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Evolving Gender Stereotypes Drive Growth in Asian Men’s Personal Care

By: Liz Grubow and Alan Kastner
Posted: November 30, 2011, from the December 2011 issue of GCI Magazine.

The recent surge of growth within men’s grooming and personal care is a global phenomenon, extending across markets from Indonesia and South Korea to the U.S. and Western Europe. With the category growing exponentially in the past two years, both large-scale and niche brand owners that understand the potential of products catering to a well-groomed male identity are standing at attention. According to Euromonitor International, the global men’s grooming segment grew 7.4% between 2009 and 2010, and is forecast to reach $31 billion by the end of 2011 [read “A New Pampering Culture Fuels Opportunity in Men’s Grooming” on www.GCImagazine.com]. Rather than being indicative of a global “metrosexual 2.0” trend, this rise of the male personal care market can be attributed to factors such as increased competition in the workforce during the global recession, with physical attractiveness continuing to play a role in an individual’s success, as well as men taking a more active role in household shopping.

Around the World

There are regional differences, of course. Men’s grooming in Western Europe and North America is growing, but that growth is not significant and remains largely restricted to grooming, particularly within the U.S. With skin moisturizers accounting for most of the new growth in the category, males in these more mature markets often remain focused on the essentials, such as deodorants, shaving products and shampoos.

Meanwhile, in Asian markets, the male personal care industry is booming, largely driven by sales in skin care—in particular, the categories of anti-aging, skin whitening and cosmetics, as well as cosmetic surgery. In China alone, the men’s personal care market overtook the North American market by more than $42 million in 2010, growing to more than $269 million, compared to $227 million for all of North America. This growth is expected to continue, with projected annual growth of more than 29% from 2009 to 2014, compared to 5.7% for the U.S. and 7.9% in Europe. Sales of men’s skin care products within China are even expected to double the pace of growth of the women’s market.

Asia Specific

As increased standards of living drive spending toward beauty products, markets such as China, Indonesia, Thailand and South Korea are emerging as powerful players in the global beauty scene. Across Asia, men are increasingly image-conscious and concerned with attractiveness. Particularly as white-collar, service-oriented jobs increase in prevalence, an attractive, well-groomed appearance can serve as a key differentiator and indicator of social class, even professional experience. In addition, in countries such as China and South Korea, there is less of a cultural resistance to men’s grooming and use of cosmetics. Attitudes regarding masculinity vary depending on factors such as age and location. Commonly referred to as du shi yu nan, or “City Jade Men,” this emerging Asian male began spending his disposable income on smaller luxury items such as accessories and apparel before venturing into cosmetics. It is largely the association of cosmetics as a status symbol that has helped to transform the category overall, helping to make spending on skin care products more than 30% higher than products related to shaving.

Asian beauty ideals often have less to do with vanity and more to do with success and personal perfection. Similar to Asian women, Asian men strive for fair, flawless skin and will often go to extreme measures to attain it. Cosmetic surgery, recognized as an affordable investment for an individual’s success among younger consumers, has skyrocketed in popularity, particularly for males between the ages of 35 and 55. These younger consumers and their parents regard cosmetic surgery as a viable method to achieve success. While South Korea remains the most popular cosmetic surgery market for Asian consumers, cosmetic surgery in China is expected to grow in sophistication in the coming decade.