The rise of metrosexual man has been portrayed as both media myth and valid social trend. Following the lead set by gay men and heterosexual icons such as David Beckham in their attention to personal grooming and body image, a growing cohort of cosmopolitan, predominantly urban young men are exemplifying 'metrosexuality'. Retailers such as Boots and FMCG firms including Lever Faberge are among those taking note.
TV programmes such as Queer Eye for the Straight Guy are reinforcing the message that men can make an effort with their appearance without compromising their sexuality. And while few young men are likely to follow Beckham in sporting a sarong, the signals that he and other high-profile icons send about grooming could be having a more subtle impact.
Online research conducted by brand agency Dragon among both men and women has sought to find out whether metrosexuality has taken root in the UK.
The answer is a qualified yes. Grooming is booming and younger men seem more health- and body-conscious than might be expected. Yet there remain boundaries that most are unprepared to cross - for instance, only 8% said they carried a manbag (a male handbag).
'We found that the extreme of the metrosexual is not the reality yet,' says Dragon senior consultant Nicky Owen. 'A lot of men would be embarrassed to have a manbag, but in health and grocery there has been a bit of a change. They are buying products and taking care of their appearance more than they might have done a couple of years ago.'
Perhaps surprisingly, when men were asked whom they would most like to be for the day, the most popular choices were Brad Pitt and David Beckham, who came significantly ahead of Tony Blair, Richard Branson and comedians such as Ricky Gervais and Peter Kay. As Pitt and Beckham are known more for their looks and style than their intellect or personality, this could be taken as an indicator of metrosexual tastes.
For more than half of the survey's respondents (52%), going to the gym was the most popular way to stay fit, followed by cycling or jogging (38%). The more traditional approach to male fitness, football, was only played by 28% of respondents, while the proportion playing rugby, 13%, was the same as those who practised pilates or yoga.
Taking a bath is seen as a better way of treating themselves than a trip to the pub by a slight majority (43% versus 41%). One man in 10 admits to spending a lot of time and money on his appearance, against one in three who does 'the basics'.
'Our research shows an increasing amount of male participation in grooming and buying of grooming products,' says James Griffin, category manager for deodorants and men's grooming at Lever Faberge. 'In the 70s the average teenager wasn't even using a roll-on deodorant. There's definitely a change in the market, but I think many people are overplaying the speed at which it is happening. These changes take time.'
Research firm Key Note estimates that the male grooming market will grow from £500m now to £632m in 2007, while Mintel, which last year published a 'Men's Grooming' report, has identified a strong bias to under-24s in the use of skincare products, suggesting that there is greater acceptance of the practice among younger men.
To cash in on these developments, Boots last month began rolling out a male grooming zone at its larger stores. These Men's Zone areas will bring functional and basic toiletries together with more sophisticated male grooming products. Trained experts will be on hand to provide male consumers with skincare advice.
While three-and-a-half years ago just 25% of male skincare products were purchased by men, today the level is 40%, according to Boots sales data.
Increasingly men are selecting products for themselves, rather than relying on partners to buy for them. They are becoming better informed and more demanding, which is why Boots has widened the range of male grooming products it sells and given them in-store focus.
'The advent of heroes such as David Beckham and Jonny Wilkinson has given men permission to be more adventurous (in their personal care),' says Simon McCandlish, commercial manager of suncare, skincare and men's products at Boots. 'Men tend to follow women. We were 20 years behind; now maybe we're 10 years behind,' he adds.
McCandlish believes that not shaving well and neglecting skincare is becoming widely unacceptable to younger men. In his view, it is only a matter of time before anti-ageing products for men appear.
He is reluctant to target metrosexual customers too closely as he believes they make up only one part of a wider male population that is taking greater interest in grooming. 'If we just courted metrosexual men we could alienate other customers,' he argues. 'We want to appeal to as many people as possible.'
So how do marketers make their products appeal to the metrosexual without turning off more traditional men? King of Shaves commercial director Quentin Higham argues that the use of language is key. The company's XCD range of moisturisers and creams uses a clear, masculine vocabulary to convey the fact that these products are functional, not effeminate: Defender, Perfecter, Enhancer, Reviver, Improver.
Acronyms - such as DDS for Dual Delivery System - are also used in the belief that men, with a penchant for technical stuff, will be able to relate better to it than to a focus on plant extracts. XCD's 'Enhance, camouflage, defend' strapline sounds almost military in its barked execution.
'We use this masculine language so that men won't feel threatened (by the products). We aren't women. We need an instant result,' says Higham. 'Tinted moisturiser scares guys, but if you call it Improver it doesn't. It's not just about looking OK. It's about looking great. It's about taking what you've got and maxing it.'
Within the mass skincare market for men, King of Shaves is number two behind Nivea, but Higham accepts that his brand will be shunted down to third place next spring when Gillette launches its Gillette Complete men's skincare range and flexes its considerable marketing muscle. However, he thinks Gillette's marketing spend will help stimulate the market, which will eventually benefit King of Shaves.
Although he dismisses metrosexual as a 'glib term', Higham is keen to point out that the change in male attitudes to grooming is most pronounced at the younger end of the market. Focus groups conducted on behalf of King of Shaves have found that younger men want to look good not only to appeal to members of the opposite sex, but also frequently to impress their colleagues and friends.
Men want products that feel good, are effective and prolong the life and preserve the appearance of their skin, argues Lev Glasman, co-founder of the US Fresh cosmetics company, which opened its first London store in May. He cites the success of Estee Lauder as a paradigm for the growth of male skincare and cosmetic products. Many years ago only a small number of stores carried the Estee Lauder brand, typically the most exclusive department stores in major cities, but distribution grew and eventually penetrated all markets.
'It may take time, but the metrosexual trend will eventually penetrate to all levels,' predicts Glasman. 'Men are getting more emotionally involved with the products they use. They are more educated and they know what they want.' Yet some men may never be prepared to stump up £7.50 for products such as Fresh's Lip Repair SPF20, which moisturises and protects the lips and has a non-greasy, non-shiny formula enriched with healing extracts and antioxidant vitamins C and E.
Sensing an opportunity to appeal to the 'no-nonsense' bloke who is happy to use personal grooming products but doesn't want to buy anything remotely feminine, easyGroup is entering the sector with its easy4men range of toiletries. These products are being produced by Boots and will be available in the UK exclusively in its stores.
'We're after the guy who advertising doesn't really work on anymore,' says easyGroup director of corporate affairs James Rothnie. 'People who just want something to stick on their chin after shaving to stop it going red.'
'No-nonsense' is not a very metrosexual attribute, but it is sure to appeal to many men. Indeed, it will probably prove to be a more inclusive strategy than trying to inject metrosexuality into mass-market cosmetic products.
'If you put metrosexual values on classic female products such as face creams, it simply doesn't work,' says Link Consumer Strategies managing director Louise Southcott. This, she says, is because most men do not want to reinvent themselves - they just want to be able to buy products that do the task required of them.
While attitudes and patterns of behaviour, especially among younger men, are changing, it may be some time before the majority are prepared to pick up a manbag. For those brands that gauge the market right, though, there are profitable opportunities to be had.
WHO WOULD YOU MOST LIKE TO BE FOR A DAY?
Number of respondents (%)
Brad Pitt 27 25
David Beckham 16 15
Hugh Grant 13 12
Richard Branson 12 11
Chris Martin 12 11
Tony Blair 11 10
Ricky Gervais 6 6
Peter Kay 6 6
George Best 5 5
Total 108 100
IN WHICH OF THE FOLLOWING SPORTS DO YOU PARTICIPATE?
Number of respondents (%)
Gym 54 52
Cycling/jogging 38 37
Football 29 28
Racquet sports 27 26
Skiing/windsurfing 25 24
Rugby/cricket 13 13
Pilates/yoga/meditation 13 13
Other 28 27
None 10 10
Total 108 100
MALE GROOMING - THE BOOM
ESSENTIALS - WHO IS METROSEXUAL MAN?
It's not so much 'queer eye for the straight guy' as 'straight guy with a good eye'. Metrosexual man is interested in appearance: his own, that of others and product and interior design. Aged 18-35, his natural habitat is the city. He cares about his living space -- there won't be dishes piled up in a festering stack in the sink.
He may have a girlfriend, but is probably childless. In his mind, there is nothing wrong with pampering himself. Why shouldn't a guy look after what nature gave him? He sees wallowing in a bath or an extended power shower as a deserved treat that helps mitigate the stresses of daily life.
He doesn't plunder his girlfriend's toiletries. Instead he buys his own, carefully selecting products on the basis of the job he needs them to do. The products he chooses must be functional.
Gym membership is a strong likelihood, regular exercise a certainty, yoga or pilates a possibility. He may not be on a diet, but he does think seriously about the food he eats, and tries to avoid junk if he can. Organic produce and fresh fruit and vegetables appeal.
He is technologically smart, well-informed and media-savvy - preferring broadsheet and compact newspapers to redtop tabloids. However, he has a weakness for trash TV.
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