Procter & Gamble is encountering some problems at its Gillette subsidiary because so many men are letting their whiskers blossom into beards.
P&G reported in the last quarter that its male grooming business was the only division to post lower organic sales. Part of the problem was the inroads made by Dollar Shave Club-type rivals, but at least in that arena, men are still shaving, although paying a lot less for their razors.
The way I see it, P&G can take action against the non-shaving trend on one of two fronts. Either Gillette can embrace the enemy of its razor blades and lean into the trend with beard-soothing products of its own, or it can draw a line in the metaphorical sand and ban beards in ads for all its products. (A third, less appetizing, alternative would be to mock beards by showing men picking cooties and other distractions like bird nests out of their hairy growth.)
A Gillette spokesman said a P&G beard ban might be a "knee-jerk reaction," and made the point that, in reality, men need Gillette more than ever. A guy who sports a neatly trimmed goatee probably spends more time keeping it (and the rest of his face) looking good than guys who are clean-shaven, the Gillette PR man said. He added that men go back and forth between stubble and beards and being clean-shaven, and Gillette respects the individualism. "We certainly don't want to be preaching conformity."
The facial-hair-care market is booming, according to Fortune.com. Detroit-based Beard Balm sells its namesake product -- a mix of beeswax, lanolin and other soothing stuff -- for $16 per tin, and CEO Jon Koller says the company is moving over 400,000 units this year, the website reported. Companies such as Brooklyn Grooming Co. sell special oils designed to turn men's wiry whiskers into "lustrous, sweet-smelling beards," the report continued.
When men grew beards in earlier times, it was often to make a statement against the establishment or in favor of authenticity. Now, however, men seem to wear beards as a business advantage.
In the book "Originals: How Non-Conformists Rule the World," author Adam Grant describes an experiment where people rated male professors at top universities as having 14% more status and competence when they donned a T-shirt and a beard than when they wore a tie and were clean-shaven.
"Most professors dress formally, and refusing to follow the norm usually carries a cost," explained Grant, who is rated Wharton's top teacher. "Those who successfully buck convention signal that they've earned the idiosyncrasy credits to do as they please."
An Esquire interview with Christopher Oldstone-Moore, author of "Of Beards and Men," backs up this line of thinking. "One of the ways to show you have personal choice is to have some facial hair, and move away from the older expectations, and the corporate expectations, of shaving," Oldstone-Moore said. "I always argue that the first people who grew beards are the people who can. Because there are still lots of rules and demands made on people that you can't have a beard. So the first thing it shows is that you're your own man, and I think men are interested in that."
Intrigued, I asked Morning Consult to conduct a poll on the subject, and it found that the reason most men, 59%, said they had facial hair was that they "liked how it looks." The second biggest reason, at 31%, was they didn't like to shave.
(It also showed that 23% of readers found my column to be more convincing than when I was clean-shaven -- well not really, but that kind of wishful thinking is as good a reason as any for my beard.)
Jeff Cartwright, director of communications at Morning Consult—who, by the way, started wearing a beard because he thought it made him look older -- noted that the survey showed style is important to the younger generations. In the sample of 2,017 adult men, 60% of 18-to-29-year-olds had beards, but only 45% of men age 65 and over sported them. Jeff added that the data shows that the 18-to-29 and 30-to-44 sets are more likely to say they have a beard because it is "in style."
Also important to note, Jeff told me, is that younger people were much more likely than older people to say they had beards because it made them look more masculine, older and experienced.
Yet another reason some men have beards is that many suffer from shaving irritation on their faces. So P&G and Gillette are encouraging the trend for men to shave other areas of their bodies, and Gillette's website offers short animated videos on the basic elements of "manscaping."
Maybe, as my daughter Heather suggested, Gillette should change its slogan to "the best a man can get, but there's always room for improvement."