Targeting the Chinese Male

Photo Credit: CFP

One thing that struck me during my retail visits in China – hell, it struck me even just walking around and seeing the ads everywhere – is this: beauty brands, consumer products companies, ad agencies…are all clamoring for the attention of the male Chinese consumer.

And it’s working. According to L’Oreal the market for men’s skincare products in China rose 27% last year and they project it to reach $570 million by the end of the year. That’s a rise of 40% this year, or 5 times what they’re projecting for the growth of the women’s market. Already, research agencies and market intelligence experts are busy predicting where that growth will come from – and this guessing game is getting every player with a stake excited.

Prediction #1: Growth will be driven by the skincare market

Source: Euromonitor International

Men’s grooming in China is currently driven by skincare and haircare. (Conversely, as illustrated on any ride on the metro during rush hour, fragrance is still an immature category). Experts predict that the next source of growth is the Chinese skincare market.

A recent IFOP report found that last year the growth of the male skincare market was 3 times the skincare market as a whole. L’Oréal’s products for men, launched in China only three years ago, now account for 22-23 per cent of L’Oréal Paris’ Chinese Business. In comparison, in Western Europe, men’s share of the skincare market is just 7-10 per cent.

L'Oreal Men Expert Hydra Energetic

The category is maturing rapidly before our eyes. Compare the sophistication of the products targeting men in China vs. the US. In China, products for men have gone beyond basic cleansers to specific result-oriented moisturizers, anti-blemish serums, anti-puff creams, whitening lotions, etc. In the US, the majority of the products marketed to men are still body washes and deodorants.

Prediction #2: Online retail could cause the market to explode

In the past, men might have been more secretive about their grooming regimens, but nowadays, couples often shop together for cosmetics. The woman still makes the purchase decision in seven out of ten cases, but as the market grows, this could change. Men, still cautious about maintaining an image of masculinity, are increasingly turning to the web as a resource: a place where they can research products and purchase anonymously. And thus, the decision-making power is shifting to them. Now, how masculine is that kind of autonomy?

Targeting the Male Consumer

The male consumer is new. He’s different from the males from the past. Not too long ago, he was shiftily sneaking a swipe of cream or a dab of moisturizer, when his girlfriend/wife was out of sight…emerging from the bathroom smelling suspiciously of roses and talc. Now, flying in the face of traditional ideas of masculinity, men are now more comfortable buying their own products.

But it does not appear that anyone has really figured out exactly who he is, nor is there a consensus around what he wants. But brands are taking a stab at guessing and they’re tailoring their messages to specific types. has identified three sub-categories of products/targets: “high-end”, “metrosexual” and “basic.”

It’s a question that even a mature market like the US hasn’t figured out. According to a recent article from WWD, Nivea says they are sophisticated and nuanced. Old Spice and Axe, say no, they are still, in the simplest sense, men: macho and driven by the most primitive of human needs. And if sales are anything to go by…they might not be wrong: P&G chief financial officer Jon Moeller recently told investors, “U.S. value share for Old Spice bodywash is up over two points in the past three months to 32 percent, and Old Spice deodorant has increased value share by almost two points.”

Click to view Old Spice's "Smell Like a Man, Man" ad

In the same WWD article, Paco Underhill, founding president of the New York-based consultancy Envirosell, said that when it comes to marketing to men, there are really only two approaches from which to choose: “Sex and humor.” P&G’s recent “Smell like a man, man” campaign for Old Spice used both approaches simultaneously, and has enjoyed remarkable viral success on the net, resulting in almost 1.2 billion impressions since February, rocketing it to becoming the number-one all-time most viewed sponsor channel on YouTube.

In China, however, the advertising message across brands is simple: your appearance is critical to your professional success. This then trickles down to any other success in life, including one’s personal success. As the sex ratio imbalance becomes more pronounced, the role of appearances is becoming increasingly important.

Click to view Nivea's Whitening ad

Result? Bring in the emotional campaigns by multinationals like Unilever, P&G, and L’Oreal. Enter Head and Shoulders’ and Nivea’s recent advertising campaigns that actively focuses on professional success. The more sophisticated products featured, i.e. exfoliating, anti-aging, energy-boosting, etc., are all tools critical in achieving that success. Hell, I knew Chinese men valued appearances, but I never knew whitening, for instance, was a benefit the male consumer even cared about!

Click to view my fave Gatsby ad

Finally, here’s Gatsby’s hilarious take on how a grooming product can give you a huge personal appearance win. Unlike the US market, which is filled with funny, irreverent ads, like the Old Spice campaign, Gatsby, a Japanese brand, appears to be the only brand taking a similar approach in Asia.

Perhaps the direct, straight-to-the point, benefits-driven ads that appeal to the male desire for professional success is more effective with the Chinese consumer. Who knows? I know that I’d love to see the data comparing the number of positive impressions and recall. HSBC has suggested that, at present, China is “a local luxury-goods market that is probably the only male-driven one on the planet.” So in a market with such staggering potential for growth, the brand that taps into the key Chinese male values of strength and modesty is likely to come out first. But how, exactly, should they do that? I wonder if the answer lies in the numbers…

Men to Drive Skincare Growth in China
Online Retail in China
Men Avid Consumers of Skincare
Growth in Men’s Grooming Despite Recession
Grooming brands snare men with sex, humor


About jessyclaire

A blogger passionate about the beauty industry and the quirky beauty differences across the globe.
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