Unilever and P&G Are Coming For the Dudes, And You Should Be Very, Very Afraid

The consumer goods industry is well known for creating a vast array of products for women that really fall into just a few categories: hair, skin, nails, body, fragrance, and hygiene. So how come walking through a Walgreens or Walmart feels like you’ve entered Delhi’s spice market for shower gel and make-up remover? Easy: Because skilled marketing can convince us to spend spend more cash than necessary on luxury-branded items, or feel the need to diversify the number of facial cleansing scrubs, washes, and toners we own but may never use. (It’s okay, you can admit that you buy Pantene because of the shiny hair commercials, and not because of what it does to your hair. Namely, damages it.) So what can we expect from Unilever and P&G in the near future? Same strategy, different consumer group. Yes, they’re coming for the men.

Even though the metrosexual phase has come, at last, to an end, even heteros are still keeping themselves well groomed. They just aren’t getting all gay about it. And the marketers behind these billion-dollar brands that are trying to reach the guy quotient couldn’t do it alone. They’re relying on the best crutches in advertising: stereotypes! Relays AdAge:

P&G has been highlighting the masculinity of its men’s brands, Old Spice and Gillette, amid the high-profile entry of Dove Men+Care. Recent ads from Wieden & Kennedy, Portland, Ore., urge women to get their men to stop using “lady-scented body wash” in favor of Old Spice. An ad for Gillette’s body wash, with a fairly obvious proxy for the new Dove product in the shower, pointedly says, “Just because it says it’s for men doesn’t mean it is.”

“We think frankly a brand grounded in men, where you don’t have to say it’s for men, has a much better chance of winning in the marketplace,” said Ed Shirley, vice chairman of beauty and grooming for P&G.

For its part, Unilever claims it has the leading men’s personal-care brand in categories outside shaving: Axe. (Gillette is the leading personal-care brand overall — including shaving — for men.) And Unilever has captured two-thirds of the growth in men’s grooming over the past five years, said Kathy O’Brien, VP-personal care North America. Gillette, despite its commanding 70%-plus market share in razors and blades, hasn’t been able to easily translate that success into leadership in any other men’s category.

But will the Dove brand, traditionally associated with the fairer sex, really resonate with men? “Many men are already using Dove products, and Unilever has a history of proven success in men’s care,” said Ms. O’Brien.

And then then there’s the oldest of tried and true advertiser strategy: If you give consumers somebody they aspire to be, they will buy the product. That’s why Diddy shills for Ciroc, and Tiger Woods for, well, nevermind. But it also explains why you put this alpha male prototype on television, and it just works.