Vanity, thy name is . . . man?

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Flip through the pages of the latest men's titles and you're likely to encounter a bottle-blond male model pushing hair color, or an ad for a new Aramis face cream called Super Lift Off! that "protects, exfoliates, moisturizes -- One Step!"

Marketers increasingly are targeting men in categories that are decidedly unmasculine, from clothing to grooming products -- even hair color. As popular culture continues to bend traditional notions of gender roles, so men are becoming more attentive to matters of appearance. And advertisers are following suit to cash in on the trend.

"Men are getting more vain, and they're more obvious about it," said Sam Shahid, owner of Shahid & Co., New York, which handles brands such as Perry Ellis and Abercrombie & Fitch. "It was always sort of hidden, and now we're seeing it more and more." Movies, music and TV are making male vanity socially acceptable, Mr. Shahid said.

Witness the increase in marketing dollars behind men's grooming products. According to Competitive Media Reporting, marketers spent 111.8% more dollars in magazine ads for men's fragrance, haircare and other toiletries during the first quarter this year than during the same period a year ago.

CATCHING UP

"Men's [products] is an opportunity we in the beauty business had missed out on, and we're catching up," said Douglas Toews, exec VP-ideas and image, at Coty.

Men's hair coloring -- once limited almost entirely to products that discreetly covered signs of graying -- now makes up the fastest-growing segment in the hair color category. And it's not just aging baby boomers using them anymore. According to ACNielsen, men's products saw a 20% increase in sales in 1999 over 1998.

That hasn't gone unnoticed by haircare companies. This month, Cosmair's L'Oreal launches Casting ColorSpa for Men, a male version of its semi-permanent ColorSpa line.

This is L'Oreal's second male hair color extension. Last year it launched Dyes for Guys -- a group of 10 shades aimed at men -- under its Feria brand (AA, Feb. 15, 1999). ColorSpa for Men will be backed by a print campaign from McCann-Erickson, New York, set to break in May issues of men's health and fitness magazines.

Online retailers also are getting in on the act. Fashion sites Style365.com and FashionMall.com are targeting male shoppers with ads in men's titles such as Esquire and Details. BeautyJungle.com, a Web site that sells cosmetics and toiletries, plans to run a promotion this summer aimed at male customers.

GAINING CONFIDENCE

So why all this preening and primping? Marketers says competition in the workplace, changing attitudes and dress-down casual Fridays at the office are all contributing factors.

Men are now open to the idea that good grooming will give them the confidence to perform well in the workplace, said Terry Darland, VP-marketing at Aramis USA. In 1987, the Estee Lauder Cos. unit launched Lab Series for Men, a line of skincare products that has shown respectable 5% to 10% growth in sales each year since.

In 1999, Lab Series added products including an eye gel, facial wash, a face lotion to fight the effects of frequent air travel and Super Lift Off! face and body lotions. Aramis even plans to take Lab Series even further with a new product to conceal skin imperfections to be launched in the summer.

"It's all about competition. Appearance is part of the male's competitive package," said Brian Gallagher, DuPont Lycra's marketing director for men's wear. Additionally, the rise of casual Fridays means men have to worry more about their apparel, he said.

"The old uniforms and the old way of doing things are out the window," Mr. Gallagher said. "It used to be easy when you went to work in a navy suit with a white shirt and a red tie."

Men have adapted to the new, casual workplace as well as new roles for women, all of which have changed the way they dress and shop, Mr. Gallagher said.

Coincidentally, the latest wave of men's lifestyle magazines -- which include publications such as Gear and FHM -- offer marketers a new vehicle to target young male readers. Even traditional men's magazines have developed more service features, just as the "Seven Sisters" magazines did for women, Mr. Gallagher said.

RELEVANT WAY

"These guys' minds have opened up to making themselves feel good with beauty products," Coty's Mr. Toews said. "Like any other marketing project, the secret is how to present the story of your product to a consumer in a relevant way."

Lycra -- once known mainly for girdles and leotards -- chose to target men specifically as part of a $40 million global marketing campaign that broke last summer (AA, March 1, 1999). Previous efforts had focused primarily on female department store shoppers, but the latest campaign included executions aimed at men, and its media buy expanded to include publications such as GQ, Men's Health and Sports Illustrated.

"When we first considered launching Lycra for men three years ago, we couldn't get arrested," Mr. Gallagher said.

GETTING MEN TO SHOP

He also pointed to studies from the International Research Institute for Social Change, a market research group. RISC's surveys showed men increasingly are concerned about how clothes look and feel and they are willing to shop for the right fit and brand.

The 1998-99 survey found 70% of men said they "like to try new brands," 10% more than in a 1996-97 survey. Men also are increasingly shopping for themselves and are more brand conscious than in the past, according to the study.

"Guys now have to be interested in shopping, because -- guess what -- there's no one else to do it for them," Mr. Gallagher said.

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