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Can Grooming Brands Get ‘Low Maintenance’ Men to Buy Beauty?

Changing cultural attitudes have given men ‘permission to groom,’ but beauty brands still struggle to make them spend.
Kiehl's partner's with Marvel's Captain America for an advertising campaign | Source: Kiehl's
  • Helena Pike

LONDON, United Kingdom — "Guys have been given 'permission to groom,'" says Chris Good, president of the Estée Lauder Companies UK & Ireland. Indeed, the rise of 'metrosexual' and 'spornosexual' male consumers, who increasingly prioritise their personal looks, has ensured that keeping up appearances is no longer an exclusively female preserve. The global men's grooming market, defined by Euromonitor as shaving products, toiletries and fragrances, has grown at over five percent each year since 2010. In 2015, the market was worth $47.17 billion, and is predicted to reach $55.5 billion by 2020.

Men’s grooming still makes up only a fraction of overall beauty sales, capturing 11 percent of the global beauty market, according to Euromonitor. However, it is one of the fastest growing segments of the industry: global men’s grooming sales have outperformed the global beauty market for the last five years.

The potential for expansion is significant. In 2014, the average global per capita expenditure on beauty and personal care was $65 — while per capita expenditure on men’s grooming was under $5, according to Euromonitor. “[It] indicates significant room for growth in usage and purchase frequency of men’s grooming products,” says Ildiko Szalai, senior beauty and personal care analyst at the firm. “With more money in their pockets, men remain a lucrative consumer base for beauty companies to target.”

And yet, companies trying to win over the male beauty consumer face a unique set of challenges.

Products that solve problems

A major hurdle is getting the consumer to invest more time and money in personal care. Euromonitor found that men take significantly less time over their appearance each day, and have only eight products in their beauty cabinet, compared to the 21 used by women.

Skincare is the fastest growing segment of the men’s grooming market, experiencing double-digit growth in 2015, but engagement remains low, with only 20 to 25 percent of British men using skincare products, according to men’s skincare company Bulldog. “It’s still more likely that men don’t use face wash and moisturise than they do,” says Simon Duffy, founder of Bulldog, which launched in 2007 and is predicting sales of £13 million (just over $18 million at current exchange rates) for 2016.

“[Men] are often buying into the grooming category with a problem/solution attitude — looking for instant solutions,” says Nick Ferguson, men’s skincare category manager for the Estée Lauder Companies UK & Ireland. “Men tend not invest as much time as their female counterparts in terms of research and product comparison,” he continues.

As a result, simplicity is key when marketing beauty to men. In Mintel’s 2015 survey of grooming habits in the US, 86 percent of men said they preferred their routine to be as simple as possible. “They want a quick buy and tend to steer away from complex formulations and packaging,” agrees Elodie Bohoun, beauty buyer for Selfridges.

On the other hand, Charlotte Libby, senior beauty analyst at Mintel says there is a need for men’s grooming brands to educate customers. “They haven’t grown up reading magazines, which were teaching them that you have to tone and moisturise,” she says, but warns brands not to patronise male consumers. “It’s about how you can help them understand and help them explore it in a way that is not intimidating and not condescending or overwhelming,” she says.

For men’s eyes only

One of the biggest challenges is the stigma that still exists around men buying items perceived as beauty products. In the past, "Brands that have successfully launched men's lines such as Tom Ford and Clinique have done so by making the packaging very masculine and adding the words 'for men,' just to reinforce the point," says Dan Rookwood, US editor of Mr. Porter, which launched a grooming category in 2013 that he says is growing over 50 percent year-on-year.

Likewise, premium skincare brand Kiehl’s shills products with masculine names like “Heavy Lifting Facial Fuel” (an anti-wrinkle moisturiser) and “Ultimate Man Body Scrub.” Another approach is to build products around personal care challenges that are specific to male consumers, such as facial razor burn and more oily skin. For instance, a brand might position a product that tackles ingrown hairs as a remedy for stubble and beards.

One way to make men feel more comfortable around personal care products is to associate them with typical areas of male interest, from rocket science and comic books to gadgets and technology. To promote its “Facial Fuel,” Kiehl’s partnered with Marvel to create a limited-edition Captain America comic book, and also launched its “Oil Eliminator” moisturiser for men — which contains “space-age” ingredients — 23 miles into the Earth’s stratosphere via a weather balloon. Meanwhile, monthly subscription service Birchbox includes a non-beauty item — such as a Google Cardboard virtual reality headset — alongside the eye gels and facemasks in its men’s subscription packages.

Crossing Gender Lines

Beauty brands with a strong foothold in the women’s market often have the hardest time branching into the men’s market. “Men want to feel like there’s a company out there that has them front and centre of what they’re trying to do from a product perspective,” says Duffy. With mass-market brands like Dove, L’Oreal and Nivea, which “are phenomenally well-marketed as female brands,” men’s ranges can end up feeling like an afterthought to consumers, he argues.

In this regard, men-only brands might have an advantage. Duffy attributes being “distinctively masculine” as key to Bulldog’s success. According to the 2015 UK facial skincare report by Mintel, in the year ending March 2015, in the UK market for men’s skincare, Gillette, Dove Men+ Care and Nivea Men dropped in value by 46 percent, 36 percent and 4 percent respectively, while Bulldog increased 36 percent. Some major brands have attacked this challenge by acquiring smaller men-only beauty companies — in 2012, L’Oreal bought male grooming brand Baxter of California.

However, labels like Bulldog or Baxter are still minor brands compared to beauty behemoths like L’Oreal Group — which accounts for over five percent of the global grooming market, according to Euromonitor. According to Euromonitor’s Szalai, “Very often [men’s grooming products] are purchased by a female family member or strongly influenced" by a female consumer, who is more likely to opt for brands she knows.

Avoiding alienation

Brands also need to be careful when marketing masculinity. A 2016 Mintel survey of men’s advertising revealed that a quarter of male consumers find it difficult to identify with men they are shown in adverts. One in six men aged between 16 and 24 said advertising had made them feel more self-conscious about their looks.

“Traditionally, male grooming brands have spoken to men through a narrow lens of masculinity,” explains Ferguson. “This ‘one size fits all’ approach is no longer relevant as concepts of masculinity have become fragmented.”

A 2010 advertisement for L’Oreal Paris Men Expert’s ‘Hydra Energetic Anti-Fatigue Moisturiser’ featured Hollywood actor Gerard Butler riding a motorbike, winning boxing and poker matches and kissing a beautiful woman. In contrast, a 2015 deodorant campaign by Dove Men+Care shows men caring for children and baking. And earlier this year, grooming brand Axe (known in some markets as Lynx) dropped its promise of making men irresistible to women, in favour of a new campaign, “Find Your Magic,” which celebrates individuality.

“Going forward, the biggest challenge will be trial and adoption,” says Libby. “It’s more difficult to diversify men’s routines and [encourage them] to adopt usage of a wider range of products.” For the moment, adds Szalai, “men appear to remain low maintenance.”

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