With male grooming on the rise, how can brands target young 'metrosexuals' while retaining their more traditional audience, asks Robert Gray.
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 pounds 500m now to pounds 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. …