Metrosexuals, manly men, and Memphis

I did this piece for the inaugural issue for Beauty by Webpackaging, focusing on the apparent trend related to men using an increasingly large number of personal care and cosmetic products.


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Saying that “manly men” are unconcerned with their appearance is as silly and incorrect as saying that women are ONLY concerned with their appearance. Men, it seems, have been gussying up since Og stepped out of his cave, set down his cudgel, and figured out that picking the nits out of his hair and not smelling like a mammoth was a better path to getting a mate than hunting one down and clubbing her.

Tutankhamun wore eye-liner (well, kohl) to prevent eye infections and to look good while he relocated the capital of ancient Egypt to Memphis. Julius Caesar enjoyed spas with caldaria, tepidaria, frigidaria, and a variety of other -aria for health and hygiene when he wasn’t fighting wars. More recently, newspapers have featured ads for male hair care products, exercise regimens, shaving devices, and a variety of lifestyle items dating as far back as the 17th Century.

Anyone that’s seen a Western film knows that cowboys don’t groom when they’re riding the range or in a shoot-out, but as soon as the heart-of-gold burlesque love interest shows up, out comes the razor, the long bath (complete with cigar), and the bolo tie.

So really, men caring about how they look is nothing new, and the way that concern manifests is simply a sign of the times.

Thanks to ever-changing aesthetic canons, we’ve lately invented the designation “metrosexual” to refer to men that overtly care about their appearance. The term somewhat controversially juxtaposes the fastidious grooming habits and concern for appearance of affluent, heterosexual urban males with those of stereotypically gay men. Using it assumes that hetero- men don’t care as much about how they look when compared with their supposedly more feminine homo- counterparts, and this assumption is as incorrect as saying all gay men are dainty groomers that fuss about their appearance. It seems that the only real difference between “guys” and “metros” is in how much time the two groups spend on grooming and more importantly, the products they use. This is the kicker.

What we’re actually talking about isn’t sexuality, sexual politics, or trends in sexual culture. The fact is this: those gentlemen we somewhat disparagingly refer to as metrosexuals are simply early adopters and nothing more. If you’re a gadget lover and always have the latest device, you’re a “geek” or a “nerd”. If you take esoteric natural remedies or develop your own food and exercise regimen based on new scientific findings, you’re a “health nut” or a “fitness freak”. Well-read and an avid purchaser of new tomes to read as soon as they’re released? You’re a “bookworm” or a “brainiac”. “Different” equals “strange” to many people and always has, but smart business owners looking to capitalize on the next big thing realize that “different” is often just the precursor to “widely accepted”.

One such visionary is Dan Kliska, the president of Joe Grooming, a company that produces upscale, natural personal care products for men that are sold in salons, beauty shops, and large stores throughout North America, Europe, and Oceania, as well as on the Joe Grooming website. Recently, the company has begun to move into new directions, offering a variety of products apt for gentlemen seeking to look their best.

According to Dan, there are two growth areas available to companies in the male personal care space. First, “targeting and working with men that have not historically spent the time or made an effort to try new male grooming products”. This involves getting men who “just do the basic routine” to try new things, such as new skin care or hair products. As far as Joe Grooming’s direction, Dan thinks there is a “huge opportunity to grow organically with those men who have recently come to understand that it’s OK to take care of yourself and use proper grooming products”.

Second, Dan believes that because Joe Grooming produces natural, high-end, professional products, there are a lot of men that think, “You know what? I understand the benefits of grooming, so I’m going to treat myself and elevate the products that I buy, by using Joe Grooming instead of a common drug store brand”.

Dan is basically talking about early adopters and the early majority versus late adopters and laggards. What does that tell us? New trends in male grooming potentially affect all men in a market. It’s not a question of “if” it’s a question of “when”.

His perception of the market leads Dan to think that there is and will continue to be growth “on the skin care side of things” as well as with “hair styling products, where the variety of products available is abundant, as opposed to years ago where men used a hairspray, oil or wax”. Joe Grooming and other personal care firms now offer men “pomades, gels, mousses, and other items, giving men an ample array of holds and finishes, so they can choose the style that best suits them”.

With regard to positioning these new products to men, Dan understands that the packaging of the line plays a major role in creating a lifestyle image in men’s heads:

“Packaging is extremely important. Having the right visuals, look, the materials, the right design and colours, influence the male consumer when he’s walking down the aisle trying to decide what to buy. All these things play a very important role in the first response. Joe Grooming went through a packaging update about six years ago, where we added colour coding to our products to make it easier for customers to recognize their favourite products instantly. It’s good for product recognition on the shelf. Also, when you’re in the shower, having blue be the colour of the shampoo and green be the conditioner makes the product easier to use. So, our packaging has to be aesthetically pleasing and able to hold its own beside other professional brands in the salon as well as convey valuable information to users quickly.”

As an interesting side note, Joe Grooming staged quite a coup when the firm trademarked the generic standing man symbol that appears on their packaging, as well as on many bathroom doors, the nigh perfect symbol of masculinity in the 21st century.

In Dan’s words, “the symbol on our packaging plays a huge role in our brand recognition, because when you see that logo, it right away, even before knowing what the product is, just says GUY”.

Many companies have gotten on the metrosexual bandwagon, joining Joe Grooming and other brands (such as early competitors in the space like the Body Shop and Nivea) and offering men products that are geared toward opening up the grooming experience to more than just the traditional activities of showering and shaving. It remains to be seen whether all men will spend as much of their hard earned cash on skin care, hair, and cosmetic or cosmeceutical products as many women do, but one thing is certain: the concept of looking good and feeling good is beginning to take root in the daily routines of more and more men, and at least for the foreseeable future, this isn’t going to change.