BATAVIA, Ohio (AdAge.com) -- It's a tough time to be a man. Unemployment has hit male-dominated industries such as manufacturing and construction hardest. Boding worse for men's future, their educational attainment is slipping compared to women. The income gap long favoring men is eroding as a result, with single, childless women in major cities now earning more than similarly situated men.
Taking the extreme tack on a growing meme, "The Atlantic" this summer ran a cover story proclaiming "The End of Men," replete with a decidedly limp male symbol.
It's enough to make some guys question their self-worth. But there's one group to whom men are fast becoming far more attractive: marketers. Yes, even as men earn, study and work less (at least outside the home), they're spending more on looking better and doing more of the household shopping. The likes of Walmart, Procter & Gamble Co. and Unilever are taking notice. These marketers, who once focused primarily on women, have increasingly tailored their offerings to men.
Whether men's declining economic and educational attainment is somehow fueling their role as shoppers and consumers of grooming products is subject to debate. But that the trends are happening simultaneously is clear.
Speaking at the HBA Global Expo last month in New York, Carmen Bauza, Walmart's VP-divisional merchandise manager for beauty and personal care, noted that the retailer has seen a marked increase in men as primary household shoppers over the past 18 to 24 months. The economy is likely the cause, Mr. Bauza said. But the nation's biggest retailer also is making some permanent changes to appeal to men as shoppers.
Walmart in the past year has added men's personal-care sections to 800 stores and is mulling the best way to set up such sections in the remaining 2,000 or so, said Kristine Joji-Wood, Walmart buyer for health and beauty care. The original shelf set had shaving and deodorant and had added some personal wash, but Walmart is looking to add categories to make the section more "all encompassing," she said.
Walmart hasn't quite taken the plunge with Nivea for Men Q10 Revitalizing Eye Roller yet, but Walgreens has, putting a product that seemed daring even for prestige channels a half-decade ago into mass.
Ky Henderson is editor in chief of ModernMan.com, a joint venture of TotalBeauty and Break Media launched earlier this year with P&G as an exclusive first-year sponsor. The website is a sort of manual for men to compete better in all areas of life. He believes there's a relationship between the growing economic and social pressures on men and their increased interest in personal-care products.
"Men are in a period of being a little out of control, trying to figure out their new role professionally, personally and in relationships," Mr. Henderson said. "They're looking for a way to control their lives, and grooming is a way to feel in control. Professionally, older workers are being laid off more often so companies can hire younger workers who are cheaper. So men probably feel pressured to look and seem younger. ... Men are seeing that women do this every day and catching on."
Regardless of the reason, American men spend five times more on skin products today than they did in 1997, Mr. Henderson said. The "metrosexual" tag that emerged last decade was contrived by marketers, he said, but by whatever name it goes by today, men are spending more time and money on their looks. "It's not just guys being vain," he said. "It's guys saying, 'I need to do this to achieve a goal.'"
Unilever isn't so sure any of the growth in men's personal care, particularly body wash of late, has anything to do with their changing economic or social status. In fact, Unilever would like to think the trend has a lot to do with Unilever.
"Unilever has been leading [the rise of men's grooming]," said Rob Candelino, marketing director-U.S. personal wash. Unilever accounted for two-thirds of growth in men's personal care outside shaving over the past five years, he said. "That growth rate actually accelerated in the past year," he said. "We've driven almost 80% of the growth."
Much of it follows a game plan started last decade, which divided deodorant into a men's and women's category, and is now trying to do the same with body wash.
Men have changed in another key regard. They're doing a growing share of shopping, with men now accounting for a third of primary household shoppers and buying more than half of men's grooming products, Mr. Candellino said.
Partly in recognition of men's growing role in domestic duties broadly, P&G Productions earlier this year tapped Omnicom Group's Proximity BBDO, Cincinnati to launch ManoftheHouse.com, a website dedicated to helping men navigate their emerging duties in the home, whether they are stay-at-home dads or simply guys shouldering more domestic duties.
P&G Productions, be it creating soap operas in the 1930s or digital programming more recently, is all about creating media to fill a need the market hasn't filled. Man of the House was one example.
"We saw this need among guys, in particular dads, whose lives had changed and their role in the family was very different than their dads typically played," said P&G spokeswoman Jeannie Tharrington.
Most men's websites, such as Maxim.com or GQ.com, "are targeting guys who are on the hunt," Ms. Tharrington said. "These are the guys looking for six-pack abs and wanting to look their best on Saturday night." By contrast, it's the "'post-hunt' males who we're going after." In other words, gatherers, i.e. household shoppers.