Brands find comfort level in promoting new male products

Seinfeld's Kramer may have been ahead of his time when he invented "The Bro." But though the fictional man bra never hit shelves, established brands that typically targeted females, such as those produced by Spanx and Unilever, are now realizing new potential in their product portfolios for a male audience more aware of the products they're missing.

Seinfeld's Kramer may have been ahead of his time when he invented "The Bro." But though the fictional man bra never hit shelves, established brands that typically targeted females, such as those produced by Spanx and Unilever, are now realizing new potential in their product portfolios for a male audience more aware of the products they're missing.

Dove recently found an opportunity to tap into a relatively unmet need - men's dry skin - via its new Dove Men+Care product line and campaign, explains Stacie Bright, senior communications marketing manager at Unilever.

"Research teams kept coming back with stories of guys complaining their socks are itchy," she says. "The product is geared toward understanding the emotional space where men become comfortable with themselves, but not comfortable in their skin."

Still reflecting Dove's "moisturizing" positioning, the campaign communicates the theme of comfort, "figuratively and literally," through the voice of Major League Baseball idols telling personal stories online, adds Bright.

The effort is part of Dove's male-centric marketing investment that Bright says will contribute to anticipated growth of $700 million in sales by 2012. The company has already driven 66% of the growth in the category over the past five years.

Learning from women
The concept would have been less feasible a few years ago. But now more women's products are designed to meet specific needs, so men are gaining access to knowledge indirectly through the women in their lives.

"As men become more sophisticated, it's about making products relevant in ways that aren't too complicated and fit into their routine," says Bright.

For example, Unilever's relatively new Vaseline Men Body & Face product combines moisturizing steps to address stigma associated with lotion.

"They don't like the sticky feel. They were afraid of it," she says. "The Vaseline men's line is about quick absorption."

The brand will continue to work with Michael Strahan, its spokesperson and former NFL star, who is featured in online vignettes about how to get in shape in 15 minutes, in line with the "15-second absorption" message.

"It's a new articulation of the campaign," says Bright, noting the "male idol," combined with this kind of digital content, has proven effective for the audience.

As with grooming, men are also becoming targets for products in the shapewear category. In February, Spanx addressed growing consumer requests for a men's product with the launch of a men's undershirt line, says Maggie Adams, senior PR manager at the company.

Though long positioned as shapewear for women, the company is leveraging its brand via PR, humorous packaging, and retailer employee education.

"They're compression undershirts - we don't use the word shapewear with men," she says. "We want guys to feel comfortable with a new category."

Spanx also looked to generate buzz with male idols. As part of a broader launch strategy, it hosted a Super Bowl party in Miami, where it sampled the shirts to stars such as Ed Westwick of Gossip Girl.

Since its debut, sales have surpassed projections, inspiring a men's undergarment product with an expected launch later this year.

Marketers concur that men are becoming more comfortable with the advent of the "metrosexual." In addition, Adams notes a change in men's fashion to slimmer and "less forgiving" cuts. "Men are more comfortable with their appearance," she adds.

Appeal to sensitivity
Mike Gatti, SVP of communications at the National Retail Federation and executive director of its Retail Advertising and Marketing Association, agrees men are more sensitive about their appearance and open to new products. This is due in part to a recent wave of information and products in the health and wellness and grooming categories.

A lot of these new items, especially for men, are a result of companies hoping to expand market share in a time when many consumers are pulling back, he notes.

"It's a big market that needs products," he says. "Somebody had the bright idea of doing it and it caught on."

Getting through to male audiences

1. The presence of male idols, such as sports figures or celebrities, can help men feel more confident when entering a new product category

2. Young and middle-aged men tend to consistently engage with brands via digital platforms and promotional events

3. Men typically respond to both packaging and messaging linked to convenience, as they are generally comfortable with a simple regimen

*Correction: This story incorrectly stated that Unilever expects to take credit for 66% of growth in market share in the men's category over the next five years. The correct information, per Nielsen, is that the company has already driven 66% of category growth over the past five years.

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