Impossible’s New Ad Campaign Doubles Down on Dudes

The plant-based leader hopes to boost sales by tapping into the American tradition of measuring masculinity with meat.

A man stares at an Impossible Burger
Credit: Impossible

Analysis Food Industry

Words by

“Listen up, America. Meat has problems. And it’s gonna take us — meat-eaters — to solve them,” says a mustachioed man as he strides through a barbecue and a hotdog eating contest, knocking meat to the floor as he goes. So begins the new commercial from Impossible Foods, producer of burgers, sausages and meatballs that, since its branding overhaul in March 2024, is now described simply as being “meat from plants.” Everything about the company’s new marketing strategy — from its red packaging to its commercial’s scenes of American culture — aims to appeal to meat-eaters: men in particular.

The science behind the recommendations for people in wealthy countries to eat less meat to protect the climate and environment is clear. But in America, what should be a matter of urgent environmental policy has mostly become a frontline battle in the culture wars.

Right-wing figures such as Mike Cernovich and Senator Pete Ricketts have helped to stoke the idea that “elites” are coming for people’s burgers, threatening their way of life in the process. Against this backdrop, plant-based meat companies have been trying to figure out how to make their products more attractive to a broader range of people. Instead of challenging the culture that presents meat-eating as being both masculine and patriotic, Impossible’s solution has been to embrace it.

“I think they’re trying to carve out a space for men who buy into traditional masculinity to have kind of permission to eat their product,” says Gabriel Rosenberg, Associate Professor of Gender, Sexuality & Feminist Studies at Duke University. “And in some senses, that’s an effort to sidestep a lot of the cultural politics that the right is attempting to foment. It’s an attempt to reframe their product as consistent with the masculine-validating elements of meat consumption.”

White Men Love Meat. Everyone Else, Not So Much.

The U.S. has a reputation for being full of meat lovers. But it’s not really the whole of the country, or at least not anymore. Half of beef consumption in the U.S. is attributable to just 12 percent of the population, with men more likely than women to eat such a diet, and those men also slightly more likely to be white and not college educated.

There has also been a big shift in meat-eating habits between white and Black men. According to one study, another shows that the former are now more likely to eat more meat and the latter more likely to eat less. This reflects the growing trend of Black Americans adopting plant-based diets, and often citing health as the motivating factor, reportedly.

Age plays a part in choices around diet too. One study from 2021 found that American men’s consumption of meat tends to increase more than women’s during the “masculinity intensifying stages of life,” meaning adolescence and young adulthood, peaking between midlife and the age of around 65. These are the times of life when men are being socialized in gender norms and negotiating identities around what it means to be a man. Another study shows that men whose masculinity feels threatened become more attached to meat-eating as part of their identity, while other research has found that men are more likely than women to think of meat as healthy, associating it with virility, strength and power.

Though consumption patterns are changing and the current political climate may be encouraging men to double down on an environmentally destructive diet, the connection between meat and masculinity has been forged over decades. “Diet has a lot to do with how we understand gender,” says Rosenberg. It is one of the “ways in which we control how the outside world gets inside of us and for masculinity, in particular, in the United States and in Europe as a whole, a notion of impenetrability plays a really substantial role in how we conceptualize masculinity.”

The more recent miring of meat in the culture wars is, Rosenberg thinks a “concerted effort by various right wing forces to polarize public opinion specifically around meat and specifically in a language of masculine identity and crisis around masculinity writ large.” Furthermore, as he wrote in New Republic with Jan Dutkiewicz, “Culture-war framings are intended … to separate the audience from any material analysis of the problem at hand and the means of fixing it.” They “tend to wildly amplify and distort real, less sensational messages. “We should eat less meat” is real. “The elites are going to make cows illegal” is not. Statements of fact become ominous threats. Entreaties become vindictive arm-twists.”

This makes Impossible’s new marketing strategy “very clever” in Rosenberg’s view. It isn’t asking for Americans to give up anything or change anything, but to have more of what they — or at least a subset of them — already love and to be who they already perceive themselves to be. The ad is saying it’s still meat, just meat that is made from plants. “This kind of consumptive masculinity, where you eat more and more and more is actually now going to be able to not only validate your masculine identity, your soul riding off on your motorcycle,” Rosenberg, “but you’re also doing it to save the world, or to at least be a part of the solution to global climate change and the various environmental costs of the meat-heavy diet.”

Marketing a More Manly Plant-Based Meat With this ad campaign, Impossible is perhaps going against the grain of what some might like to see happen with plant-based food, namely a decoupling of meat from masculinity. The past decade has seen the rise of the “vegan bros” who seek to do just that by showing the world it’s possible to be masculine, muscular and plant-based. “It’s not part of a broader reconsideration of what masculinity is supposed to mean or how men can behave,” Rosenberg says of the ad, which he says he feels “ambivalent about as a scholar of gender.” But he sees why a company that wants to make a profit might want to avoid taking on that much more challenging task.

Whether Impossible’s strategy will work is not clear, at least based on the evidence of what actually makes people — and men in particular — choose plant-based alternatives over meat. Impossible’s ad promises the same experience people get from eating meat, but it’s no secret sales for Impossible and Beyond have cooled as of late.

One small online study testing “masculine” marketing’s impact on perceptions of plant-based food has returned mixed results. Men presented with descriptions of vegan meals using words such as “meaty” and “protein-rich” rather than “delicious” or “creative” perceived the dishes more positively. But this didn’t translate into the men liking the food more or influencing their attitudes about veganism overall.

One demographic Impossible could potentially win over, if it hasn’t already, is Gen Z. Sixty-five percent of this generation (people born between 1997 and 2012) say they want to eat more plants and are more motivated to reduce meat for environmental reasons than older generations. Impossible’s new commercial speaks to this group by stuffing it full of them, all of whom look impressed and persuaded by the pronouncements of the middle-aged mustachioed protagonist, who Rosenberg describes as being “like a dad.”

“He’s moving through these different scenes of masculine consumption and he’s telling the [young people]: You need to eat more meat, but it’s gonna be plant based,” he says. “He’s the head of the barbecues going off into the sunset on his motorbike, and he’s telling the young bucks how they’re gonna save the world.”

Support Us

Independent Journalism Needs You

Donate » -opens in new tab. Donate via PayPal More options »