”. So, you can sum the whole mag up in the highlighted portion, like crib notes. Mars, obviously, has to take care of business, and has time for only the important things to land on the radar.

Mars has some other things to focus on as well. There’s a section, well, not a section, a page of assorted short sentences in instructional format similar to what the army manuals have: it’s culture class. Read this, see this movie because chicks like it, talk about this on a date. Oh yes, and there was even a section that discussed why good personal hygiene is important and makes an impression on a women. So, Mars, wear your deodorant. Because if you don’t, Venus will notice, and though she may not say anything, the date will most certainly end at the front door. If you want to venture forth to the temple, thou must smell clean and comely. That includes the Venus you're married to, Gents. Wow.

I confess, the highlights blows my mind. But, the magazine is targeting an audience they believe wants salient points. So they make sure it’s there, in a format that applies to the preferred communication style. Yes, I am making horrendous gender based generalizations, but you know what: sometimes, most times, where there is smoke, fire is sure to follow. So take it for what you will.

I’ll say this: Men’s Health has better recipes. I’ve used many of them already. They’re simple, easy, quick, and tasty. They’re spicy and we’re a spice based household. And, I find it more readable. I also thing that the Eat This Not That is an excellent tool to help people make real world based nutritional decisions. Let’s face it, every day we’re not lunching at the Bistro, nor do we have our personal chef in tow. I like the reality base, the level set Men’s Health operates from: it knows you want the burger and it will help you pick the best one. Amen, brother. I’m converted.

This last issue of Women’s Health revealed something curious. Venus is taking pages from Mars. Eat This Not That appeared, and the recipe sections were far less Byzantine, though they still have a ways to go. Speaking as the modern Venus who rules the kitchen as well, like Mars, I need to take care of business too, so give me something tasty, give me something I can expand on and diversify (Like this last issue’s info on sauces/salsas/rubs) as opposed to some fussy pork wrap weird crap deal. Healthy, fast, tasty, I’m all over that.

But, I noticed that in this issue, Men’s Health started including the stink bombs. Boo to those, the perfume adds. Unless it’s Polo Black – that stuff is wicked hot, scorching, lusty, piratical, porn star sex in a bottle, and I’d breath that over air any day.

And here’s the other thing. Women’s Health, take another page from Mars. Today’s Venus is sexually liberated. There are all kinds of nifty adds for fun adult entertainment merchandise, and always good info on sex and intimacy in Men’s Health. Mars likes to get it on, and wants to know how to do it better, longer, and with more memorable flair. They also want to know which are the right tools to use for that job, including furniture. (I stand impressed, dear reader. That is dedication! I can respect a man for taking all that to heart and using it to woo and wow his partner. Bless you Men's Health, for Venus shall reap the rewards of your dilligance to the topic.)

Women’s Health ventures into the sex and intimacy realm, but not in the frank way like Men’s Health. And there are no cool adds. Certainly no specifically designated furniture options. Last I checked, Venus liked to knock boots too. So what gives? Dare I say there is still that Puritanical taint, or Victorian purity surrounding Venus? I hope not, but anecdotally, the evidence is damning. You know, I'll give you that some of the presentation might be percieved by some of the Venus tribe as vulger. Okay, great, give me some usefull book reviews then. We like to read. Cover something topical, relevant, and USEFULL, Like Passionista. (To all the Venusians out there, TOTALLY worth every penny. Tells you all about Mars's favorite equipment and hot spots, and how to work it to bring him screaming (happily) to his knees. I came across it by accident on a table at Borders. Someone had abandoned it there. And where were my peeps at Women's Health? My sisters, I know not.)

So, Mars and Venus, they have their magazines, and each has a pronouncedly different focus. Is that design true to each demographic target? Is it reflective of the audience?

I can’t say just yet as the experiment is still joyfully in progress.

And yes, it did impact my writing, particularly in writing Jack, a throw back libertine with a chronic case of the hot pants. Maybe more in how the heroine perceived him, as different from the average contemporary mortal male: he was kind of Mars meets Casanova, with a dash of Peter Sellers mad cap style.

So, Men’s Health, I, a representative of Venus, salute you! Keep up the good work. My subscription renewal is in the male…

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