ironies of life - dark wanna get fair; fair wanna get dark
June 26, 2011 5:44 pm
India’s men see skincare as fair game
By Amy Kazmin in New Delhi
Young Indian men are paying more attention to how they look, moving away from a traditional emphasis on brains over brawn
It is not an uncommon formula for an Indian television commercial: a popular Bollywood star endorsing a cream that promises to lighten olive-toned Indian skin – except the star is muscled hunk John Abraham and the fairness cream he’s touting, Garnier PowerLight, targets not women but young Indian men.
India’s traditional ideals of beauty have long placed high value on fair skin, which has fuelled a $466m a year business in creams such as Unilever’s market leader Fair & Lovely which ostensibly help women lighten their skin. From childhood, Indian women are bombarded with the message that fairer skin can bring a desirable husband and the job of their dreams.
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But now, Garnier, part of the French beauty products group L’Oréal , and rivals including Unilever; Germany’s Beiersdorf, the maker of Nivea; and India’s own Emami are trying to persuade Indian men that their skin tone also matters – and can be lightened with special fairness creams designed just for them.
It is part of a widening campaign to promote male personal care and grooming products as young Indian men pay ever more attention to how they look, moving away from a traditional emphasis on brains over brawn.
Dheeraj Sinha, chief strategy officer at Bates 141, the Asia-based marketing and branding company says in the past, “when it came to marriage, if you were a boy of a certain caste or creed, and you had a sexy job in the government, you would be picked up, no matter how you looked”.
But now, “with marriages that are love-based rather than arranged, men need a woman’s approval, so the need to look good has gone up in a big way,”.
India’s market for male personal care and grooming products is still small relative to the women’s beauty market and those for men’s products in more affluent Asian countries such as China or Thailand. Euromonitor puts sales in India of dedicated men’s grooming products at just $500m a year, of which two-thirds is razors, blades and shaving foams and the rest specialised deodorants, hair care and skin care products.
Experts estimate that India’s overall male personal grooming products market is growing at about 15 per cent a year. Sales of men’s fairness cream are just $44m a year – a tiny fraction of the size of the women’s market – but their sales are growing faster than any other product category, at a blistering 40 per cent annually.
“Fairness has become a cultural ideal of ‘good-looking’” both for women and men, says Mr Sinha.
Suggestive ads earn conservatives’ ire
Getting the message right for male grooming products in India can be a minefield.
Multinational Unilever, homegrown pharmaceutical and personal care company Paras, and Calcutta-based McNroe have all aroused the ire of India’s conservative political establishment with highly sexualised television commercials for their men’s deodorants.
Authorities say the advertisements – which all convey the message of “use our product, get the girl (in bed)” – have crossed the boundaries of good taste and decency by “tickling male libidinous instincts”. The ministry of information and broadcasting has made clear its desire to see such ads off the air.
But while the self-regulating Advertising Standards Council of India admits the ads have generated many complaints, it says it has found that many of them are “not objectionable”, and that most air late at night, “outside family viewing”.
Deodorant use among Indian men is among the lowest in Asia, with product penetration at less than 10 per cent. With such a vast potential market, deodorant manufacturers and sellers look likely to be tickling men’s libidinous instincts for the foreseeable future.
In their desire for a fairer skin tone, Indian men are part of a pan-Asia trend. “It’s not an Indian phenomenon alone,” says Raghav Gupta, a principal at Booz & Co in New Delhi, noting that in China, Thailand and Malaysia the men’s fairness markets are “very large”.
In China, the men’s skincare market is estimated at $311m annually – about seven times the size of India’s. L’Oréal says sales in China of its Men Expert product line now exceed sales in western Europe and are growing at three times those of women’s products in China.
“Chinese guys have no taboo,” says Alexis Perakis-Valat, chief executive of L’Oréal in China. “They are pragmatic and clear that looking good perhaps boosts your self-esteem and helps you in your everyday life, so why not take advantage?”
While products specific to them are relatively new, Indian men’s pursuit of fairness is not. Analysts reckon about 20 per cent of Unilever’s Fair & Lovely cream has always been used by men borrowing from sisters or wives.
In 2005, Calcutta-based Emami broke new ground with a fairness cream targeting men, enlisting Bollywood star Shah Rukh Khan as brand ambassador. Today, Fair & Handsome retains a commanding 70 per cent share of the Indian men’s fairness cream market.
Unilever struck back with Fair & Lovely Menz Active and its Vaseline Men’s skin whitening cream, face wash and scrub, while Nivea has also introduced an array of men’s whitening products.
Analysts expect the sector to remain highly competitive as rising incomes allow more men to splurge on such purchases. “The aspiration to look better has been there,” says Mr Gupta. “Now the ability is catching up.”
Additional reporting by Louise Lucas
Copyright The Financial Times Limited 2011.