25 Mar 2021

The evolution of male grooming

Male grooming is predicted to be worth more than £61.7bn by 2024. In 2018, men’s skincare sales in the UK rose by a staggering 16.5% and The Independent reported it to be one of the top “booming markets” along with Brazil, South Korea, US, Germany and India. It is no doubt evolving, but is it really just about the products, rituals and routines?  We believe that the evolution of this category is intrinsically tied to changing patterns of male identity.

Evolution takes me back to one of my first science lessons in school when we were introduced to the Darwinian theory. It’s the process by which different kinds of living organism are believed to have developed from earlier forms. The evolving meaning of what it means to be a man has forever been a complicated duet with male grooming brands themselves.

There was an obvious attempt from brands to uphold strong male stereotypes with a ‘one size fits all’, governing approach, much like my teacher’s voice in that science lesson. Brands felt the need to qualify the inevitable growing interest from men in caring for their appearance, which actually allowed them to further expand their product offerings through the lens of traditional masculinity. We all remember, “Smell like a man” and “The best a man can get.”

The metrosexual man was the first proper glimpse of real evolution in the meaning of manhood, but masculinity had really evolved into something hyper-aspirational. Brands dominating the conversation in such a way left consumers short of real, tangible results with the likes of Lewis Hamilton and Ryan Reynolds becoming the faces of some of the most iconic male grooming brands. You can’t help but think that consumers were being underserved.

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A shift in conversation 

In the midst of a global pandemic when frustrations run high and patience low, a movement like BLM that continues to shake the world proves how such rapid change in consumer behaviour can quickly frame brands as out of touch and even have them forgotten.

This reminds me of the other type of evolution. Beyond natural selection, there is a more random evolution, where an event, process or movement leads to large changes in populations over short periods of time. Both it seems are equally applicable for brands.

Take the iconic December issue of Vogue showing Harry Styles in a blue lace Gucci dress. This flamboyant appearance was no suggestion of any outward sign of sexual orientation. Styles described this to be an evolutionary process – “removing barriers of identity opens up the arena in which you can play.” It’s clear the voice of the consumer has never been more powerful.

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Adaption and adoption

It has really been in the last 10 years that this conversational shift has occurred away from brands and towards consumers who are demanding change, new ideals and, in some markets, actually co-creating the grooming products they desire. All we know for sure is that adaptation is key in order to survive.

Think about the trend adoption curve – the innovators, the early adopters, the early majority, late majority and laggards. In a market like India for millions of men innovation is about using deodorant. At the same time, the emerging middle class of both men and women are buying an average of nine beauty products a month (Kantar).

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Where do your products today and the products you’ll make in the future fit against the male identities in your culture? Where are they on the trend adoption curve?

There may be multiple identities operating at the same time, or in a complex place like India not all regions within the same market will actually evolve in the same linear way. A particular identity may actually be growing at different rates in different places. This is the plurality we see happening around the world where consumers pick and choose a more fluid approach to masculinity based on what they need and what they feel they deserve.

And it can’t go without saying that actually two thirds of global consumers say they prefer to purchase brands that reflect their own values (Accenture). We call this Belief Buying, something that we believe at bluemarlin is fundamental for any brand to understand. So we challenge you to ask yourselves, what values do your consumers hold that they want reflected in the brands they buy and associate themselves with? Beyond the understanding of identities and consumer need states, it’s also about having meaning, emotion and purpose.

Interested in a broader conversation around the evolution of male grooming and what it means for your brands? Please contact mattvalenzia@bluemarlinbd.com for access to our more in- depth thought piece.