Two Ingeniously Creative Strategies for Men’s Grooming

How to successfully market skincare to men: the Kiehl’s story

There was a time when the thought of a man moisturizing was, well, unthinkable. Yet now even the toughest of the tough are enjoying the benefits of softer, smoother skin. A plethora of guy-creams has flourished and 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 ensuring the success of men’s skin and haircare products is no easy task.

One of the brands getting it right with innovative products and storytelling is Kiehl’s, so much so that a third of the brand’s revenue comes from men purchasing products for themselves. Here are two bold and effective strategies from the brand 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: dark, 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 Earth’s 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 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.

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.

2. A skincare superhero

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Kiehl’s took inspiration from comic books to market its anti-ageing cream for men

“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.

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.

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Visual from the Heavy Lifting Captain America campaign

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?

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