Craig J. Thompson interviews Scott Cromer about advertising representations of masculinity. Cromer, an account planner for Leo Burnett, has been highly involved in several advertising campaigns directed at men. Cromer candidly discusses his views on how advertising has adapted to changing cultural norms and models of masculinity; how men are represented in advertising;and the effects that these aspirational images have on the men’s self-conceptions.
How did you get into the advertising field?
I came to Chicago to go to a doctoral program in child psychology. After two years, I kind of got burned out and wanted more of a challenge. I got an interview at Leo Burnett with a group called “KidLeo,” which is a kid consultancy group. I got the job, and then spent two years just working exclusively on kid brands. I now work on Beck’s beer. So graduate school to advertising.
How did that segue happen from children to Beck’s Beer? It seems pretty large.
In advertising, we’re always working on new and different accounts to stay fresh. I wanted a new challenge, so I went to Rick Houghton-Larsen, the head of planning here at Burnett, and he was kind of looking for opportunities for me. For a while, we worked on Beck’s together. They do a good job here of expanding your opportunities. You don’t want to stay on one account for too long.
Given you spent a couple years in graduate school in child psychology, you probably have a pretty good foundation in psychology.
Absolutely. And it’s invaluable. It’s incredibly helpful. It’s the study of human nature. It’s what I do as a planner—understanding what motivates people, what core needs they have, how certain things kind of fit into their lives.
And you’ve been with Leo Burnett now how long?
And you’ve been working outside the children’s advertising department for about a year-and-a-half or so, is that right?
KidLeo is a consultancy group. So I did that for about two years, and then I worked on Kellogg’s as well. I ran a Kellogg’s kid cereal brand—Burnett handles all of Kellogg’s advertising. And now I work on Beck’s.
So what are your responsibilities as a planner?
In terms of tangible things, we write strategic briefs, we write positionings—how we position a brand. We do a lot of research. Mainly it’s just understanding consumers: who they are, what they’re about in a really nuanced way, but then more importantly, what certain brands mean to consumers. For example, what does Fruit Loops mean to a six-year-old? What does Beck’s Beer mean to a guy who’s twenty-five or twenty-six? How is it distinct from other beers or other brands?
How closely do you work with the creative side?
Really closely. There’s a shift. I think a lot of traditional planners, before I got into the industry, were very much research-focused, very much about pulling down large masses of qualitative and quantitative data, and then distributing it to people in the team. Whereas now, in our agency, I’m much more involved in coming up with creative ideas, really getting the ball rolling, bringing fodder to the table, be it through movies or popular media, books, videotapes of consumers—really creative ways of bringing ideas to life. Much less research-focused.
Do the creatives welcome you, or do they say, “We’ve got our vision and don’t mess with us.”
It depends. My belief is that all creatives would welcome planning. But it’s a matter of breaking down. If it’s an older creative and they’ve been here a long time, you have to kind of break through that stereotype of, “Let me do my thing. You do your thing, which is research.” No, we’re not researchers. We’re here to help you. My experience has been that...