Creating the New Man

Chivalry may not be dead, but today’s “modern man” is much different from days of old: he applies moisturizer and even wears makeup.

While you may accept this as the norm (or find it shocking that we are even calling attention to it), it’s important to acknowledge it hasn’t always been this way. Sure our fathers applied Brut and Brylcreem, but these were basic items, commodities of sorts. Today it’s much more complicated.

Why? Because for cosmetic companies and fashion houses, there was a huge untapped market. While women adorned themselves with the latest make-up items and fashion accessories, fuelling continual growth, the same could not be said for men.

If only they could get men to value their physical appearance more and adopt such rituals. But how?

A core principle of customer experience design is that customers don’t exist, they have to be created. Cosmetic companies and fashion houses had tried (albeit unsuccessfully) in the past to enter the male market, but such a market didn’t exist; consumers weren’t ready.

To get men to adopt the desired attitude and behaviours leading to this consumption represented a significant cultural shift. In order to do so, marketers needed to create a new morality for men.

Applying an adaptation of Giesler and Veresiu’s model of consumer responsibilization— which theorizes that responsible consumption involves “the active creation and management of consumers as moral subjects” — we can analyze how this new morality was created. The process involves four steps.

Personalization

Contrast the idealized consumer with the current (irresponsible) one - The goal of the first step, personalization, is to make the consumer aware that things can be better, to feel that their current state is inadequate. Though the wearing of makeup and use of grooming treatments had been accepted in the gay community, the practice hadn’t transferred to straight males. Cue the ground-breaking, now-famous, TV show “Queer Eye,” where a group of gay men give a straight man a lifestyle makeover, particularly focused on grooming and fashion. The show exposed the “straight man’s” shortcomings and socialized the idea that successful men should care more about their image, and take care of their skin (for example) as much as women. This served to put pressure on men to better maintain their physical appearance and present the idea of a new morality – to take great care of one’s physical appearance is the right thing to do.

Authorization

Rendering the adoption of new practices legitimate through expert knowledge - With the desired tension created, men now needed to feel comfortable and reassured they could adopt this new image, or at least integrate it with their current self-perceptions. This is where the second step, authorization, comes in: using expert knowledge to render new practices both economically and morally legitimate. This is exactly what L’Oréal  did when it launched Men Expert, a new line of men’s beauty products. Engaging confident, established gentlemen like Pierce Brosnan, Gerard Butler and Hugh Laurie demonstrated that it was perfectly fine to use moisturizers and skin revitalization creams. To support this, trusted publications like Men’s Health and GQfeatured scientific evidence about the effects of aging on men’s skin and testimonials from women about what they value in a man’s appearance. These efforts served to reinforce the desired morality.

Capabilization

Develop concrete market infrastructures for responsible self-management - The third step, capabilization, calls for further development of a market that helps individuals in their self-management process. With assurance from authoritative figures, men begin seeking more products and services to address their beauty needs. L’Oréal acquired Nickel, a French brand targeted towards men that offers products as well as services such as body treatments, facials and microdermabrasion, and manicures and pedicures. Many others, such as designers Marc Jacobs and Tom Ford, have followed suit and released men’s beauty products including concealers. In fact, launches of new beauty and personal care products for men increased 70% from 2007 to 2012 (Mintel).

Transformation

Concrete behavioral change - The final step in this model is that of transformation, where the individual embraces their new moralized understanding. The fact that it is now acceptable (even encouraged) for men to apply specialized facial moisturizers, cover-up, and get a mani-pedi is proof that the new morality has been adopted. In 2013, for the first time, men spent more on male specific beauty products than they did on shaving products. And this trend is going to continue.

Whether or not you observed it yourself, it is clear that new standards of beauty have been established for men. So when you or your man reach for some specialized moisturizer or make-up, recognize that while it wasn’t always acceptable, now, well, it’s the right thing to do.

Zach Lieberman, Ali Assad Malik, and Federica Romano are MBA Students in the new Customer Experience Design course at the Schulich School of Business at York University.