Here comes the pampered groom

If men are from Mars and women hail from Venus, it follows that grooming brands should treat the male and his psyche as a very specific species, writes Ahmed Zambarakji


“Grooming” must have seemed like a comparatively macho euphemism for “men’s beauty” when the cosmetics industry first noticed that men were in want of an aesthetic overhaul back in the Nineties.

Yet, if once it conjured up images of dogs showing off in their shiny coats, it’s a moniker that’s not only stuck, but has grown to encompass the moisturisers, scrubs, roll-on eye serums and all manner of products that now make up the Mintel-estimated £805-million UK grooming industry.

Today’s grooming customer is neither the dominant alpha male of old, nor the mythical metrosexual of the early Noughties. He’s decidedly normal. “Mr Average” now uses a post-shave moisturizer, and in recent years, the language employed by marketing gurus has taken a calculated approach of fusing science and psychology to snare his purchase.

Where women respond to messages that appeal to their self-esteem – the 2011 40-year anniversary of L’Oréal’s “Because you’re worth it” is testimony to the success of this approach – men are more receptive to the kind of technical jargon employed by Black & Decker. The inherently powerful language of science allows men to take an interest in grooming without feeling emasculated.

Deodorants are put through their paces on Saharan ultra-marathons before they make it into the average man’s gym bag. Sure adhere to a message of high endurance, while L’Oréal Men Expert’s Invincible 96 Hours Deodorant all but eliminates the need to shower completely. Gillette razors are dreamt up by the brains once responsible for navigation systems at British Aerospace, while men’s shampoos are sold on the basis of their power to spur follicles into action and help men regain the manly mop of their youth.

Yet it’s skincare that, according to Mintel, is proving to be one of the fastest growing sectors in the grooming industry, accounting for 25 per cent of the profit pie and generating sales of an estimated £123 million.

The 2012 man is seduced by high-tech, high-energy moisturisers with “turbo booster” properties that promise instant results. Biotherm Homme’s High Recharge Energy products are a popular choice and L’Oréal Men Expert have turned up the volume on the anti-fatigue Hydra Energetic range with the new Hydra Energetic X-Treme. The message is less about beautification and more about performance: work hard, play hard, groom hard.

As the staple diet of dedicated gym rats, endurance-boosters, such as caffeine, creatine and carnitine, are already familiar to men who take their workouts seriously. It follows that grooming products that are marketed on the basis of containing similar ingredients will drive sales. Nivea For Men have a patented mix of creatine and Coenzyme Q10 in their Energy facial gels and balms, while Clinique’s Anti-Fatigue Eye Gel combines caffeine with a steel roller ball to minimise post-hangover puffiness.

With the wealth of products now available, the challenge facing the industry is to equip the male consumer with the knowledge to select the right serum, balm, moisturiser and scrub – then use them in the right order.

The inherently powerful language of science allows men to take an interest in grooming without feeling emasculated

One approach is to colour-code products according to their function. Another is it to offer customers a numerical step-by-step guide. Lab Series, one of the most popular “masstige” men’s brands, underwent a dramatic makeover in 2007, replacing its original monochromatic packaging with a colour-coded system that broke the extensive range down into four user-friendly categories: clean (light blue), shave (green), treat (dark blue) and hair/ body (red). Both Nivea For Men and L’Oréal Men Expert differentiate between their popular energising and sensitive ranges with contrasting colourways.

Such simplification always pays off, if only because the male psyche is easily frustrated by too many choices. While woman are well-versed in the language of products, a man requires direct, straightforward communication that spells out “exactly what it says on the tin”. The female consumer may be happy to go the extra mile to find the latest and greatest “miracle” moisturiser, but make the process too lengthy and a man will give up on the idea of grooming before he’s even started.

When it comes to men’s treatments, reviving the tried-and-tested concept of the traditional barbershop has proved fruitful. Yet, according to Olivier Bonnefoy, founder and director of grooming emporium Gentlemen’s Tonic, the days of just getting a short back and sides are long gone. Cleverly marketed treatments include their “Hemingway” that combines a Bloody Mary with an aromatherapy facial and massage for those that have had “a heavy night of drinking and bull fighting”.

For more specialist requirements, the alternative is booking in with a dermatologist or facialist. Lauded skin expert Abigail James, whose bag of tricks includes male-friendly peels, LED light, micro-needling and electrical micro-currents, had the foresight to set up shop in Lomax, a high-end London gym where male customers indulge in Spartan warrior-style workouts and live off protein shakes before passing through the in-house clinic for a skin-smoothing facial. After all, the kind of man who pays that much attention to his body will inevitably be just as keen to use the latest technology on his face.

Day spas and resorts, especially those in the Far East, Middle East and US, are also doing a brisk trade among male clients. “Our male business is growing steadily in those territories. In China and Hong Kong, for example, 40 per cent of our customers are men,” says Susan Harmsworth, chief executive of ESPA, who notes that men’s demands vary from country to country. “Asian men prefer a very strong massage and don’t like ‘fluff’,” she says. “Manicures and pedicures are popular in the Middle East and all men love Hammam when it’s done well.”

We may yet be years away from “guyliner” being a socially acceptable norm, but one thing’s for sure, the grooming industry is in no way going to the dogs.