HONG KONG: Brands seeking to reach Chinese men should be aware that Chinese masculinity is different from its equivalent in the West and also it is evolving rapidly, splitting into myriad sub-groups, according to recent research.

Felicia Schwartz, founder and director of China Insight, a consultancy based in Hong Kong, warned that brands failing to study Chinese men effectively may make mistaken assumptions or implement a strategy based on the wishes of Western men.

She told China Daily that when the country started to reform and open up to the world, initially the Western aspirational model, including "the American dream" was pervasive, but a wider range of models have since appeared.

For example, the speed of China's development means there is a much more accentuated difference between men of varying ages, which is less of an issue in the West.

Furthermore, the sheer size and diversity of the country requires brands to identify whether they want to target men in tier-one cities or a wider audience in lower tier cities and the countryside.

"Chinese masculinities cannot be taken as interchangeable with masculinities in Western countries or reduced to simple stereotypes," agreed Derek Hird, a senior lecturer in Chinese Studies at the University of Westminster in London.

He recently published a book, co-authored with Song Geng, an associate professor at the University of Hong Kong, which covered Chinese masculinity on TV, in lifestyle magazines, and at work and in the home.

"Businesses often look for a magic bullet that can help them crack the market, such as a straightforward key to understanding Chinese men," he said. "But masculinities are multiple and diverse, so the reality is more complex."

In a bid to overcome such complexity, ad agency Leo Burnett China recently sought to categorise Chinese males aged between 25 and 40.

Sharon Chen, a strategist with the company, explained that this generation of males have the characteristics of niu (cattle), ai (love) and chong (dashing).

Chen said that "niu" refers to everything happening so quickly at this point of history that these men have to work "like cattle" to catch up with others.

"Ai" demonstrates a strong mission to protect their families and uphold their role as loving husbands and fathers.

Finally, "chong" is the recognition that working hard is not good enough and instead they must work with “explosive momentum to keep up with the pace of a fast-moving economy”.

Data sourced from China Daily; additional content by Warc staff