Men’s ‘Mental Health Awareness’ month falls in November in the UK and is supported by efforts from the ‘Movember’ campaign, which began funding men’s mental health programmes in Australia in 2006, and now has expanded to New Zealand, Canada, the USA, and the UK.
The campaign raises essential awareness, as research has found that 77% of men have suffered from common mental health symptoms like anxiety, stress, or depression.
Peter Wennström, founder of the Healthy Marketing Team (HMT), explains to NutraIngredients that there is an intricate connection between cognitive health supplements for men and the prevailing stigma surrounding men's mental health.
"It's not in the male culture to talk about emotions, so men can then become, like, sort of a pressure cooker.
“Unfortunately, if you then look at the suicide statistics, it's quite dark when it comes to young men.”
Wennström explains that typically, products for cognitive health are designed to target women, with gendered words and terms like ‘tranquillity’ which are typically skewed more to a female rather than male audience.
But he notes there are supplements that are more gender neutral, such as those marketed for energy, and he argues we’re seeing an increase in products that prioritise that benefit, with a very neutral aesthetic.
But Wennström notes conversations about mental well-being are becoming more accepted by both genders: “It’s become more accepted today - and first it was much more prominent among women, but now it's coming with younger men, I think as you see public figure athletes talking about their mental problems.
“The interesting thing is, with the emergence of a younger generation of more diverse role models, we see the trend that these public figures start to talk openly about their mental well-being.
“You see it probably first in the area of sports, but it’s like a door into the consumer market.
“Once you get the acceptance of sports personalities being open about mental health when it comes to performance, then you can identify yourself in that conversation. The shift is slowly happening.”
Wennström explains that cognitive dissonance, a mental conflict that occurs when beliefs don't line up with actions, is a prevalent issue when it comes to the marketing and branding of products for mental health that are aimed at men.
He asserts: “If I go out and buy a product for stressed-out people that will help me sort of compose myself a little bit more, then people will see me as a guy that ‘has problems’. But if I'm going for a sports product that is about focus, then I’m seen as dedicated to my sport - it gives me an alibi for buying these products.
“You need to get these supplements into a context where the product offers a positive; eg, we’re talking about focus, not stress.
“It’s very simple: create an attraction, a focus, a positive, and the relevance of that benefit. Give an extremely good excuse to actually demonstrate the benefits and put it into relevant context.”
Historically, cognitive health supplements for men have tied into enhancing confidence, Wennström explains.
“Men traditionally focus on physical performance, turning to activities like sports or bodybuilding to boost their self-esteem. Consequently, cognitive health supplements for men frequently align with sports performance, emphasising the link between mental sharpness and overall confidence.”
This is prominent in the sports nutrition sector, where increasingly, athletes are realising that mental health is just as important as physical health, according to the 2022 HMT cognitive health trend report.
Wennström argues this is a great opportunity for sports nutrition brands to cater better to men’s health needs. Wennström notes: “To an extent they have a responsibility to be offering supplements for cognitive health given that they've got the right audience and a demographic that's surely in need of supplements that they can access without concern of judgement.
“It's a good opportunity to take an educational role and the role of normalising the conversation.
“It’s an opportunity to educate to normalise mental wellness among men, and brands can really help to open those doors."
Cognitive category expanding in sports nutrition
Simon Jurkiw, product director of sports supplement company Bulk agrees “the cognitive space has grown significantly over the last few years”.
“Previously, caffeine for focus was about as extensive as it got. Now consumers are interested in a far greater breadth of focus, relaxation, etc.,” he asserts.
“At Bulk, we have a wide range of products from Ashwagandha and Lion's Mane to Nootropic formulas. This shows that active customers are diversifying the types of supplements they purchase far beyond physical performance.”
With branding being less gendered and more focused on the benefits of products, Bulk now appeals to a broad customer demographic, and Jurkiw explains that “ultimately, male and female, and younger and older consumers are trying to improve their cognitive health.”
The key is that the marketing focus is on “permissible claims that can be made on cognitive health supplements,” Jurkiw explains, noting that “the marketing is very much focused on the approved benefits of products, such as contributing to concentration and cognitive function. I think consumers respond well, as it's very easy to understand.”
This has meant that for Bulk, “cognitive health supplements have grown from an irrelevant part of the catalogue to over 10 different products, all on a positive growth trajectory.”