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Grooming Brands Snare Men With Sex, Humor

Marketing experts recommend appealing to men through sex or humor.

Men are revealing a lot these days: their feelings. And not about Fantasy Football, for once. After decades of indifference, men have dropped their guard and admitted they care what women think of their looks.

A glance at the latest men’s grooming ads elicits the following range of emotion-led actions from the XY chromosome set: a wink-wink, knee slap, fist pump, wistful sigh, hand over heart — and, increasingly, a purchase. Men’s marketers are trying to spur men to buy grooming products with a string of memorable messages that use either humor, sex or appeal to their confidence (or lack there of). The shift in tone comes as men are opting for a more barbered, clean-cut look — another reason to thank the guys on Madison Avenue, or, in this case, “Mad Men.”

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When it comes to marketing to men, Paco Underhill, founding president of the New York-based consultancy Envirosell, said there are really only two approaches from which to choose: “Sex and humor.” Marketers have delivered those two elements in spades. The men’s grooming category in the U.S. totaled $4.8 billion last year, up 1.1 percent from $4.7 billion in 2008, according to Euromonitor International, and this year promises more robust movement.

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The real key to unleashing supersonic growth, suggests Underhill, is getting the guy’s guy — or, in his words, “the Caterpillar tractor driver or Harley-Davidson rider” — to buy into the men’s grooming category. “Men’s sexual identity is much more tender than women’s. They are scared of being called wimpy or not tough,” said Underhill.

Enter the long-held practice of drafting hulking sports stars to front men’s care products.

Men’s ads have been soaked in testosterone since Joe Namath lathered his face with Noxzema shaving cream in the early Seventies, and that has not changed. But several marketers are putting a fresh spin on what it means to be masculine.

Procter & Gamble Co.’s 72-year-old Old Spice brand ignited belly laughter, online chatter and sales by poking fun of masculine bravado. The brand launched its “Smell Like a Man, Man” campaign, featuring the shirtless, smooth-talking Isaiah Mustafa — a former NFL wide receiver-turned-actor — just prior to the Super Bowl and the video soon went viral.

The spot featured Mustafa riding backward on a white horse, declaring, “Did you know women prefer Old Spice for their men one bagillion times more than ladies’ scented bodywashes?” Another ad began with a smooth, deep-throated “Hello, ladies,” in a bid to pull in female fans (read: buyers). The absurdity hooked consumers, who soon began downloading the TV commercials from YouTube.

Sales rocketed. Speaking at Barclays conference last week, Ed Shirley, P&G’s vice chairman of global beauty and grooming, said, “And as a result of great consumer communication, as well as an incredible leverage of our social media, we’ve been able to drive Old Spice to market leadership in both deodorants and bodywash in the U.S. against our chief competitor, Axe.”

The company had been working to recast Old Spice for a younger audience for five years. “We weren’t satisfied with the results we were getting. The brand was doing well, but we weren’t fully exploiting the power of the brand,” said Thom Lachman, P&G’s vice president for North America grooming. The ads, created by Weiden + Kennedy, were designed to appeal to women, who purchase 60 percent of men’s grooming products, but not alienate men.

To introduce its men’s care line, Dove Men+Care, last winter, the Unilever brand built its “Manthem” advertising campaign, created by Ogilvy & Mather, around “unsung moments,” like the day a man marries or his child is born, said Mike Dwyer, marketing director for Unilever Men’s deodorant brands, which includes Dove Men+Care, Axe, Suave, Vaseline and Degree.

Of course, there is a bit of laugher involved. The first ad spot — aired during this year’s Super Bowl — introduced the Dove Men+Care “Manthem,” which declares (set to “William Tell Overture,” mind you): “You’ve reached a stage where you feel at ease. You’ve come this far and it wasn’t a breeze. You can take on anything. Of course you can! Because you’re a man.”

More recent ads tone down the laughs and turn up the emotion. In July, the brand launched an iAd called “Journey to Comfort,” which features several Major League Baseball players, including New York Yankees pitcher Andy Pettitte, speaking candidly about their path to personal and professional success.

The approach is a far cry from its brother brand, Axe, which has been raising eyebrows in the U.S. since its launch here in 2002. “The positioning hasn’t changed. The brand is still focused on being the guy’s ally in the mating game. However, girls have very much been integrated into the marketing campaigns,” said Dwyer. “The girls are now in on the joke.”

At the time of Axe’s launch, Dwyer recalled, “The market had a very dry, functional approach to speaking to men.” He added Axe wanted to speak to 18- to 24-year-olds’ interests — which are, basically, girls, girls and girls — in a witty and irreverent way. Irreverent may be the operative word. The tag line for The Axe Detailer, a two-side exfoliator, or, in reality, a manly version of a bodywash puff, is “Cleans Your Balls.”

“Guys are generally very literal,” said Dwyer. “Instead of using the word ‘exfoliate,’ Axe says, ‘Scrap off the rough stuff.’”


To hone its approach, Axe relies on “customer connect” market research, which dispatches people to college campuses to drop into bars and observe how guys pick up girls. A tough gig. “It’s less about [sitting behind] the desk and more about being with them,” said Dwyer.

Axe popularized the guy-gets-girl marketing message, giving teenage boys the world over a new, more innocent kind of liquid courage (in body spray form). Old Spice, Axe’s nemesis, introduced the latest installment of the Old Spice “Smell Like a Man, Man” ad campaign last week. The spot for Swagger Bodywash features NFL football player Ray Lewis of the Baltimore Ravens, who tosses a saddle on a giant robotic raven and rides off into outer space. Old Spice’s fans on Facebook were buzzing about the ad.

“Before, we were pushing the message out. Now, consumers are pushing it out to their friends, creating an atomic reaction,” said P&G’s Lachman.

During the company’s earnings call on Aug. 3, P&G said its U.S. male bodywash business delivered 45 percent share in June, with both Gillette and Old Spice growing ahead of the competition. U.S. Old Spice increased shipments in the high-single digits and market share grew almost a point to make Old Spice the number-one male bodywash brand, driven by the “Smell Like a Man, Man” marketing, which has generated almost 1.2 billion impressions since February and become the number-one all-time most viewed sponsor channel on YouTube.

On Monday at the Bank of America Merrill Lynch conference, P&G chief financial officer Jon Moeller told investors, “U.S. value share for Old Spice bodywash is up over two points in the past three months to 32 percent, and Old Spice deodorant has increased value share by almost two points. This is 100 percent halo effect for deodorant since we haven’t dedicated advertising on Old Spice deodorants in over a year.”

If P&G is taking a humorous tack, Beiersdorf Inc.’s Nivea for Men is pursuing a high-brow approach. “Men, particularly over the past four years, have been portrayed as one-dimensional. Marketing and pop culture are telling us we’ve failed to evolve. They are not video gamers eating microwave food. We’ve oversimplified men,” said Magnus Jonsson, who earlier this week was promoted to vice president of marketing at Beiersdorf. “We are going after men who put a little more pride in who they are, men who put effort and care into everything they do.”

Nevertheless, the language in which Nivea speaks to men needs to be simple and to the point. “The name of the product needs to convey the benefit and performance,” said Jonsson. For instance, last year, Nivea for Men introduced Active 3, a shampoo, bodywash and shaving gel in one bottle, with the tag line “Get More Done in the Shower.” Video tutorials on offer men advice on how to shave body hair in the shower — chest and armpits and rated-R areas included. It plans to follow the launch with Active 3 Sport shortly.

Magnus said Nivea’s men’s care business was up 4.3 percent, outpacing mass market category growth of 1.7 percent, which excludes Wal-Mart, for the 13-week period ended Aug. 21. Also, he added sales of Nivea men’s bodywash gained 99 percent during the same time period.

Nivea for Men plans to introduce a repositioned line backed by a new campaign early next year, designed to show all of men’s dimensions with a healthy lifestyle approach.

Jonsson said, “Humor is important for us. We need to leverage a smarter, more intelligent sense of humor. Not make fun of men.”

The Art of Shaving, the P&G-owned manufacturer and retailer of men’s grooming products, also has traditionally taken a more serious approach to the business. But later this fall, it will toss in a bit of wit into its marketing efforts, said Eric Malka, who co-founded the company with his wife, Myriam Zaoui.

“We wanted guys to spend 100 bucks on shaving, not $3 on a deodorant. We needed them to take us seriously, so we were very straightforward in our tone,” said Malka, who oversees the brand’s 41 freestanding stores. Now, he added, it’s time to push the envelope a touch to make The Art of Shaving “more approachable.” Malka was mum on the details of the effort, but said: “It’s sophisticated wit.” And with the might of P&G behind it, the brand plans to “turn up the heat on marketing.” It also continues to trumpet its association with Gillette, which began as a collaboration in 2007 and led to its acquisition by P&G.

As it evolves, The Art of Shaving’s communication will continue to be straightforward, said Malka. “Men don’t respond to fluff. They don’t care that the lavender used in the product was grown in the hills of Provence. Men are interested in looking good. It gives them confidence,” he said, adding, “Shaving is the tip of the iceberg. Skin care is right up there.”

Sam Buffa, co-founder of the ultrahip Manhattan outpost F.S.C. Barber, said his clients are recent graduates from drugstore hair care products to the professional lines sold at the barbershop, such as Baxter of California, and also are likely to dabble in the skin care offering, which includes Malin + Goetz and Santa Maria Novella. “He’s getting more interested in men’s grooming, but he’s most focused on what works,” said Buffa of his customer.

But while most marketing efforts in the past focused on traditional men’s areas such as deodorant, body spray and shaving, now men’s care brands see ample growth opportunity in hair care and body care — categories in which men are still raiding women’s vanities for products.

“All communication has to answer: ‘Why should a guy care?’” said Dwyer of Unilever. “Language and emotional connection trump everything.”