BATAVIA (AdAge.com) -- It's a beautiful time to be a man -- or at least to market to men -- as personal-care marketers rev up for what looks to be the biggest array of product launches for men in nearly a decade and maybe ever.
"MANTHEM: Unilever has made men the focus of its biggest 2010 launch for its biggest personal-care brand, Dove."
Then there's P&G's Gillette and Energizer Holdings' Schick, going head to head with near-simultaneous launches of razor systems or major upgrades, expected to spend a combined quarter of a billion dollars marketing those launches alone.
Boon for male-centric media
The male call by marketers has also been a boon for media that cater to the demographic, like ESPN. "It's definitely a growth area for us," said Ed Erhardt, president of ESPN and ABC Sports, which is positioned to reap much of the uptick in competitive spending.
It all hearkens to the heady days of 2002, when personal-care marketers of all sorts were fixated on men as their new frontier, even coining the concept of the "metrosexual" grooming and fashion-obsessed male. The enthusiasm faded into what seemed like vague disappointment, as brands such as L'Oreal, Nivea, Neutrogena and Gillette tried launching skin and in some cases hair-care lines for men that had trouble keeping their space on U.S. shelves.
It's been at least six years since any marketer could be caught uttering the M word. Marketers who had heralded the arrival of the "metrosexual" last decade found the term tended to pigeonhole their products with a relatively narrow segment of upscale, fashion-conscious men. The reality is that the segment exists and has kept growing, but marketers seeking to sell such products as shampoo and bodywash to men are appealing to a much broader audience, too.
Men's toiletries had less than 1% annual growth in 2008 and 2009, according to a report by Mintel late last year. But that's robust compared to the personal-care market as a whole. Personal-care sales for women and men sank 5.1% last year in grocery, drug and mass outlets including Walmart, according to Information Resources Inc.
It's growth that marketers are chasing fervently, and somewhat heatedly.
Dirty ad fight
P&G has been highlighting the masculinity of its men's brands, Old Spice and Gillette, amid the high-profile entry of Dove Men+Care. Recent ads from Wieden & Kennedy, Portland, Ore., urge women to get their men to stop using "lady-scented body wash" in favor of Old Spice. An ad for Gillette's body wash, with a fairly obvious proxy for the new Dove product in the shower, pointedly says, "Just because it says it's for men doesn't mean it is."
"We think frankly a brand grounded in men, where you don't have to say it's for men, has a much better chance of winning in the marketplace," said Ed Shirley, vice chairman of beauty and grooming for P&G.
For its part, Unilever claims it has the leading men's personal-care brand in categories outside shaving: Axe. (Gillette is the leading personal-care brand overall -- including shaving -- for men.) And Unilever has captured two-thirds of the growth in men's grooming over the past five years, said Kathy O'Brien, VP-personal care North America. Gillette, despite its commanding 70%-plus market share in razors and blades, hasn't been able to easily translate that success into leadership in any other men's category.
But will the Dove brand, traditionally associated with the fairer sex, really resonate with men? "Many men are already using Dove products, and Unilever has a history of proven success in men's care," said Ms. O'Brien.
But it's a long battle. Mr. Shirley has been an advocate for men's skin care since the late 1990s, when he could see how much more developed men's skin care was outside the U.S. "North American guys are less involved [in skin care], but it's up to us to help them."
What they should be doing -- in the long-term marketing scheme of things -- is washing their faces and using moisturizer before bed. "We know that if you had a full regimen of morning and evening care, your shaving experience would be better," Mr. Shirley said. "And we have that right to have that conversation with guys, because the shaving experience is the anchor grooming event."
Not that Gillette is going to bring up that moisturizer-before-bed subject just yet. But it's moving the discussion in that direction in part through the line of shave-preparation products coming to market in June with its Gillette Fusion ProGlide razor system, which includes a heating face scrub and moisturizing aftershave with sunscreen protection.
"We're committed to winning with men," said Mr. Shirley.
Can Dove make its brand manly enough for guys?
Since its beginnings in the 1950s in the U.S., Dove has been marketed only to women, and Unilever's "Campaign for Real Beauty," all about perceptions of female beauty, reinforced that. Now, Dove is looking to develop a male alter ego as it seeks to conquer new territory, provoking disbelief by some and a bit of taunting from rival Procter & Gamble Co.
Yet marketing actually has a long history of gender-bending brands that have added, changed or developed gender identities long after they were well-established, sometimes with wildly successful results. Among those who've made the change:
Marlboro: Hard as it may be to believe now, Marlboro started in the 1920s as a filtered cigarette for women. When research linking smoking to lung cancer emerged in the 1950s, Philip Morris decided it needed a "safer" filtered cigarette for men, who were reluctant to smoke a women's brand. So it enlisted Leo Burnett to change Marlboro's gender. The rest is history.
Degree: As personal care began pairing off increasingly into male and female brands and products in 2002, Degree tried having it both ways, developing lines for men and women. It's been wildly successful. Degree has been the fastest-growing antiperspirant in the U.S. in recent years. Since 2004, it's nearly doubled sales to $148 million and added 4.3 share points to attain an 11.9% market share, according to Information Resources Inc.
Ugg: It actually started as a men's brand years ago before becoming much better known as a girl's and women's brand. Now, Ugg is seeking growth by appealing to men again. So Deckers Outdoor has increased Ugg's men's offerings 20% in the past year and ramped up ads in men's fashion magazines and online to appeal to guys.
Nair for Men: The Church & Dwight Co. brand introduced a version for men in 2002, appealing to a trend toward some men shaving their chests, backs and just about everywhere else hair may appear.