Opinion – what men want


Steve Gibbons explores the mysterious relationship between men and beauty and how to design products to appeal to them

Steve Gibbons explores the mysterious relationship between men and beauty and how to design products to appeal to them

Hello my name is Stephen Gibbons, I do not love brands and I don’t even feel a sense of passion for the ones I work with. There, I’ve finally said it. You can’t imagine what a relief it is to come clean after all these years of pretending otherwise.

I must be a beauty marketer’s nightmare. Firstly I’m a bloke and secondly, I’m a not yet fully reconstructed post-feminist one some way through his fifties. But the basic problem is I have XY chromosomes.

<i>Steve Gibbons, Dew Gibbons</i>

Steve Gibbons, Dew Gibbons

The truth is, men are very different to market to than women. Men are very focused and goal-oriented. We hone in very quickly on what we want. If you see us there at all, you won’t find us browsing the men’s grooming aisle; we’re in and out as quickly as possible.

Once we find a brand that works for us, we’re reluctant to budge from it. This is more to do with convenience than any great sense of loyalty.

We have always been vain. The quest for beauty is innate and applies as equally to men as it does to women and it has always been thus. Plato stated: “The three wishes of every man: to be healthy, to be rich by honest means, and to be beautiful”. Sixteenth century London dandies stuffed both their jackets and their tights to enhance their appearance (the latter for enhanced leg shape and not endowment apparently). And early in this century we saw the emergence of the ‘metrosexual’.

So it’s not that we don’t want to look beautiful. It’s just that the purpose of beauty is very different for men. For us looking good is about projecting a strong confident authority. For women (so I’m told) it is much more about their appearance reflecting their own sense of themselves and fitting in with a strongly held societal ideal.

Social commentators point out that despite the parlous state of the economy and looming unemployment, there’s a growing demand from men for beauty products. There is also apparently a growing trend for men to (openly) borrow their partner’s beauty products. For men to be polished, buffed and fresh-faced is seen now to have considerable social advantages; it’s not only now a reflection of our vanity, it is also becoming increasingly a professional requirement. So what are the lessons for us as marketers and designers in all of this?

Remember L’Oréal’s Surface, Procter & Gamble’s (P&G) Circ or Soap & Glory’s men’s range? Thought not. All launched with something of a fanfare only to die shortly after. They’re all examples of lines specifically developed for men that got it wrong. Arguably the first two were too early to market but Soap & Glory launched only two years ago, and now all evidence of it has been erased from the company’s website. There is a strong argument to say that a beauty brand too far entrenched as a female brand will really struggle to assert itself.

Unilever’s Lynx is performing well and P&G, who appears better placed with Gillette and Old Spice, has relatively recently reorganised its business to focus on men and women separately. It will be interesting to see how L’Oréal’s Men Expert and Dove’s Men+Care fare in coming years.

We cannot design for men in the same way we design for women. The key in designing for men is to keep it simple and straightforward. It also won’t do to simply take a female beauty line and redress it for men. Men might not be as engaged but we are savvy enough to see through a change of font and colour. Keep your product range as tight as possible and ensure each one is clearly defined and that its benefit is succinctly expressed. Men can’t be bothered to do too much shopping and while they might be focused on a need, if they don’t find quickly what they want, they will soon loose interest.

You should borrow carefully and sparingly from female beauty cues and you should think carefully about your packaging formats. For instance, instead of a jar, a pump-type container might be better for skincare.

Our recent experience has been the redesign of P&G’s Nioxin, a stylist-recommended advanced care range for thinning hair for both men and women. Our main challenge has been to better communicate the ‘regime’ nature of the range and through all the graphic tools available to us, to more clearly define and explain the benefit of each product.

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So while it’s unlikely we’re going to get men to fall in love with their beauty brands (it’s unlikely to be an acceptable topic of conversation down the pub), there’s still a lot we can do; from product development through to understanding much better what men want.