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As the axe falls on 'the Lynx effect', a look at creating brands for the modern man

The widely reported rebrand of men’s deodorant brand Axe (or Lynx as it’s known here in the UK) is a reflection of how rapidly the men’s personal care sector is growing around the world.

Men’s attitudes to grooming have seen significant changes just in recent years, let alone in the 20 years or so since Axe was first launched, and the brand’s championing of an ‘individual’ masculinity in its new campaign is just one example of how the category is maturing and fragmenting. 

The male grooming category is big business. Reports indicate that Europe will see the category hit the £1bn mark this year, while America has enjoyed a 3 per cent rise from 2014 and South America is experiencing healthy growth too. In India it has outpaced the personal care category and is projected to grow 17 per cent by 2020 as disposable incomes continue to rise and Indian men shop more for themselves. By 2020 the global category is projected to hit $26.6bn. (Sources in order: researchandmarkets / Statista / Euromonitor / Statista.)  

But just as the Axe campaign’s new interpretation of masculinity shows, when you look at the broader context of the male grooming revolution it isn’t as straightforward as it once seemed. The category is divided by lifestyle, values and different cultural trends more now than ever before. 

 
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In the west, the image of the ‘metrosexual’, a man carved from wood and polished to perfection clutching the ‘for Men’ bottle of his mum’s favourite shampoo, is losing relevance. In the UK the question every man is asking himself is ‘to beard or not to beard?’ The reality being that if you can grow one then you probably already have, meaning that you put the razor down and contributed to the £72 million dent in the industry last year (according to the Telegraph’s research).

At the same time, the trend has opened up opportunities for brands to create new rituals with new products.

Gillette’s response, for example, has been to educate British men in the art of ‘manscaping’, teaching men how to remove hair from every nook and cranny. It must be working. The Grocer’s latest research suggests 51 per cent of British men remove body hair: 46 per cent of those shave their groin, 35 per cent their chest, 21 per cent their stomach, 11 per cent their backside. It represents a tangible gap in the market.     

In Japan, a new generation of men are investing in a softer and more feminine look by removing hair, wearing women’s trousers and carrying stylised grooming pouches everywhere they go. Known as ‘Joshiryoku danshi’ (boys with girl skills) this group are not buying into male products, but female personal care. 

Around the world, gender roles are blurring and debates about gender neutrality keep popping up in different forums. In the fashion world, a shift towards androgyny has been building over the past few years. Facebook now has over 50 gender options for its billion plus users. The word ‘transgender’ is firmly ingrained in mainstream society’s vocabulary and its manifestation in celebrity culture is making it everyday (well done mankind, it’s about time!). 

It’s a perplexing but ultimately exciting time for a gender-focused industry. Modern man is a complex being! But from everything I’ve seen, one thing remains consistent: man is more conscious about looking good, however he chooses to define it, and is willing to spend money to achieve it.

So how do brands capitalise on this clear opportunity in such a dynamic marketplace? Here are some learnings from some well-known brands that I think are still winning: 

Be gender neutral

Aesop’s objective is simple – to formulate skin, hair and body care products of the finest quality. The brand’s passion for quality also extends to design. The utilitarian packaging is considered and honest; a brand that cares this much about the contents of its products isn’t afraid to ut the back of pack on the front. Each Aesop store is unique and executed with locally relevant design language, purposefully woven into the fabric of the streets they occupy. The result is a beautifully bi-lingual brand that speaks about holistic personal care to whom it may concern. 

 
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Similarly, when Kiehl’s created its men’s range in the 1960s, it didn’t make a big departure from the core brand, visually positioning it close to its existing skin care products. Across the range the brand appears in total disorder, echoing its roots as a family pharmacy and apothecary. The brand’s eccentricity and adventurous spirit sparks a curiosity that transcends gender, whilst an underlying philanthropic purpose drives home the Kiehl’s commitment to better serving people.

Alternatively, create real focus

Lock Stock & Barrel is an independent and proudly English brand with a clear idea of the man it appeals to – those with working-class roots and middle-class pursuits. We worked with them to create a brand identity that has no compromise between substance and style. The focus is on creating real meaning for the consumer through authentic insight, design and tone of voice – all of which reflect the craft and detail of their man’s passions and pastimes.  

Keep it discrete to capture the early niche

Hopefully modern man feels more confident about buying cosmetics. But just because we’re not afraid to take care of ourselves doesn’t mean that we’re comfortable buying ‘Guyliner’, foundation or nail polish from our local department store. Mankind is an online store that removes any anxiety of buying more intimate personal care products traditionally reserved for the female consumer. And as the trend for ‘MANicures’ picks up momentum, ecommerce platforms like Mankind will be well placed to capitalise on the craze. 

Celebrate the romance in the ritual

When Murdock London was established, its aim was to create a stylish and welcoming haven for a modern gentleman to take time to enjoy the finer things in life, like a quality wet shave or beard shaping. Murdock creates desire through ritual and tradition. There’s a product to suit your features, follicles and fragrance preferences in an increasingly extensive range. What works is that it all feels joined up, with each product leading into another to support every step of your grooming routine.    

Tell a deeper story

Floris is the oldest independent family perfumer in the world, located at the heart of Jermyn Street in London. Serving the likes of Winston Churchill and Ian Fleming, Floris’ crafted fragrances have found themselves upon the bedroom cabinet of the most influential men in modern history – even James Bond. We worked with Floris to create the identity for The Gentleman Floris range of male grooming products, reigniting the brand’s authority with original and elegant storytelling. Crafted around the iconic no.89 fragrance, the range feels equally as timeless and refined and its understated style makes even the most bearded men want to shave.  

Keep it simple

To be a bit more stereotypical, us men have really short attention spans – I’d be surprised if any men are still reading this… Brands that keep it simple and make life more fun can gain massive lad-points. No wonder American razor blade company Dollar Shave Club is flying. It combines simplicity and service with wonderful wit. The result is an easygoing, take-it-or-leave-it attitude that cuts through the metrosexual melee of the mainstream market.     

 
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So as you look to the year ahead, keep an open mind about the male grooming category. The opportunities to develop grooming products are endless and enduring but remember, man’s needs are unique and continually evolving. As male grooming trends develop and men’s personal care routines intensify, our product choices will diversify and the market will continue to fragment.

From what I have seen, success is written for those brands that build a compelling proposition around a deep and authentic understanding of their target audience. Brands should be flexible, intuitive and bold in their approach, as that’s just what modern man is doing.  

Chris Allan is brand strategist at Design Bridge

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