Browsing at a photo studio turned gift shop in Mumbai last week, I came across these variants of a product: Grounded; Smoke House; Badass Sexy; Brain Freeze; Old School and Mandatories. The names sounded naughty and before you start exercising your porn-starved mind, let me end the suspense by saying that these are the fanciful names for the variants of a face wash brand targeting the upmarket male. Six face wash variants?
The phrase “men who moisturize and read a lot of magazines” was first used by the editor of the men’s magazine Details to describe a new Western phenomenon. I suspect men in India are now seriously moisturizing.
Indian men till recently had very little in the form of cosmetics aimed at them. They had to use the same talcum powder and vanishing cream as their better half. The early 1950s saw the growth of Brylcreem, the male hair-grooming aid. The 1970s saw the launch of Aramusk. Even Cinthol tried doing macho advertising, with Vinod Khanna chasing a stallion on Juhu beach. But none of these efforts to entice male Indians found much traction.
The first real wave came with the launch of Axe deodorant and its own brand of sexual fantasy. Axe paved the way for a flood of deodorants to the extent that today, male deos form 60% or more of the Indian deo market. The Advertising Standards Council of India found its consumer complaint committee getting a flood of complaints about their fanciful claims. The deo market is now getting further segmented into different types of products, with Vini Cosmetics’ Fogg scoring a big coup by launching a gas-free deo.
The second big tipping point in male grooming market was the launch of Fair & Handsome by Emami. Latching on to the phenomenon of male usage of fairness creams, the company decided to turn a wave into a tsunami. Strong test market results from Andhra Pradesh led to a national launch, with big budget advertising and film actor Shah Rukh Khan as the brand ambassador. This was 2005 and the discourse around male cosmetics changed.
The term metrosexual was first used by Mark Simpson in an article published in The Independent newspaper to describe the arrival of the metropolitan, sexual male, who was heterosexual, but was ready to flaunt the body beautiful. The first superstar with the metrosexual tag was David Beckham, in 2002. Interestingly, just three years after the crowing of Beckham, Fair & Handsome was unleashed on millions of wannabe Beckhams in India.
We need to examine the rise of the Fair & Handsome in the context of several other societal changes in India. Men are today a threatened lot. The rise of woman power is all around us. Girls are wanting to get educated and are often scoring the top marks in many exams. Women are ready to take on unconventional jobs.
Though the number of women directors in publicly listed companies is currently a small number, we are seeing a steady rise of women who want to stay the course in their careers. Shops and small businesses that used to be the exclusive preserve of men are giving way to woman power. While arranged marriage is still the order of the day, today’s girls are not settling for just a good job, education or fat bank balance in their partner. They also want a well-groomed look.
What are men doing about it? They are becoming more and more beauty conscious. By becoming more fair, handsome and beautiful.
Culturally speaking, dark skin was seen as a sign of beauty among Indian men. Many of the Hindu male gods were actually quite dark, Rama and Krishna, to name two. In Sanskrit the word Krishna means dark. Draupadi, who was supposedly dark, was even referred to as Krishna in two places in the Mahabharata, it is said. All that is old news; we now see the whitening of the Indian male skin.
In a series of home visits carried out by our agency’s planners in small towns, the one big discovery was the presence of many types of male cosmetics in almost every middle class Indian home. In some homes male grooming products outnumbered the female cosmetics.
The obsession with looking good does not seem to stop with just applying moisturizers, deos and face washes, it also seems to extend into the use of hair colour and more. The legendary ad for Clairol had a headline: “Does she, or doesn’t she? Only her hairdresser knows for sure”. The same applies to the male of the species today. Not only hair colour (see how it is no longer called hair dye), there has been a big boom in hair clinics that offer miracle cures to baldness, and not just in the metros. New terms such as trichology are becoming the word to adopt, giving the treatment of hair loss an air of high science and technology.
Smart brands are latching on to this male moisturizing trend by launching male versions of their regular products. From men who moisturize, we are entering an era of men who more than moisturize! What next? Male kajals?
Ambi M.G. Parameswaran is executive director, FCB Ulka Advertising, and president of the Advertising Agencies Association of India. He will take stock of consumers, brands and advertising trends every month.