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Misters doing it for themselves

August 8, 2007 10:00 by

beauty, grooming

In the Middle East, the days when the average man’s grooming routine consisted of the three S’s (“Shave, shower and shampoo”) are long-gone. Sculpted facial hair, moisturized skin, pedicured hands, cologne-heavy aromas and enough slick hairstyles to raise concern for local sea-life are all in evidence. And that’s just in Dubai Media City.

But it’s not only the region’s media and marketing execs who are buying and using products that, until recently, were thought of as mainly for women. Market research shows that GCC nationals aren’t afraid of unleashing their inner metrosexual - just not so openly.

In August 2006, an AC Nielsen report estimated that the Middle East market for personal care and cosmetics for men was worth $500 million. It’s an impressive figure, but industry experts suggest that brand owners could do much better. Worldwide, the male personal care sector is growing more rapidly than the female one.

At the moment, that’s not the case in the Middle East. Marketers have failed to make “specialist” male grooming products - not just basic shaving products, hair gels, deodorants and soaps - part of regional consumers’ daily routines and still need to help them overcome the embarrassment factor of using “unmanly” products. If brand owners can make metrosexuality more publicly acceptable to the traditional macho Arab male, market experts say the Middle East’s male grooming sector could witness the same rapid expansion as the West.


“There’s a massive range of grooming products used [here],” says Anton Marinov, associate director of Dubai-based market researcher You Gov Siraj, which carried out a survey of Arab consumers’ attitudes towards male grooming in the UAE, Saudi Arabia and Iran. “In the UAE, we kind of expected it. But in Saudi, they’re still interested in fashion trends. The youth, especially, love to pamper themselves.”

Marinov cites hair conditioner, facial wash, body lotion, hair masks and under-eye cream as commonplace products for men. And he stresses that the respondents were average Saudi blokes, not an elite class of trendsetters. “We interviewed some very mainstream, middle-class, conservative people - not leading-edge,” he says. “The overall picture is that men do use specialized products. And a lot of them.”

Vidya Rayappa, group account director for qualitative research at market researcher TNS, says the younger generation of Gulf men are increasingly concerned with their appearance. “The younger crowd, I think, use a lot more styling products than the older generation,” she says. “It’s not just fitting in with the crowd, but also projecting an image of, ‘I know what’s going on in the rest of the world.'”


While Arab males might be using grooming products, it’s still not something they readily discuss with their peers, says Rayappa. “It’s changing, but there’s still [some embarrassment.] They’ll turn out very well-groomed, but they act like that’s their natural state.”

Marinov says many younger Saudi men are not willing to go out and buy grooming products, despite using them. “They use a lot of stuff that belongs to their wives or sisters, without them knowing,” he says. “Someone told us they use Fair and Lovely. But this kind of sneaky behavior suggests there’s a massive need for marketers to make it alright for men to buy these products here.”

Marketers need to “defeminize” the male grooming sector, so that men will feel comfortable purchasing and talking about personal care products. “If you look at what Nivea or L’Oreal have done in the West, it’s very masculine,” says Marinov. “They don’t talk about the complex benefits like anti-wrinkle, which are typically female. If someone launched a moisturizer here, with very masculine communication, making it alright for men to use a moisturizer in general - the need is there. Guys are using them at home, in private, but they don’t want to admit it.”

Aside from overcoming the embarrassment factor, marketers also need to educate consumers about product benefits and make usage part of men’s daily routine. Marinov says Saudi men often buy specialist products but may not often use them.

“In Saudi, usage isn’t really consistent with ownership. It’s not a regular part of their routine,” he says. “They get excited, they try it, but then the interest needs to be fuelled constantly. It’s much more difficult to hook them. They need to advertise more.”


Patricia Balan, senior account director at ad agency TBWA Raad, which handles Nivea for Men, says she can understand why marketers aren’t rushing to throw money at the male grooming sector, given that category returns are still “very low.” But she stresses that marketers “strongly need” to address a lack of consumer awareness in the region. More advertising would seem to be a good way to do that.

It’s not just a lack of big budgets that makes this tricky, though. Men in the Middle East are hard to reach through traditional media.

“It’s because of men’s habits,” says Ahmed El Mahdy, brand manager for Gillette. “They’re at work in the day, then when they get home, they sit down in front of the television and they channel surf. They don’t really look at the ads.”

Regional magazines aren’t much help either, as they lack the quality to attract readers, says Rayan Hajjar, senior media executive at media-buying agency Starcom, which handles Gillette. “We’ve never used magazines to target males for Gillette. If I’m going to buy a men’s magazine to read, then - in terms of content, editorials and quality - I’d rather buy a Maxim or an FHM coming from Europe or the US.”

The Internet, Hajjar suggests, may be a more effective medium than TV for reaching young men: “We’re trying to use more and more online, because it’s very interactive media. And it offers a greater opportunity for targeting, you can segment.”


If men won’t come to you, though, the obvious answer is to go to them. And this is why brands like Nivea for Men and Gillette are increasingly investing in event sponsorship and hitting the streets.

Gillette, of course, has a slightly easier task than Nivea for Men, as it’s pushing more traditionally masculine products. But it’s still not easy to convince GCC nationals that they need to invest in premium shaving products, says El Mahdy, as many would rather visit a barber than shave at home.

“Communicating to these consumers above-the-line isn’t really enough, so we’re trying to reach them on the ground,” he says.

For the launch of its M3 Power razor, Gillette introduced the Nitro bus to the region. The bus’s interior has been replaced with a lounge area - complete with Playstations and TVs - for potential customers to hang out in, and a shaving booth, where they can try the product out. “We take it to universities, malls, soccer stadiums, in front of premium coffee shops - places where they have fun,” El Mahdy says. It’s all about creating a buzz around the product. “The good thing is: Word of mouth really works in this region. The youth recommend products to each other.”

Getting out on the street allows brands an opportunity to address the lack of consumer education in the region too, by allowing product sampling. Nivea for Men, says Balan, has sponsored - and had a presence at - 24-hour Go Kart races at the Dubai Autodrome, as well as the Dubai Rugby Sevens. It also did free sampling at the Dubai Tennis Open.

Associating with sport is also a smart way of making male grooming products more macho and dynamic, which is why Gillette has invested so heavily in its brand “champions” like Roger Federer, Tiger Woods and Thierry Henry. “In any country in the world, sport is the central attraction to our target consumers,” El Mahdy says. “What’s appealing about [the champions] is they’re young, they’re energetic, and they know what winning means and how to win. And that’s what our product’s all about. We’re linking ourselves to the whole life. And to success.”


Another obvious way to make male grooming products more macho? Sex.

“Globally, if you look at any shaving ad, you’ll find they close the ad with an ‘appreciation shot.’ That’s where you find the female appreciating how close the shave is, how he looks etc… That’s all over the world. It doesn’t differ at all,” El Mahdy says. “Because at the end of the day, if you ask the consumers - Asian consumers, Arab consumers, Saudi consumers, whoever you ask - they tell you they need to be well groomed in order to be appealing to women.”

In the Middle East, obviously, overtly sexual advertising is out, for fear of offending consumers, but there are alternatives - as the campaigns for Axe deodorant have famously shown.

“There are ways around the taboo aspect of ‘How can I propagate some product that will get you the opposite sex in copious amounts?'” says Manoj Ammanath, creative director of Brandcom Middle East, which handled Axe when it was still Lowe Dubai. “From a creative point of view it stretches your imagination. You have to find solutions, especially in Saudi. For Axe, we had to look at a parallel to get the point across, but also bring a smile to people’s faces, so they didn’t take it too seriously.”

A combination of sports and sex, then, may be enough for male grooming products to break through consumer resistance in the region. We’re not sure how you tie, say, under-eye cream into those topics, but we figure that’s the marketers’ job. We promise to write about it when they do.

Meanwhile, if marketers do get serious about the regional male grooming sector, and start to dedicate bigger budgets to educating consumers and de-feminizing the public image of specialist products in particular, they will likely be rewarded handsomely.

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