Aurora Magazine

Promoting excellence in advertising

Should Men Look Good Only To Attract Women?

Why are beauty and personal care ads aimed at Pakistani men so lame? Sami Qahar poses the question.
Updated 25 Oct, 2023 11:33am

Vanity is not gender specific. Social norms have changed, or I should say, evolved. There was a time when beauty and vanity were taboo topics for men and, when it came to personal care products and services, women were the only subscribers.

The rise of metrosexual men is a notable sociocultural shift that has gained traction in recent years and it is a phenomenon that reflects a transformation in the traditional notions of masculinity, whereby men have become increasingly conscious of their looks and attentive to fashion and personal care.

Noted gender studies scholar, Michael Kimmel, explored the changing dynamics of masculinity in contemporary society in his book Manhood in America. The book itself is 27 years old, and things have changed even more since. The topic was further researched in 2011 by Jongsung Kim and Kim K.P. Johnson, something which I thoroughly enjoyed studying during my psychology studies days. Kim and Johnson delved deeper into men’s grooming needs and practices, illustrating the role of the media in shaping those behaviours.

The emergence of metrosexual men can be attributed to several factors, including the influence of popular culture, marketing strategies by the beauty, personal care and fashion industries and evolving gender roles. As men increasingly embrace self-care, it is evident that the modern man is more willing than ever to invest in his appearance and challenge traditional stereotypes of masculinity.

In the Indian Subcontinent (the closest spectrum for Pakistani male consumers) the trend emerged later compared to America and Europe. Suhraiya Jivraj in 2017 wrote an article called Masculinities, Consumption and Leisure: Challenging Neoliberalism, that highlighted how changing global trends were affecting Subcontinental men and the noticeable surge in men’s beauty consciousness, characterised by increased attention to fashion, skincare and personal care routines.

As traditional gender roles evolve, this transformation is evidenced in the advertising and marketing strategies employed by the beauty, personal care and fashion industries, as demonstrated in studies such as Uzma Rashid and Qurat-Ul-Ain Khokhar’s Representation of Men in Advertising: A Comparative Study of Pakistan and the United States (2019). These shifts in attitude and behaviour indicate that the Subcontinent, like many other regions, is experiencing growing acceptance of men embracing self-care practices that go beyond the conventional norms of masculinity.

What does this mean for Pakistani advertisers and product manufacturers?

Without sounding too academic, let’s first explore what men are doing in Pakistani advertising in general. They are shown in non-subordinate positions, most of the voice-overs are done by men (even if they are addressing women) and men are shown to have little input in the indoor activities of a household. While banks and automobiles use men as central characters, when it comes to beauty and personal care categories, men become mere spectators, or dare I say, props. Rare occurrences, of course, were always there; for example, Lifebuoy Red Carbolic Soap in the late eighties or early nineties, showed a train full of football playing men, throwing soap from one to another and enjoying the train ride. I don’t see any such communication happening anymore and Lifebuoy has since moved to becoming an anti-bacterial and beauty soap.

In their advertising, banks, telecom and automobiles companies (among others) keep showing men as highly successful individuals. Yet, when it comes to men’s personal care products, the advertising barely touches the notion of success.

Nonetheless, there are still some categories in the personal care segment that do target men as their bull’s eye audience. Gillette comes to mind, even if among desi men shaving has declined over the last decade. Other than shaving, haircare (shampoos), facewash (with a hint of skin whitening), deodorants, some toothpaste brands and fragrances are still targeting men. Veet took a leap of faith and introduced a men’s variant showing a very macho hair removal visual in their communication. I have little information about the success or failure of the product; however, the communication has been off air for a long time.

One of the most successful men’s brands, Axe, sold the ‘fragrant promise of irresistibility’ for decades and still does. This is the actual brand essence of Axe the brand and its success forced a lot of other brands into using the same formula in order to attract men to their own products. And why not? What can be more important to men than being attractive to the opposite gender, right? Not their passions, not their ambition, or their other relationships, but being attractive to the opposite gender. These advertisements tend to perpetuate traditional gender roles and stereotypes, reinforcing the idea that a man’s worth is closely tied to his desirability to the opposite sex. Such messaging can create unrealistic standards for men and may inadvertently contribute to body image issues and other insecurities.

Success is a very intriguing platform that is used to target men. Our society expects men to be successful, in particular financially. In their advertising, banks, telecom and automobiles companies (among others) keep showing men as highly successful individuals. Yet, when it comes to men’s personal care products, the advertising barely touches the notion of success. A recently aired TVC of Fair Menz facewash shows a nurse drooling over a man in a hospital because of his skin colour. Yes, this is 2023 and we still have women drooling over men in ads because of how they look.

Have a look at TV commercials for shampoos, deodorants and even Veet, and see which one shows the financially successful man? None. Even though it’s the same man who is being sold ‘success’ as the end benefit by banks and cars.

What about emotional advertising? Tea, banks, insurance companies and even cars, have sold emotional relationships to men, yet no personal care brand has tried going down this route. This is pigeonholed advertising at its finest. Humour has been tried, like the skin whitening TVC I mentioned earlier and by a few deodorant brands, but in a ‘cringe’ sort of way, and that too related to the opposite sex. And let’s not forget the overly testosterone loaded masculine TVCs like Fahad Mustafa breaking a car with a hammer in a commercial for a deodorant, looking all rugged and tough. Why was he breaking the car? I have no idea.

To be fair, I may seem a little harsh. There are good examples too. Sunscreen brands have been endorsed by sportsmen, which is a relevant celebrity segment in that category. They also cover the success angle, because those sportsmen are successful in their fields. Perfumes such as 501 by Wasim Akram and 555 by Jahangir Khan fall in the same category.

One of my favourite success stories is Dari Mooch, a specifically targeted men’s personal care brand that although promotes itself only digitally, has managed to garner a lot of praise, engagement and sales. Boasting over 200,000 followers on social media, people in the know suggest that their sales numbers are staggering, and growing. The brand has recently expanded its footprint in the Middle East as well. What I really admire about Dari Mooch is that it captured the insight and current market needs very well. While Gillette was busy selling razors to consumers who were not willing to shave, Dari Mooch offered them what they needed, but did not have – grooming for facial hair. They fulfilled an unmet need and reaped the benefits. This goes to prove the age-old philosophy of using insight to develop products, services and advertising.

I have seen at least four Pakistani TV commercials aimed at men, and they all start with a celebrity fixing his jacket just before the camera shows him walking. It’s a shot in the popular Chris Hemsworth perfume ad. However, even with these unimaginative concepts, I see the men’s personal care industry growing in Pakistan. Vanity will stay, irrespective of its gender. If Huda Kattan can create an empire based on women’s beauty needs and insecurities, the market for men is out there waiting with open arms. The category is going to grow as more and more men start taking care of themselves. The trick is to find the unmet needs and then connect to the target audience emotionally or at least with a purpose that goes beyond being attractive to the opposite gender.

Sami Qahar is CEO, Stimulus Productions.