PUBLISHED : Tuesday, 25 February, 2014, 11:16am
UPDATED : Tuesday, 25 February, 2014, 11:16am

An end to soap dodging

BIO

Anna is a business writer. During her 20-year Hong Kong career, she’s written everything from stock market reports and luxury goods sector analysis to speeches for the HKSAR Chief Executive and served as president of the Foreign Correspondents’ Club for two years.
 

It started a while ago at the beautician section of the hairdressers, previously a male-free zone. Now you see men nonchalantly having manicures and heading off down the corridor for facials. Some look a bit sheepish, but most sit having their nails buffed as if they’ve been doing it all their lives. Some guys are there for “a bit of waxing” I’m told, nudge, nudge, wink, wink.

Well now it’s official. Sales of cosmetics and skincare for men in Asia -- sorry, “male grooming products” -- are growing faster than for women, at nine per cent and five per cent per annum respectively. This is I learn in Campaign Asia Pacific. It seems a sort of watershed has been reached where nearly two-thirds of men believe cosmetics are not only for women. I’ve never understood that: men are usually happy to use whatever they can find after a quick rummage in the bathroom cupboard. Even if they emerge smelling like a girl’s handbag, they wouldn’t be seen buying it themselves. No way. I knew one who would not even be seen with “women’s stuff” – not even non-embarrassing things – in his supermarket trolley, in case persons unknown thought he was shopping for himself. Clearly times have changed.    

Kantar Worldpanel interviewed 5,300 male consumers in China, South Korea, Taiwan, the Philippines, Indonesia and Malaysia and Thailand for this survey.

Their findings indicate that metrosexuals are on the march, fearlessly slathering themselves in potions to look and smell more alluring. Well that’s what you might think, but it’s not necessarily the case. It seems your average Asian bloke arms himself with male grooming products for a variety of reasons.

Bad breath and dandruff    

Men are concerned about their looks but they worry about different things in different places.

Bad breath is an issue for high-income Chinese men, as well as male consumers in Indonesia and Vietnam. That would suggest the rest don’t care, which is odd. Almost half of low-income Chinese men and the same number of Filipinos agonise over acne. Many north Asian men worry about being too sweaty, but so they should, since 80 per cent of them don’t wear deodorant. Half of Asian men claim to be worried about having dandruff, but for all that, they don’t do much about it. Only 70 per cent of sufferers invest in anti-dandruff shampoo.

I don’t think the men in this survey all told the truth: where is the section on hair restoratives and the percentage who invest in jet-black hair dye? Show me a line-up of Asian politicians and count the grey heads. I bet more than 95 per cent won’t have a grey hair anywhere. Which is a great pity, because most of them look much more distinguished au naturel.    

Soap sales treble

This survey claims the fastest growing products for men are soap, with sales up 212 per cent, presumably year on year. Sales of chaps’ shampoo are up 39 per cent, and liquid bath products 33 per cent.  About 80 per cent of men insist the care about their looks, but the men’s products share of the overall market is still only 4 per cent, with most admitting they just grab whatever’s in the bathroom. 

And it’s good news to hear that a growing number of Asian guys are worried about their six-packs, with 60 per cent saying they exercise regularly and 49 per cent taking vitamin supplements. Amazingly, more than a third, 36 per cent have dieted in the past six months.

Men use seven grooming products on average, yet only three are exclusively for men, usually shaving and skincare products. In China 73 per cent of men pay attention to their appearance “because women like it,” while in the Philippines, Vietnam and Malaysia, they feel it’s important for their job. Higher-income consumers in China, 70 per cent, are more appearance conscious than low-income men at 61 per cent, because they apparently see it as an indicator of social status.

Cosmetics companies are rubbing their well-moisturised hands together with glee at the prospect of converting 748 million men into consumers. We can expect multi-pack soaps for women and men and numerous new products, and if the rest of the world is anything to go by, expect eyebrow trimming kits and male face masks to become the norm. Selling male grooming kit by communicating messages about status and looking professional are likely to hit home in the Philippines, Malaysia and Vietnam it says, but what would It take to convert a soap dodger in Thailand? Ashley King, regional director of beauty at Kantar Worldpanel said: “we estimate the size of the prize to be US$6 billion.” That’s an awful lot of soap.

So what appeals to these new customers? Well made in Korea is the only thing that cuts the mustard with the Koreans, but the rest of the boys are thought to be susceptible to foreign brands.

The future is more potions

Expect the bathroom to start filling up with shampoo, cleansers, fancy toothbrushes and breath freshener,   skincare and “personal wash” products, whatever they are. And maybe buy another mirror.  

Anna.fenton@scmp.com

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An end to soap dodging

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