If you ask a management consultant how to grow a business, they’ll have two broad strategies for you. (I know this because I was one once, albeit for only long enough to learn how to make PowerPoint slides and drink too many ‘bonding’ tequila shots.) You can convince your existing customers to spend more, either by increasing their consumption or up-selling them to more expensive products, or you can grow your customer base.
And now that you’ve read that, I’ll be invoicing you for $10,000.
More specifically, if you asked a management consultant how to make the beauty industry more profitable, they’d probably tell you that lots of people already spend a huge amount of money on a great many expensive products, so the best bet for expansion would be to target people who don’t currently buy cosmetics – the great unwashed, so to speak – or at least uncleansed, unmoisturised and untoned.
For years now, big cosmetic companies have been doing this by targeting women in developing countries, to whom many household name cosmetics company have the audacity to sell cream that promises to lighten their skin. But there’s another group with hefty disposable incomes who could, if successfully tapped, potentially double the size of the markets for overpriced unguents: first-world men.
Now wait just a minute, you might be thinking. Surely men aren’t going to buy makeup. Surely they’d be paranoid that people would question their pathetic manhood. And you’re probably right, the burgeoning metrosexual plague notwithstanding.
But while we blokes aren’t about to start slathering foundation over our sandpapery, pockmarked faces, it’s undeniably the case that cosmetics for men are a substantial growth industry. The likes of Clinique, Nivea, Kiehl’s and even Tom Ford have been developing their men’s ranges. And it’s not just cleanser and moisturiser – they’re selling blokey bronzer, and amazingly, there’s apparently a market for facial masks, or even ‘masques’.
The golden rule they use, of course, as noted in Drew Magary’s recent GQ article, is that they don’t call it makeup, which is kind of like how Pepsi helps men pretend that they totes aren’t on a diet and drinking lame Diet Pepsi, but instead choose to drink Pepsi Max because of their manly commitment to, um, maximumness.
Honestly – if you’re applying skin-coloured stuff to conceal blemishes, it’s makeup, fellas. Own it.
As Elial Cruz notes in another article about the phenomenon, cosmetic companies market to men with the same playbook they use when marketing to women. ‘All of these products are designed to smooth, cover-up or darken,’ he notes, ‘the implication being you’re not tan enough, your skin is not perfect enough.’ ‘Evenness’ is the key buzzword, and amusingly, there’s also a concerted effort to make it look like the fella isn’t wearing makeup.
I can imagine that some female readers may be rolling their eyes and saying – oh, you poor dears, the nasty makeup companies are preying on your low self-esteem? And fair enough, too.
I’m not suggesting for a moment that the impact or experience are comparable with the juggernaut that is the female-centric beauty industry. Not being a woman, I’m in no position to assess its impact – but the attempt to extend these kinds of marketing games to men is certainly new.
But what I am familiar with is the impression they’re attempting to create, which is that the target falls beneath Derek Zoolander’s gold standard of being “really, really goodlooking”.
Whether or not we are objectively good-looking has little relevance, really – if you feel that you’re less than stellar-looking, then you will lack confidence, and be romantically hopeless, and stuck in a vicious circle that makes you a prime victim for unscrupulous pedlars of makeup.
And really, how scummy for a corporation to make a buck by playing on these kinds of psychological vulnerabilities? I particularly object to the idea of bronzer – in an era of widespread melanoma, who gives a damn how ‘bronzed’ we Aussies are? If anything, a tan should be taken as a sign of foolishness, whether it’s because you brave the UV rays or are silly enough to stand in a little booth while a machine sprays rust-coloured paint all over you.
The strangest product of the lot is Clinique’s product that hides dark spots. I don’t even get what that’s for. Freckles? Moles? Post-footy bruising? And then there’s the anti-ageing cream. When I want to feel younger, I play video games or watch a Pixar movie. A cream offers me nothing.
But while I resent the idea of concealing imperfections, I am a convert to the notion of skin care. Having (as previously noted) dry skin, I can feel the difference whenever I remember to apply moisturiser, and my adolescent oil-slick of a face would have been far worse if I hadn’t diligently applied cleanser every morning during my youth.
And what the hey, I’m man enough to admit that I like it when my skin feels soft and supple to the touch, dammit. So I’m all for a bit of manly moisturiser, and if that helps the areas beside my eyes look a bit less like the dancefloor at the end of a crow-only disco, then that’s fine.
But if I was going to begin concealing my biggest physical vulnerability, I’d be investing in wigs rather than skin-toned concealer; or perhaps some kind of portable mirror to make my significantly asymmetrical visage look a bit less lopsided.
Besides, I’m 37, overweight and balding. How good do they think I think I could possibly look?
Then again, many men are all too happy to conceal their hair loss with techniques ranging from chemistry to transplantation, so perhaps the makeup companies are onto something?
So by all means, tell me that your products will make my skin healthier. You can even pretend it’ll stave off the ageing process if you like. Just don’t tell me I need them to hide the full force of my physical appearance, such as it may be.
Because here’s the thing – I am beautiful, no matter what they say. Just like Christina Aguilera, words can’t bring me down.
Or more realistically, I now accept that I’m as beautiful – or otherwise – as I’m going to be, and overpriced cosmetics are unlikely to make a lick of difference.