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What category redefining brands can learn from the success of men's War Paint makeup

By Chris Freeland |



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February 21, 2020 | 4 min read

It’s the 2020s and it’s easy to feel that when it comes to the beauty category, we’ve seen everything; that anything goes and that there’s nothing new under the sun.

RAPP on how War Paint makeup is revolutionising the male beauty industry.

RAPP on how War Paint makeup is revolutionising the male beauty industry.

So why has a new brand, one aimed primarily at heterosexual CIS-gendered men, attracted so much attention?

That brand is War Paint and last week you would be hard pressed to miss the media stir this caused when John Lewis announced, following a successful pilot, it was permanently stocking the product in its Oxford Street flagship store. It’s a skincare and makeup range for men who want to improve their looks without it being obvious. Danny Gray, the brand’s founder, caused a stir when he won £70,000 funding from Dragon’s Den investors.

Men have been wearing makeup for decades, so why is this taking off now?

For one thing, it’s a smart concept and it’s been well executed. Instead of being pure play makeup, War Paint makes products that combine skincare with cosmetic benefit.

The packaging and the brand name cleverly tread the line between being disruptive and challenging masculinity in the long run. Both enhance its power to be a ‘gateway’ product for men who’d like to give their looks a boost but would never have considered using makeup in the past.

It also feels like a great deal of consideration has been given to the War Paint customer journey – nice touches such as ‘how to’ videos or the offer of a full refund if you don’t get the right shade first time. I particularly like that the branding materials are refreshingly free of the stereotypical nonsense that pervades so much of men’s grooming product marketing.

Danny has bravely talked about his own issues with body dysmorphic disorder and how he created War Paint because he never felt comfortable buying makeup. In telling his story, he’s given War Paint authenticity and purpose, and is building a connection with other men who live with severe insecurity about their looks. And impressively, even though it’s still a fledgling brand, they’ve already made a clear commitment to the charity CALM (Campaign Against Living Miserably) by dedicating a portion of their revenue to the organisation.

So where will Danny take the brand next?

As men navigate the Instagram world, there seems to be a schism growing between the idea of making the most of ourselves and the idea that we should be comfortable in our own skin. Daniel can give War Paint ownership of conversations like this and argue that his brand isn’t about vanity, it’s about confidence. As we enter a new decade where inclusion is everything, surely this can only be a good thing.

It’s exciting to see a new brand breaking through in a sector that’s historically a bit taboo. How far War Paint can transform the male grooming market remains to be seen but I, for one, am grateful for the noise it has created. The brand is breaking down barriers on stereotypes and that's something we could all do with more exposure to.

Chris Freeland, chief executive at RAPP.

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RAPP is a global, data-driven creative community that builds direct, meaningful and high-value relationships between brands and people. At RAPP, with our unrivalled depth of expertise in first-party data, we’ve been observing and cataloguing real people’s lives for 50 years. In today’s world the balance of power has shifted, and customers are in control, which is why we put people and their preferences at the heart of the brand experience. With a talent base of more than 1,600 professionals in 18 offices, we help brands grow the value of real people by understanding what really matters and creating experiences that are right for real people, with real needs, in real time, creating marketing that matters. Our expertise in data and marketing sciences allows us to deliver our clients actionable human insight - an incredible understanding of genuine motivations, observed transactions and actual interactions. Our process reflects how real people think; we balance the left brain and the right, and we do our best work when we bring Precision and Empathy into balance. Building on our data foundation, RAPP delivers a range of capability across social, digital, customer experience and technology.

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