Branded Male, Marketing to Men

Branded Male
Marketing to Men

By Mark Tungate

Chapter 1: Skin
Scene One: The Bathroom

The shelf below his bathroom mirror is a battlefield. Occasionally he tries to blame his girlfriend, but the truth is that half the items fighting for territory on the strip of zinc are his. The ranks of grey, white and black vessels resemble advancing chess pieces. Their provenance is mysterious: he wouldn’t be able to tell you exactly when Kiehl’s Blue Herbal Astringent Lotion and Clarins Active Face Wash insinuated themselves into his morning routine. Not to mention Clinique M Lotion and American Crew Classic Wax. He certainly didn’t rush out and buy them all at once. It was a slow accretion; a steady assault on his subconscious until each of these products seemed essential. It hardly seems possible that there was a time when a razor, foam, water and soap would have sufficed, followed by a quick blast of deodorant.

He hits the shower, sloughing off the dead skin cells – invisible to the eye, but the magazines assure him that they exist – with an exfoliating scrub from Kiehl’s. Then he washes with Anthony Logistics Shower Gel. After that, his hair gets the treatment with Kérastase Frequent Use Shampoo, ‘to help reduce the risk of hair loss’, because he’s 35 and you can’t be too careful. When he’s rinsed out the shampoo, he applies a sneaky lick of his girlfriend’s Garnier Fructis Fortifying Conditioner. The French on the packaging nudges him into thinking about his business trip to Paris later that day.

The conditioner follows the shampoo down the drain and he cuts the water, stepping onto the bathmat.

He’s not out of the bathroom yet, though. Turning to the over-crowded shelf once again, he selects Biotherm Homme Sensitive Skin Shaving Foam. And then he reaches for his razor. This is a thing of beauty: an old-fashioned ‘safety’ razor of the type his grandfather once used. It was a gift from his girlfriend, and after a few nasty incidents early on – beads of blood appearing at his Adam’s apple – he’s learned to handle it with aplomb.

Like many men of his generation, he started out using an electric razor in imitation of his father. But he never really liked its hot buzzing against his skin, and so he switched to a blade. Until recently, he used the Gillette Sensor Excel with two blades. He was about to upgrade to the triple-bladed Gillette Mach3 Turbo when his birthday came along, and with it a step back into shaving history. The supposedly primitive – yet undeniably masculine – safety razor has a snobbish appeal. Indeed, he scoffed at the recent news that Gillette was launching a razor with no less than five blades. He remains on the Gillette marketing radar, however, as the rectangular blades he buys for the safety razor are still made by the company.

After he’s finished shaving, he applies the Kiehl’s astringent to the couple of nicks he’s picked up. Then he moisturizes with the Clinique lotion – which beneath its urbane silver-grey livery is little different to the brand’s moisturizer for women. The final touch is a dab of Hugo Boss Baldessarini aftershave, once again chosen by his girlfriend. He fixes his hair with the American Crew Classic Wax, aiming for a carefully disheveled look.

He peers critically at himself in the mirror. There are dark, faintly puffy rings under his eyes, the result of long hours at a computer screen and one pint too many in the pub last night. Frowning, he selects a tube of Nickel Eye Contour Lift from the shelf and gingerly applies it.
His conditioning is almost total.

The grooming conundrum

Although our hero is not unique, male personal care is a far smaller sector than the beauty industry would like it to be. In 2005, market analyst Datamonitor predicted that sales of grooming products for men in Europe and the United States would grow from US$31.6 billion in 2003 to nearly US$40 billion in 2010. The women’s beauty industry is already estimated to be worth around US$100 billion worldwide (Future Body Visions Summit, 20–21 September 2006). If men are beginning to rival women in the vanity stakes, it seems they’re still nervous about putting their wallets where their wrinkles are.

Another research group, Mintel, said starkly in a 2006 report: ‘Men’s toiletries have failed to achieve the explosive growth anticipated since the late 1980s, when… manufacturer Shulton launched its Insignia men’s range, the first integrated line offering men top-to-toe grooming options. This was supposed to herald the emergence of the New Man, but the reality was that most men were not ready to embrace the concept of a multi-product grooming regime. Instead, it has been a much longer and slower process, highlighting the reality that men will never adopt the levels of interest and investment in the toiletries industry that is fuelling the women’s beauty industry.’ (Men’s Toiletries UK, March 2006.) Nonetheless, the market is growing. Yet another researcher, Euromonitor, claims that the total UK market for men’s grooming products – including fragrances and basics like soap and shampoo – rose by 33.2 per cent between 2001 and 2006.

The world’s best-selling male grooming product is Unilever’s Axe (known in the United Kingdom as Lynx), which started life as a deodorant before successfully expanding into other personal care niches. But Axe is aimed at younger men – adolescents, pri-marily – and Unilever admits that it is a long way off cracking the broader men’s market.

‘Male grooming is a manufacturer’s term that means little to the average man on the street,’ says Margaret Jobling, male grooming global brand director at Unilever. ‘At best it’s shorthand for preening – and at worst it’s seen as effeminate. Product development is not the problem. Today there are products designed to tackle almost every male concern, from anti-ageing moisturizer to abdomen-firming cream. The problem lies in engaging with men using the appropriate language and persuading them to try new things.’

Yet there is little disagreement that men are changing. We may dismiss the metrosexual and his successors – the retrosexual, the übersexual and so on – as media phenomena fabricated by the advertising industry; but there is plenty of evidence that men in the real world are becoming more concerned with their appearance. ‘Today’s men are far more likely to adopt a regular grooming routine consisting of shave, shower, deodorise, hair styling and fragrance than ever before,’ confirms Mintel, almost grudgingly.

Simply because men perspire more than women, selling them deodorant has never been much of a problem. Marketing fragrance has proved marginally more challenging, although most men now have a favourite aftershave or cologne. Research in the UK, carried out by TNS for The Grocer magazine, suggests that fragrance sales are driving ‘the lion’s share’ of the male cosmetics market, taking a 37.4 per cent share of the sector – with sales up by 19 per cent to £208 million in 2006. This is impressive given that men are notoriously averse to testing new brands. It’s also tough persuading them to try anything beyond the conventional masculine odours of lime, leather or musk: particularly the former, as 21st century men like to smell tangy and well-scrubbed.

At its most obvious, marketing fragrance to men is based around the power of attraction. It’s a furrow that Lynx/Axe has ploughed with irony and innovation. Not all brands have such highly developed wit. When a fragrance called Addiction was re-launched in the UK in the autumn of 2006, its marketing targeted 17 to 27-year-old males out ‘on the pull’. The slogan was ‘Can’t get enough’, and there were nationwide sampling activities at nightclubs and student unions (‘Addiction relaunched with “masstige” focus’, The Grocer, 26 August 2006).

But signs of increasing sophistication have emerged. The New York Times recently suggested that gender distinctions in the fragrance sector were breaking down, resulting in a new array of ‘gender-free’ scents. But it also admitted that buyers of these, though influential, were ‘a small (and sometimes persnickety) clan’. ‘I don’t want to show up at the party in Drakkar or Obsession, some-thing that I wore in puberty,’ one customer was quoted as saying (‘Scent of a person’, 23 March 2006).

Gender-free fragrances have something in common with Calvin Klein’s CK One, launched in 1994 as a ‘unisex’ scent. It proved highly successful with younger consumers, and in 2007 the company launched a sequel called CKin2u. Like its predecessor, it was aimed at vaguely trendy kids in their late teens or early twenties, who are less concerned by gender distinctions and think more in terms of the social group. Creed’s Original Santal, on the other hand, was launched as a gender-free fragrance for discerning adults. Its advertising showed a ring of bottles and the line ‘For men and women’.

Traditional fragrance advertising, as we all know, features a hand-some, obviously successful male. His duty is to appeal not to men, but to women – who buy fragrances for their partners and urge them to experiment. But soccer star David Beckham – the cele-brity most closely linked to the ‘metrosexuality’ phenomenon – clearly felt that men were ready to take matters into their own hands when he launched a branded scent called David Beckham’s Instinct in 2005. Although the response was mixed, the strategy was clear: a strong role model might encourage a man to adopt a new brand.

Jobling accepts that the plethora of men’s style magazines, along with the influence of the gay market and straight male icons like Beckham, have encouraged men to linger in front of their mirrors. But she doubts that they will ever be as keen on beauty products as women. ‘The simple fact is that men are wired differently,’ she says. ‘A lot of beauty marketing is about the power of attraction. But what do women look for in men? They look for financial stability, emotional strength, loyalty, security and, yes, a good sense of humour. Shiny hair and soft skin are a long way down the list. And what are men looking for? They’re looking for fecundity: a sexual partner. Women are obsessed with looking good because that’s how men see them.’

Related to this is the challenge of encouraging men to open up about their looks. Women have never been afraid to comment on the beauty of others: ‘I love that actress – she’s gorgeous.’ But few straight men would feel comfortable acknowledging the handsomeness of a fellow male. And so the advertising of beauty products aimed at men must promise to keep them looking ‘toned’ and ‘fit’ and smelling ‘fresh’.

Enter Genevieve Flaven, of the French trend-tracking organization Style-Vision, who has another outlook. ‘Men have entered a great period of exploration,’ she believes. ‘They want to remain loyal to certain male values, but they are playing with new interpretations of masculinity. And brands have seen a way of tapping in to the multiple facets of this new man.’

French giant L’Oréal is one of a growing number of beauty companies convinced by the potential of the male sector. It markets a range of skincare products under the L’Oréal Paris Men Expert label. At the time of writing, this embraced everything from ‘skin renovating’ washes to ‘hydro energetic’ bronzer (we’ll return to the arcane language of men’s grooming products later). Clarins also has a range for men, featuring the now familiar moisturizing lotions along with fake tan and ‘the first hand care treatment specifically for men’. Lancôme has a similar line – and signed up rugged British actor Clive Owen to promote it in January 2007. This was the first time a male Hollywood star had become the face of a skincare range. Lancôme said its ‘clinical research’ among males aged from 19 to 70 proved that men were concerned about dehydrated skin due to shaving, as well as loss of skin firmness as they grew older. Men also worried about bags under their eyes, pores and age spots, the company insisted.

Estée Lauder was a pioneer in the sector, creating the Clinique Skin Supplies for Men range in 1976, and the Aramis LabSeries line ten years later. One of Clinique’s more forward-thinking products was ‘M Cover’ – a ‘natural-look cover for dark circles and blemishes’. Note the delicate tiptoeing around the word ‘concealer’, which has feminine associations. Usually, when it comes to selling skincare to men, marketers don’t stray too far from the blade.

The razor’s edge

‘Everything begins with shaving,’ confirms Genevieve Flaven of Style-Vision. ‘It’s the ultimate male ritual – the big “man moment” of the day. And this ritual can be used as a fulcrum for selling men a host of other products, from moisturizers and anti-ageing creams to fragrances and bronzing lotions. If a subtle link with the shaving ritual can be established, the products take on a masculine image and the consumer doesn’t feel feminized.’

The ultimate shaving brand, of course, is Gillette. It dominates the shaving and razor business, with a 70 per cent slice of the market. Although it came under attack from aspiring rivals in the 1990s, its position was strengthened when it was purchased in 2005 – for US$54 billion – by Procter & Gamble. It is now part of a distinctly masculine division within P&G, which embraces everything from Braun electric razors to Duracell alkaline batteries. P&G sees plenty of synergies in the Gillette acquisition: ‘We have the best-selling male fragrance in Hugo Boss,’ a P&G senior executive told Time magazine, shortly after the merger: ‘How about a Hugo Boss designer razor?’ (‘Land of the Giants’, 31 January 2005.)

Gillette’s famous advertising slogan is, of course, ‘The best a man can get’. Amusingly, though, the company was started by a man whose middle name was ‘Camp’.

King Camp Gillette was born in Fond du Lac, Wisconsin, in 1855. His entry in the MIT archive suggests that he had invention in his genes: his father was a ‘some-time patent agent and inveterate tinkerer’, while his mother’s experiments in the kitchen eventually yielded a cookbook.

Gillette became a travelling salesman at the age of 17, and by the 1890s he was working for a razor company. At that time, men were still using cut-throat razors, which had to be sharpened on a leather strop. As he was constantly on the road, Gillette knew how impractical and dangerous these devices could be. He hit upon the idea of a ‘safety’ razor that used disposable blades, which could be thrown away when they became dull. While the razor itself would be priced lower than its competitors, the manufacturer would make a profit out of the disposable blades, which would be stamped with his brand. The problem was convincing anybody that there was enough of a market to support the research and development costs of conjuring fingernail-thin blades out of sheet steel. Metallurgists at MIT assured him that this was technically impossible.

Gillette’s own personality can’t have helped his quest, as he must have come across as a rather eccentric sort of dreamer. A utopian socialist, in 1894 he’d written a book called The Human Drift, decrying society’s obsession with money. He proposed that the ‘monstrous, sprawling’ cities created by the industrial revolution be replaced by hive-like communities protected by glass domes. Although these views seem to have been provoked by his own feeling of under-achievement as his career stalled, he clung to them even when his invention made him a millionaire.

After several false starts, Gillette recruited engineer William Emery Nickerson, and together they refined the production process. In 1901 they founded The American Safety Razor Company, which changed its name to The Gillette Safety Razor Company a year later (World Advertising Research Centre company profile in association with Adbrands, February 2007). By now, Gillette was in his late forties.

In 1903, Gillette sold only 51 razors and 168 blades. To give the razors a push, Gillette began offering them free of charge for a short period, figuring that he could sell plenty of blades once he got consumers hooked. At the same time, he launched a major advertising drive. By the end of the following year, sales had rocketed to nearly 100,000 razors and more than 120,000 blades. Gillette became a marketing phenomenon. Over the next five years, sales quadrupled and the company expanded into Canada, France, Germany and the United Kingdom. Although Gillette’s invention had been patented in 1904, competitors inevitably emerged. The company’s standard response was to gobble them up. The final nail in the coffin for the barbershop shave came with the First World War, when the US government issued 3.5 million Gillette razors and 36 million blades to the military. As a way of developing brand loyalty, this was hard to beat.

Not that Gillette could have been accused of laxity when it came to marketing matters. From the very start, his own face and signature were printed onto the wrappers containing his blades, transforming him into a sort of celebrity: one of the original brand icons. In the 1920s the company ran a joint promotion with banks, deploying the slogan ‘Save and Shave!’ Ironically, in 1929 King C. Gillette became a victim of the Wall Street Crash, which wiped out almost the entirety of his fortune. At the same time, boardroom machinations had slowly forced him out of the business, until he found himself ousted by the company he had created. He died bitter and almost penniless at the age of 77, in 1934, after an unsuccessful last-ditch bid to extract oil from shale.

But the company survived and prospered. After the Second World War it began to diversify, launching its Foamy shaving cream in 1953. It also embarked on the first of a series of acquisitions. Fearing for the future of the disposable blade in the face of the new electric razor, Gillette cannily bought Braun in 1967 for US$68 million. Later acquisitions included toothbrush maker Oral-B (1984), luxury pen maker Waterman (1987), Parker Pens (1993) and Duracell (1996). With Braun, Duracell today sits in a ‘blades and razors and powered products’ business division within P&G.

Rather like Nike, which seems determined to endow joggers with superhuman powers, Gillette underpins its marketing with con-stant technological advancements. The current cycle began as early as 1967, when Gillette invented a razor called the Techmatic, whose ‘system’ meant that users no longer had to handle naked blades. In 1971, Gillette launched the first twin-bladed razor, the GII. This was followed by the swivel-headed Contour in 1984 and the Sensor in 1991 – the first razor to feature spring-mounted blades. The problem for Gillette is that each technical leap costs more money than the last. For example, according to the World Advertising Research Centre (WARC), Gillette spent ten years and more than US$150 million on research before launching the Sensor. The Mach3, launched in 2000, soaked up US$750 million, plus advertising spend of US$250 million. It’s not surprising that the company felt compelled to dive into the protective arms of P&G.

Despite the expense involved, Gillette may feel obliged to continue its marketing-by-technology strategy, because ‘functionality’ and ‘performance’ are among the strongest buying motors among male consumers. But the company flirted with ridiculousness in 2006 with the launch of the Gillette Fusion, which incorporated no less than six blades – if you counted the sideburn trimmer. Even the most marketing-sensitive consumer must have wondered whether six blades were really necessary. If three cutting edges had been doing the job for years, weren’t the extra three just there to encourage the others?

In fact, there are signs that the brand may shift its focus away from technology and towards sponsorship. In 2003 it signed a US$20 million marketing deal with NASCAR (The National Association for Stock Car Auto Racing), which has an almost religious following in the United States (see Chapter 10). A year later, it signed up soccer star David Beckham for a three-year endorsement deal. Beckham chose not to renew the contract when it ran out, having apparently been advised to push for a profit share in his endorsement arrangements, rather than accepting a flat fee (‘Beckham and Gillette part company after talks fail’,, 5 July 2007). In the meantime, Gillette had pushed ahead and signed up Tiger Woods, Thierry Henry and Roger Federer for a global campaign entitled ‘Champions’. The company’s press release, issued from its Boston headquarters on 4 February 2007, said it all: ‘The three ambassadors will be fully integrated into Gillette brand programs and will be leveraged through multifaceted marketing initiatives, including global print and broadcast advertising, consumer promotions, point-of-sale materials, online and public relations in support of Gillette premium shaving products.’

The access to big bucks and star firepower is crucial, because Gillette is under constant attack from its competitors. Schick – which owns Wilkinson Sword in Europe – has been at its throat for years. Schick has taken Gillette to court in both Europe and the United States arguing that the ‘best a man can get’ claim is no longer true, and that the company’s advertising is therefore misleading. The accusations have never gone the distance, but they sting.

For the time being, though, Gillette can feel confident of its position as one of the few genuinely global male-oriented brands. In its first year as a division of P&G, it sold US$3.5 billion worth of blades and razors, with net earnings of US$781 million. It has also proved adept at marketing male skincare products around the shaving ritual, launching ‘pre- and post-shave’ gels and balms to accompany each of its razors. Both the Mach3 and the Fusion models came with a ‘family’ of tie-in potions to help consumers achieve the perfect shave. They were also supported by websites offering shaving tips, just in case men hadn’t got the hang of the task.

Shop options

Along with functionality, familiarity is another important driver when it comes to male personal care shopping. That’s where Gillette wins. Few men are as experimental as our hero, who enjoys trying out different brands until he finds the product that is perfectly suited to the task. Older male consumers – in their thirties and upwards – are generally more stuck in their ways. They dislike browsing in the skincare section, so they just buy whatever they bought before – or a declination of the same. Men take a SWAT approach to shopping: get in, do the job, and get the hell out.

Retailers are keen to change this behaviour. A typical initiative is that of the Bijenkorf department store in Amsterdam. Its research revealed that two-thirds of its customers were female, and that the men who entered the store were mainly along for the ride with their wives and girlfriends, rather than out to shop for themselves. In a bid to attract them, the store created a stand-alone men’s section combining clothes, accessories, skincare and gadgets (‘It’s different for guys’, Financial Times, 28 April 2007). It realized that men, with their search-and-destroy shopping methods, would prefer to find all their stuff in one place rather than being forced to hike from one aisle to another.

Research from the United States supports the theory that men hate asking for directions. In a report called The Lost Male Shoppers, America’s Research Group revealed that men were deserting department stores in their droves, particularly during the key Christmas period. It conducted 72,000 shopper interviews over 12 consecutive Christmas seasons. ‘In the past decade, the number of men shopping at major department stores dropped gradually, but consistently, from 23 per cent to the current level of 7 per cent’ (Research Review, Vol. 13, No. 1, 2006). One of the reasons given for this was the shrinking of the stores’ electronics departments, which drove men to seek specialist technology stores. But 23 per cent of men also reported that they found department stores ‘confusing and difficult to shop’. Contradictorily, although they are shy about asking the way, men demand good service when they get there. No less than 45 per cent of the men surveyed said that they’d abandoned department stores because ‘no-one was available to assist them with their purchases’. When they finally needed advice, the only visible employee was operating the cash register.

Usefully, ARG suggests luring men back to department stores with ‘men’s shopping evenings’ or other male-oriented events tailored ‘to the male segment of the credit-card base’.

When the Miami branch of Macy’s department store opened a ‘treatment world’ for men at the end of 2004, The Miami Herald provided an enlightened commentary on the trends behind the decision. ‘Cosmetics have always been big business for depart-ment stores,’ it observed. ‘Cosmetics and toiletry companies rang up US$31.1 billion in US sales last year… Growth in the sector, however, has been slowing. The 2003 sales figure repre-sents a paltry 1.7 percent gain over the prior year. Sales of men’s cosmetics and anti-aging skin care products, in contrast, are sporting double-digit gains.’ Tucked away in the newsprint, we also find the reason that brands and retailers would like us to become paranoid about ageing. ‘Cosmetics are good business for department stores because high-end anti-aging products can yield large profit margins.’ (‘Cosmetics firms eye male market’, 23 October 2004.)

Tempting men to hang around rather than taking their usual hit-and-run approach is becoming a popular strategy. In New York, Bloomingdale’s has added ‘seating, sports magazines and televisions to the men’s areas to help stressed-out shoppers to relax’. Harrods in London has had a barber for years. In Paris, the owners of one department store have cunningly established a link between home improvements and fashion. For years, Parisian men have enjoyed hanging out in the basement of the BHV store (it stands for Bazaar de l’Hôtel de Ville – the store by the town hall). The vast space is famously devoted to DIY equipment of all kinds, and men spend happy hours down there fingering drill bits and comparing grades of sandpaper. In a stroke of genius, the store’s owners turned an empty warehouse nearby into a male fashion and grooming emporium called BHV Homme. The pared-down, loft-style space includes four floors of clothing and accessories, a traditional barber, a personal care department and a small spa where customers can get a manicure, a massage or a facial. There’s also a café with an agreeable terrace. At a stroke, BHV obtained a monopoly on ‘manly’ activities in that part of town.

Stand-alone men’s concept stores continue to emerge. In November 2006 a store called Wholeman, entirely devoted to male personal care – or as it says, ‘body maintenance for men’ – opened at 67 New Bond Street in London. Its chairman is Bob Ager, who has previously worked in a marketing capacity for the department stores Selfridges in London and Lane Crawford in Hong Kong. Ager explains that considerable qualitative research was done to refine the concept. ‘I’ve rarely seen a concept so endorsed by respondents,’ he says. ‘At the outset we felt that it was mostly likely to appeal to younger guys who loosely fit into the group referred to as “metrosexuals”, but what came out of the research and what experience has shown us is that interest in the category is far broader than you might imagine.’

Like BHV Homme in Paris, Wholeman also offers spa treatments alongside its range of products. ‘Most retailers haven’t really grasped how to sell to men,’ he says. ‘In department stores, cos-metics and skincare are organised by brand, and all the brands want separate stands, so the men’s products end up alongside the women’s. But a women’s perfume department is an alien envi-ronment to men. They just don’t want to be there.’

Initially, Ager and Wholeman’s backers toyed with the idea of an all-embracing men’s store, with gadgets and ‘boys’ toys’ along-side the grooming products. But the research showed that men preferred a more targeted offer. ‘They liked the idea of a grooming one-stop-shop, where they could buy products but also get a facial.’

Wholeman will expand into other cities, although Ager emphasizes that he does not see it as a high street brand. ‘We’ll be aiming for sophisticated urban environments. Men are coming round to grooming – and the media has been very supportive – but probably only about 20 per cent of guys are seriously into it at the moment. That leaves a big market to win over.’

National characteristics

British men are more experimental than other Europeans – and approaches to grooming definitely vary by country. In Germany, for example, local giant Beiersdorf dominates the market with its Nivea for Men range. This was officially launched in 1986, although Nivea had been making male-oriented products since 1922, when it launched a shaving soap. A national interest in health and wellness and the equation of smooth looks with success mean that German men are naturally disposed to grooming regimes, shying away from the stubbly, nonchalant look that lurks in the corridors of many French companies. Beiersdorf has successfully taken the brand around the world – recently launching a ‘whitening cream’ for men in India, where it believes the male grooming market is about to explode. (Indian women have long yearned for fairer skin for complex reasons that relate to both the caste system and, perhaps, the vestiges of colonial rule.)

In the United States, the internet is a popular method of targeting men, many of whom still feel uncomfortable shopping for skin-care products. Male interest websites like are flourishing, and brands regularly run print ads and e-mail cam-paigns directing men to online shopping sites. In early 2007, Nivea for Men promoted its Energizing Hydro Gel moisturizer via a campaign called ‘Up 4 anything’. Sponsored by the men’s magazine Maxim, as well as rock music bible Rolling Stone and sports channel ESPN, it encouraged men to log on to a website and post videos of themselves explaining why they should win a trip to Las Vegas.

Around the same time, Philips Norelco launched a US campaign for its body hair razor for men, the Bodygroom, via a website. It was a sensitive issue, as men were reluctant to talk about their desire to trim their underarm hair, tidy up their chest hair, remove back hair, and perhaps prune other, more delicate regions. The online ad was simple – a cool, funny guy in a bathrobe explained why you should shave your body hair (the ‘adds an optical inch’ argument was particularly compelling), supported by amusing visual innuendoes involving vegetables. The razors whizzed out of stores, the campaign created a new category, and after research the company found that 60 per cent of purchasers did so because of the site (

As we’ve seen, the growth of the male grooming sector is by no means a purely Western phenomenon. Lancôme, for one, is con-vinced that it is an international trend. It claims that a survey of 20,000 men around the world showed that European men use skincare to ‘be at their best – dynamic,’ while US consumers want to be at ‘a business and social advantage’. Japanese men want to ‘feel confident and look younger’.

Men in many Asian cultures have long been comfortable with grooming rituals, so the adoption of more recent skincare aids should not be a great leap. An article in The Wall Street Journal noted: ‘Cosmetics marketers are tapping into a powerful shift in gender images taking place in many developed East Asian countries; the conservative, macho male stereotypes that have long dominated society in Japan and South Korea are giving way to a softer, more gender-neutral look.’ It observed that ‘as women gain power and influence, they are expressing a preference for different kinds of men’. For example, South Korean women are apparently attracted to men with ‘a pretty face, big eyes and fair skin’, which is encouraging men to turn to cosmetics to help them fulfil the ideal (‘Asia’s lipstick lads’, Wall Street Journal, 27 May 2005).

A year earlier, the Manila arm of research company Synovate had published the results of a ‘male vanity’ study conducted among 3,000 men across the Philippines, China, Hong Kong, Korea, Singapore and Taiwan. Among other findings, it suggested that 67 per cent of Filipino men used fragrances – by far the highest in the region – followed by Koreans at 28 per cent. Koreans were more concerned about their hair, with 53 per cent saying they used some kind of styling product. The popularity of skin cleansers was low, but 67 per cent of Korean men admitted to using a moisturizer ‘perhaps… because of their chilly winter weather’, the article ventured. (‘Vanity, thy name is man’, BusinessWorld, 27 December 2004.)

A few months later, a piece in Time Asia confirmed that the metro-sexual had definitely arrived in the region. ‘Narcissism is in, thanks to economic growth, higher disposable incomes, shifting gender roles, and fashion and cosmetics industries eager to expand their customer bases,’ it declared (‘Mirror, mirror… ’, October 2005). The piece suggested that the image-obsessed male had become a ‘recognizable sub-species’ in many Asian markets. ‘In China, they are called the aimei nanren (love beauty men), fastidious fellows who are unafraid to spend a few hours in a beauty salon getting pedicures, pore packs and back waxes. Their counterparts in Korea are the kkotminam (flower men), club-hopping packs of primping fops who accessorize with designer bling and faux fur.’ The article pointed out that the Isetan department store in Tokyo had installed a whole floor devoted to men’s cosmetics. ‘Dandy House, Japan’s leading chain of men’s beauty salons (with 59 outlets), got its start in the 1980s because its founders noticed how women were pressuring men to adopt better grooming habits.’

Once again, women were portrayed as the puppet-mistresses behind the feminized man. Others have ascribed the new interest in grooming to a collective admiration for former Prime Minister Junichiro Koizumi, who stepped down from office in September 2006. ‘With his Beethoven locks, thin build, and dapper choice of suits, Koizumi was something of a heartthrob with women voters… ’ (‘Japan raises the male beauty bar’, BusinessWeek, 11 December 2006). As in Germany, looking presentable has become linked with power and success. By 2006 the men’s beauty care market in Japan had doubled since the turn of the millennium, raking in US$248 million a year, according to Yano Research Institute in Tokyo. That same year the Japanese cosmetics giant Shiseido released a survey claiming that more than 70 per cent of male respondents thought it was important to take care of their appearance.

Tooled up

With most men still wary of marketing that contains any hint of narcissism, skincare brands are playing it safe. The harnessing of male icons, as discussed above, is an increasingly sure route. The promise of practical results is another.

While Axe had successfully played since its 1983 launch on the idea of ‘The Axe Effect’ – a scent that makes its wearer irresistible to women – it had problems expanding into the shower gel market, because users felt that any potential effect was literally washed down the drain. Brand owner Unilever and its advertising agency Bartle Bogle Hegarty tackled this challenge by re-booting the functionality factor. Its marketing strategy suggested that seduction was not just about dousing one’s body in scent, but required an entire preparatory process – similar to the way that athletes get in shape for major events. Thus it introduced four products: Groove, which charges your body and puts you in the mood for ‘a legendary night’; Reload, which re-energises, so you’re ready to go out; Sunrise, which stimulates the senses; and Contact, which moisturises the skin so ‘you are ready for close contact’. Later products moved the story on to the following morning, with an invigorating anti-hangover gel and a scrub that ‘removed traces of a filthy night’. (‘Axe – Getting Dirty Boys Clean’, IPA Effectiveness Awards, 2006.)

Positioning grooming products as tools – or even medicines – is the most common method of promoting personal care to men. For confirmation, one only needs to look at the language on the packaging. The Swiss brand Task Essential – which already has a solid masculine ring about it – includes in its range products such as Oxywater O² Oxygen Spray and Stop Burning aftershave. LabSeries Skincare for Men is another example. ‘High tech, high performance, high results,’ says its website, which assures us that, ‘since 1987, the elite team of doctors, scientists and skin care specialists of the LabSeries Research Center’ has been striv-ing away to develop innovative products that will enable us to look our best. Its products include ‘Mega Foam Shave’, ‘Skin Refinisher’ and ‘Root Power Hair Tonic’. You can practically hear the products growling. In all these cases, colours are either pri-mary and assertive, like an emergency vehicle, or soothing and neutral, like a laboratory or a gymnasium.

As a balance to all this machismo, French brand Nickel takes a more jocular approach. Launched by the entrepreneur Philippe Dumont in 1996, the brand was one of the first to establish a ‘men only’ beauty institute, in the Marais quarter of Paris, with a successful concession opening soon afterwards in the Printemps department store. Its products include Smooth Operator shaving gel, Fire Insurance aftershave moisturizer, Silicon Valley anti-wrinkle cream, and Morning After revitalizing lotion.

Dumont, whose sales have largely relied on highly visible blue packaging, media coverage and word of mouth, says that he targets men directly – without trying to seduce their partners first. ‘I figure [men] are big enough to take care of themselves,’ he told the Canadian website in 2006. In the same interview, he admitted that most men did not regard skincare as essential. ‘Fundamentally, a man could go his entire life without using a single cosmetic product,’ he said. ‘The generations before us did so. So it’s not a case of necessity, it’s a case of, “Is it fun, am I more at ease, does it make me feel good?” We don’t need to talk about men’s “problems”. But we can say that it’s probably better to arrive at work in the morning without anybody being able to tell that you’ve been partying all night.’

Another French male skincare brand, Skeen+, has a sombre, scientific air. Its Paris store resembles a library, with no-nonsense, colour-coded products neatly aligned on shelves like the spines of books. A lone computer on a pedestal at the back of the long, uncluttered space reinforces the feeling that this is a centre of expertise, where men’s skin will, quite literally, be in safe hands. The store may have a Scandinavian sparseness about it, but its owner is exotically Latin: born in Uruguay to an Italian family, Pedro Garcia Maggi attended a French school in Montevideo be-fore arriving in Paris 15 years ago to study human resources. After an internship at L’Oréal, he was hired to work in the company’s marketing department. Eventually he was made marketing direc-tor of the Vichy brand, which was being re-positioned. ‘They wanted to turn it into a medically-oriented skincare product,’ he recalls. ‘So I travelled throughout Europe, the United States and Asia, talking to dermatologists and researching the evolution of the sector. I learned that the health of our skin is governed by only a few effective molecules. Therefore the number of active ingredients in any skincare product is limited. All the rest is just marketing. In fact, as the industry survives on volume sales, very few branded skincare products contain the pure ingredients used by dermatologists.’

Armed with this knowledge, Maggi decided to leave L’Oréal and create his own range of skincare products based on dermatological research. His multi-functional 12-product anti-ageing line is designed to be as effective as a pharmacy brand. ‘I mobilized a team of dermatologists, biochemists and pharmacists to come up with a radical anti-aging formula for men, using pure ingredients with genuine dermatological benefits.’

He briskly dismisses this idea that men are becoming ‘feminized’ in their approach to skincare. ‘There are a lot of myths about the male skincare market. In fact, for years men have wanted exactly the same as women: products that are simple, effective and based on research.’

Although Skeen+ is located in the Marais quarter of Paris – an area known for its sizeable gay community – Maggi denies that gay consumers are his primary target market. ‘My products are for intelligent men looking for products that they can trust. My aim is to take a more sophisticated approach to male skincare. When you look at men’s products from major brands, they have an extremely patronizing marketing proposition. It’s always about sport, outdoors, virility, freshness and so on. Does anybody still buy into that?’

The ‘anti-packaging’ packaging of the products – with simple descriptions apparently typewritten on brightly-coloured labels – came about almost by chance. ‘We used the same system during clinical tests, so the laboratory didn’t get the different samples mixed up. In the end I got used to it, so I asked our designer to adopt the same style.’

An unusual feature of the L-shaped store is a small gallery space for local artists. Combined with the soothing ambient music, it adds to the intelligent yet cocooning atmosphere. ‘I wanted it to be a place where people could come and seek advice, and maybe stay for a while,’ says Maggi. ‘It should be a relaxing experience, which sits easily with notions of health and well-being.’

Less surprisingly, a qualified dermatologist is on hand to analyse the client’s skin using two hand-held scanners. Users see their skin magnified several thousand times on the computer screen and hear about sun damage, hydration and elasticity. ‘The analytical aspect really appeals to our customers, who are surprisingly knowledgeable about dermatology even before they walk in the door,’ says Maggi. ‘Once they learn about what’s going on with their skin, they rarely leave with just one product.’

The minimalist packaging of Skeen+ products bears a passing resemblance to that of Kiehl’s. Today owned by L’Oréal, the venerable shaving and skincare brand claims to have been founded as an ‘old world apothecary’ in the East Village of New York in 1851. The original store certainly looks authentic enough. The brand plays on a classic barbershop aesthetic, leavened with irony, through products like its ‘Close Shavers’ Squadron’ cream, ‘Facial Fuel’ moisturizer and ‘Ultimate Man’ body scrub soap. Although it also provides products for women – as well as babies and even pets – its heritage, no-nonsense labelling and gentle humour combine to deliver a high comfort factor for male consumers.

Perhaps in a bid to add a bit of derring-do into the mix, Kiehl’s claims that a 1988 Mount Everest expedition team took a selection of the brand’s products on the climb with them. While lip balm and moisturizer are undoubtedly essential when you’re scaling the side of a mountain, it seems harder to believe that the climbers had recourse to the ‘Cucumber Herbal Alcohol-free Toner’ or the ‘Imperiale Repaireateur Moisturizing Masque’ – both of which feature in the ‘Everest 88 Collection’. But if it helps us all feel a little more intrepid while we’re pampering ourselves, let’s just go along with the idea.

Male beauty parlours

Among the places where men feel most comfortable, beauty insti-tutes and health spas are hardly at the top of the list. That was certainly the feeling of Laith Waines before he became co-founder and managing director of The Refinery, an expanding chain of ‘men’s grooming emporia’ that also has a line of skincare products. A former investment banker, Waines admits that throughout his twenties, his grooming routine ‘basically involved soap and the occasional dip into my girlfriend’s moisturizer’.

All that changed when he began dating a woman who was seri-ously into health spas, and who encouraged him to join her. ‘I found myself getting massages and facials, which I would never have done before. While these experiences were highly agreeable, the clientele was 95 per cent female, and I felt very self-conscious trailing around the spa in my towelling robe. But the germ of the idea was there: I thought that if I could provide a masculine version of this service, I might be on to something.’

When Waines quit banking in 1998, he teamed up with a friend to bring his idea to life. ‘We felt that if we were going to do this, it had to be done properly. It had to be a high-end experience.’ So the pair found a Georgian townhouse in London’s Brook Street, opposite Claridge’s Hotel. This was the heart of Mayfair – a district that has been linked with male elegance ever since Regency dandy George ‘Beau’ Brummell strode the streets in his immaculate white necktie and champagne-polished boots. The building itself already had a clubby, restrained atmosphere, which Waines and his colleagues drew on while designing their brand. The 3,500-square-metre space is distributed over a number of floors, giving an impression of privacy. There are nine treatment rooms, along with a barbering salon and a lounge. Colours are soothing and neutral: white, grey, charcoal, mahogany, beige… The ‘therapists’ are attractive women.

The Refinery is also notable for its discretion. It feels like a herm-etic universe, screened from the street. While women’s nail salons often feature giant windows, the last thing a man wants when he’s getting a manicure is to be on display to passers-by. When it comes to their looks, men are hypocrites.

‘Every aspect had to be carefully planned, right down to the language on the treatment menu,’ says Waines. ‘We knew straight away that we had to steer clear of anything that shouted “beauty” and focus very much on “grooming”. We also felt that men would be more comfortable taking advice on how to improve their appearance from women.’

Working on the logic that men’s priorities are a decent haircut and a shave, The Refinery at first leaned heavily on its barbering to generate loyalty. ‘But even then, we knew we had to offer a remarkable experience. Few men see the point of a fifty quid hair-cut. So we provide a consultation service, a scalp massage, a precision cut from a top stylist, and a hot towel at the end. Our tradi-tional wet shave is equally luxurious.’

The strategy of pitching men with a few extras while they’re in the barber’s chair is as old as the question ‘Something for the weekend, sir?’, and it shows no sign of dying out. In the United States, the brand Aveda (owned by the ever-pioneering Estée Lauder) launched its first male grooming collection by sending 85,000 product samples to 6,000 hair salons around the country. These came ‘complete with a detailed guide suggesting language, dress code and marketing strategies design to make men feel more com-fortable when reaching for premium shampoo’. (‘Beauty com-panies sniff out men’s grooming sales’, Brandweek, 9 July 2007.)

To smooth the way from a haircut and a shave to a less familiar treatment, The Refinery introduced the concept of ‘The Pit Stop’. ‘It was a way of suggesting a 15-minute manicure, pedicure or massage in the kind of language a guy can deal with. The idea was that he’d come in for a haircut but hang around for a few extra minutes for a manicure.’

Waines says he relies on word of mouth and media coverage to attract customers. Crucially, he also depends on women. ‘One of the things that surprised me the most when we opened was the number of men who turned up at the urging of their women. A large proportion of our new business is driven by gift vouchers, and most of those are bought by women for Father’s Day or birthdays.’

An early illustration of the influence of women was provided before the emporium had even opened. A delay in the refurbishment process meant that instead of welcoming its first customers in November 1999, as had originally been planned, The Refinery did not open for business until January 2000. In the meantime, though, The Sunday Times Style magazine had run a double-page article about the project. This meant that by the time The Refinery was actually up and running, it had already sold £20,000 worth of gift vouchers – mostly to women. ‘They were picking their way through what was practically a building site to buy vouchers,’ Waines recalls.

This echoes a comment by Wholeman’s Bob Ager, who notes that many of the customers buying lotions and potions in his store are women. Waines accepts that women will always ‘want their man to look good’, but he believes that men have become bolder in the few years since he founded his business. ‘Today, our clients regard The Refinery as a lifestyle brand along the same lines as Armani. Being a regular customer is something you can be proud of – it’s part of your self-image. The workplace is competitive and you need to look your best. A bar of soap isn’t good enough any more.’

The company now has three emporia in London (having taken over the running of the barbershop at Harrods) and an outlet in Tokyo. In 2004 it launched its line of skincare products in association with Aromatherapy.

While The Refinery was something of a pioneer, it is not alone. Male spas have been springing up for a while now. In the United States, they are usually more blatantly testosterone-driven offer-ings, with beer and TV sports on offer while a barber goes about his business. One of the models Waines looked at while plan-ning his project was John Allan’s, the New York grooming establishment founded way back in 1988. Owner John Allan Meing currently has four salons in New York. And although the atmosphere feels classically American, Meing trained with top chopper Jean Louis David in Paris, where he learned that getting a haircut could be a luxurious experience. Now, for US$65 or an annual fee of US$600 for unlimited visits, clients of John Allan’s can get cuts ranging from a straightforward trim to an hour-long treatment – once again including a scalp massage and a hot towel – as well as a manicure, a shoeshine and a beer. Indeed, the bar and pool table contribute to the clubby, ‘rat pack’ ambience.

‘It doesn’t matter who you are – when you’re sitting in our chairs, we’re going to treat you like the most important person in the world,’ John Allan Meing told The New York Times. ‘As a guy, when you feel good about grooming, the whole process stops becoming a chore and starts becoming part of your usual routine.’ (‘Where guys can indulge in a little “me” time’, The New York Times, 16 April 2007.)

John Allan’s is essentially a barber shop with side orders, but as he observed in another interview, this time with ABC Eyewitness News, ‘When I started in 1988, a manicure was like a root canal.’ (‘The spa treatment… for men’, 17 March 2007.) Today, though, ‘along with the gym, the car, the relationship, the diet, all of that, we’re the last spoke of that wheel’.

There is still room for expansion in the men’s skincare market. But the very nature of the male consumer is likely to place a cap on growth. While women often treat skincare and cosmetics as a pleasurable indulgence, shopping for these products as enthusi-astically as they do for clothing, men need a concrete reason to buy a product. For them, everything relates back to function.

Branding toolkit

  • Never underestimate the influence of women.
  • Address fears of aging.
  • Link skincare products to the shaving ritual.
  • Borrow the language of sports and science: stress functionality.
  • Choose authentic male role models.
  • A hint of retro luxury appeals: think traditional barbershop.
  • Self-deprecating humour can work.
  • The internet is an ideal environment for reaching men.
  • Men are highly discreet in matters of personal care.
  • Department stores should cater for men with specific sections and evening shopping events.

From Branded Male by Mark Tungate, published by Kogan Page 2008.

Mark Tungate

Copyright © 2008 Kogan Page. All rights reserved.

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