Blokes and beauty: why brands need to watch their language

29 : 10 : 2018 Beauty : Retail : New Masculinity

Michael Sheridan, founder of retail design agency Sheridan&Co, says the men’s beauty sector is ripe for growth, but first it must address the everyday man.

The Y Code, a men’s beauty brand concept by Sheridan&Co The Y Code, a men’s beauty brand concept by Sheridan&Co

Brands entering the male beauty space must show they understand male consumer concerns while confronting societal concerns.

Michael Sheridan, founder, Sheridan&Co

Where women’s cosmetics have focused heavily on the tenets of beautification, modern men’s cosmetics have – to date – focused on subtle enhancement, correction and refinement, a ‘barely there’ aesthetic that complemented rather than masked the face.

But perhaps the time has come for men to reclaim the act of wearing make-up, albeit in a truly modern way – one that allows them to look the best possible version of themselves, without fear of judgement or stigmatisation.

Indeed, industry forecasts are promising, with the male beauty and grooming market set to be worth more than £47bn ($60bn, €53bn) by 2020, while 15% of UK men under the age of 45 have previously bought make-up (sources: Euromonitor, Mintel).

Men’s cosmetics was also a stand-out category at this year’s Cosmoprof beauty trade show, with a plethora of start-ups representing an emerging generation of male beauty brands. Meanwhile, the #beautyboys trend – buoyed by social media – has given rise to a counter-movement that challenged engrained, traditional notions of masculinity.

Of course, this is just the start of the journey, and while the male grooming and cosmetics market is unlikely to overtake the women’s market any time soon, the sector is clearly on an upwards trajectory. So, how can fledgling brands stand out in what is expected to be an increasingly crowded space?

Product positioning will be crucial in ensuring that male cosmetics become as inclusive as possible, attracting custom from men who have never experimented with make-up before. There is also a distinct opportunity for brands to meaningfully contribute to the male make-up sector by breaking down social barriers. In the same way that music artist Rihanna shed light on the lack of racial inclusivity in cosmetics with her Fenty make-up range, gender diversity is entering the domain with a very clear message: masculine men wear make-up.

Terms like ‘guyliner’ have a lot to answer for in terms of putting ordinary men off cosmetic experimentation.
The Y Code, a men’s beauty brand concept by Sheridan&Co The Y Code, a men’s beauty brand concept by Sheridan&Co

MMUK Man has done this exceptionally well by responding to an identified gap in cosmetics retail that has failed to serve male consumers effectively. Its monochrome brand identity is minimalistic, modern and masculine – from concealer to cover-up, its proposition is aspirational, luxury and positioned as a tool for optimising a man’s best physical features. It’s empowering rather than effeminate, and it’s a message that is beginning to resonate with men in the mainstream.

With that in mind, brand language must also be carefully balanced. Terms like ‘guyliner’ have a lot to answer for in terms of putting ordinary men off cosmetic experimentation. Instead, functionality and transparency must sit at the forefront of brand communications, with language that is clear and unfussy in order to have impact.

And as social norms evolve, male cosmetics must become more accessible at a retail level. Having worked in the retail interiors industry for more than three decades, largely in beauty and cosmetics, I've recently collaborated with industry experts on developing a men’s cosmetics and grooming concept – dubbed The Y Code – that aims to fill the gap for a premium, masculine and perfunctory offering. It will elicit the interest of the everyday guy who may not usually buy grooming products beyond aftershave balm and hair gel by playing to the anthropological significance of male make-up – that it’s empowering – while presenting it in a relevant and modern way, focused on confidence and individuality.

Brands entering the male beauty field must show that they understand male consumer concerns and at the same time must confront societal concerns. The ability to offer a genuine, transparent and values-driven brand will be currency that cynical and hard-to-persuade male consumers will both understand and buy into.

Michael Sheridan is chairman and founder of global retail design agency Sheridan&Co.