How to Make Men Moisturize

Three strategies for success in a challenging market with strong potential

For decades, while women primped and curled, dyed and permed, hydrated and nourished, men simply didn't. But where once the thought of a man moisturizing was, well, unthinkable, now a plethora of guy-creams has flourished. Where a short-back-and-sides used to be the norm, now an array of razor-sharp undercuts, tight topknots and gravity-defying manbuns has sprung up. And today well-dressed males everywhere sport extravagant moustaches and beards that would not that long ago have been labelled eccentric — or even unhygienic.

As a result, the men’s grooming market has skyrocketed. Between 2008 and 2013 alone, the market for men’s personal care products rose 15%, according to market research firm Mintel. Many brands want in on this recent phenomenon, but whereas the launch of a new make-up product can draw on a long history of tried and tested methods and campaigns, not to mention publicity on any number of beauty platforms, ensuring the success of men’s skin and haircare products is another story.

Some brands are facing up to the challenge and really getting it right with innovative products and storytelling. Here are three bold and effective strategies that really stand out.

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1. Space on your face

One of the biggest challenges facing bodycare brands trying to appeal to a male audience is changing perception: how do you make a moisturizer manly? Packaging of course plays a role: masculine colours, speed stripes and the like are all common themes. Then there’s terminology: for years, there were no anti-ageing creams for men, only “anti-fatigue serums” or “gels” — men weren't supposed to worry about wrinkles and “lotions and potions” were definitely a woman’s domain.

However, a brand such as Kiehl’s wasn't going to rely on the usual visual triggers to make its Oil Eliminator moisturizer appeal to the male clientèle for whom it was specially conceived. Instead it decided to do something extraordinary, something that had never been seen before…

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5, 4, 3, 2, 1…

Last spring, a tube of Oil Eliminator moisturizer was attached to a weather balloon and launched 23 miles into the stratosphere. Cameras attached to the frame showed the tube hovering in the blackness of space, the curvature of the Earth somewhere far below. The tube then parachuted back down before being retrieved some 90 miles from the launch site.

Aerogel is the lightest solid on Earth and an ingredient in Kiehl’s Oil Eliminator moisturizer

The unique publicity stunt was inspired by the product’s own space-age formula: Oil Eliminator contains an ingredient called aerolite, a formulation of aerogel. This surreal hologram-like insulating material was used on the Mars Exploration Rover in 1997 and functions in the lotion as an absorbing agent capable of absorbing four times its own weight in oil.

The story of the Oil Eliminator launch

By combining skincare and rocket science, Kiehl’s succeeded in giving their product a truly technological edge that got it talked about by guys outside the grooming circuit. In the immortal words of Mary Poppins, “a spoonful of sugar helps the medicine go down”. In this instance, a little bit of space gets men putting cream on their face. A strategy that has no doubt contributed to almost a third of the brand’s revenue coming from men purchasing products for themselves.

2. Turning it around

“Firming”, “lifting”, “anti-wrinkle”: these terms have long been used in connection with women’s anti-ageing products, promising to alleviate the tell-tale signs that women have for centuries sought to conceal. Men on the other hand were never supposed to worry about sagging skin or crow’s feet: like fine wine, men were meant to age, displaying their craggy features as a badge of honour. Until now: with the Heavy Lifting moisturizer in the Facial Fuel range, Kiehl’s have created a resolutely masculine anti-ageing cream that doesn’t use euphemisms such as “anti-fatigue” to conceal its true purpose. Because really men like looking younger too and it’s about time they admitted it.

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Visual from the Heavy Lifting Captain America campaign

So how did Kiehl’s do it? Well, the fact that the dual-action cream has been formulated specially for men’s coarser skin type helps. But before a guy’s had time to test its effectiveness, the packaging’s masculine combination of blue, silver and red ensures that no man will be embarrassed to display it on his bathroom shelf. In addition, the product’s marketers built up a comic-book universe around the product headed by no less a figure than Captain America himself.

The idea came from Kiehl’s President Chris Salgardo, himself a big comic-book fan. The brand worked with comic-book experts Marvel to create a special-edition publication in which the superhero and his enemy Cobra fight it out in the brand’s flagship store. The all-American crime-fighter seemed an appropriate choice for a New-York-based brand that produces its products in the US. And like Captain America, Kiehl’s has been around a long time and yet still manages to maintain a youthful air.

This playful post-modern appropriation of childhood references has sure-fire appeal for a target audience of male Millenials. It’s a universe that is not only familiar, but much loved. The connection with skincare is an unexpected one. But then you’ve got to ask yourself: how else does Captain America maintain his fresh-faced appearance?

3. Back to the barber’s shop

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The Baxter Finley Barber & Shop in Los Angeles

There was once a place of plush leather-clad chairs and sleek, sparkling chrome, of glinting jars of unguents and steaming towels, where the hushed tranquillity was broken only by the snip of a scissor, the swish of a cut-throat razor on leather and an occasional “the usual today, sir?” That place was the barber’s shop of old, a repository of masculine luxury and indulgence.

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Baxter of California products in the Baxter Finley shop

Baxter of California offers the promise of a return to that golden age, but with a contemporary twist. The modern-retro feel of the Baxter Finley barber’s shop in Los Angeles and the Baxter of California product line uphold a tradition of male grooming with roots in the good old days of natty dressing, dapper gents and iconic figures such as Jay Gatsby. At the same time, Baxter of California is no stranger to innovation: back in 1965 when the brand was founded, it created a skin conditioner that was the first of its kind to be marketed to men.

Its range of razors, from the classic safety to the cut-throat, meet all possible wet-shave requirements and combine handcrafted refinement with award-winning style. The brand’s blend of reassuring tradition, high quality and pared-back contemporary style means that Baxter’s products have reached the same cool, hip stores where the brand’s target audience buy their clothes. As creative director Jean-Pierre Mastey said in an interview with Fast Company “We sort of trail blazed a new path of distribution for male grooming. If I’m going to buy men’s grooming products and accessories, I’m going to go to the same place I buy my shirts and where I buy my denim: there’s no reason why they can’t coexist and be under the same roof.”

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One of Baxter of California’s cool new candles

Recently, the brand branched out from its usual men’s grooming range into — wait for it — scented candles. Now, we’ve all had a chance to get used to skincare products for men over the past few years, but scented candles? For men? It may sound outlandish at first, but the driving force behind such a strategy is a powerful one: smell. What other sense can be so evocative and stir memories with such vividness? Bold names and scents such as “Smoke Ash” speak to men’s inner lumberjack yet stand apart from the grooming range. With Baxter of California, it isn’t just about hair and skincare: it’s about a certain lifestyle. A lifestyle that the brand’s slick new blog seeks to portray through “an exploration of California and the Baxter way of life”.

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Photographs by Michael Kennedy on the Baxter Blog

From innovation to creative and original marketing strategies, men’s grooming is a sector in which the rules remain to be written and where everything from space travel to scented candles is possible. As the market continues to grow, you have wonder: whatever next? Mars dust face masks? If it’s done right, then it could just work…

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