The End Of Fragile Masculinity: Implications For Advertisers

American culture is in the midst of a dramatic overhaul, reimagining what it means to be a man. This has led to men experimenting with new physical expressions of masculinity, unabashedly moving toward beauty products that have historically been reserved for women and metro men in coastal cities.

The male grooming (or beauty?) market is now booming, projected to reach over $60 billion by 2020. Online search terms in the United States have evolved from generalities like “men’s skincare” to more-specific terminology like “men’s face wash.”

We are even seeing Target double down on men’s grooming, developing new in-store experiences said to be available in 80 stores by year-end.

It is essential for advertisers to understand the evolution that has allowed a new market of male sensibility to emerge. As such, below are three core characteristics of today’s masculinity that have implications for communicating with men about appearance-related products.  



Being true to one’s self. In 1960, the Marlboro man personified the ideal male. He was independent, self-sufficient, and answered to nobody. While we’ve moved away from independence as a core tenet of masculinity, one psychological study found move away from social or environmental pressures, and a drive to be true to oneself, particularly when it comes to decisions about appearance.

Axe’s “Find Your Magic” campaign captured the sentiment of the male who makes decisions on his own terms. The campaign sought to redefine masculinity, a dramatic shift from the product’s previous “sex-sells” philosophy.

Taking care of one’s self. Gone are the days when smoking cigars and drinking Scotch after a round of golf constitute a complete wellness regimen. There is no shame today in taking care of oneself, whether that means choosing a salad or an eye cream. Masculinity is not about seeking out beauty; it’s about having enough self-respect for self-care.

New brand Hims, now valued at $200 million, has repositioned products that the female market categorizes as beauty into products for self-care, with the slogan “Having an issue isn’t weird. Not dealing with it is weird.” The frank, conversational tone and relatable imagery remove any notions of apology or shame.

Emphasis on high-end products. There was once a time when men demonstrated a lack of vanity by using inexpensive products, placing limited value on appearance. “FOR MEN” was emblazoned across packages as permission to purchase. While women have grown tired of paying more for pink, men have grown hungry for more luxurious options. Masculinity today wants to be included in the consideration set for high-end luxury products, even if that means forgoing the gendering of products for access to quality.

Male grooming brand Harry’s sponsored a NYC x Design project to reinvent the shaving brush, creating modern objects using glass and marble. Meanwhile La Mer has done away with a separate men’s section altogether. “La Mer skin care is wonderful for everyone,” was the response online when people asked for information on the brand’s men’s products.

As the limiting historical construct of masculinity continues to fade, we will see more definitions of what it means to be a man. Men will create and confidently own how to display masculinity in its myriad definitions. As this happens, advertisers will be challenged to listen and adapt.

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