Gender bending, brand bending, and soap

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In the midst of March Madness there has been a new development in men’s personal hygiene/grooming products. The commercials are popping up left and right.  It seems that Consumer Packaged Goods Companies (CPG) are taking a tip from Axe and once again going after men, an ongoing trend to tap into the mind of the male consumer.  The most memorable attempt in the toiletries industry was back in 2003, when companies such as Gillette and Unilever went after the “metrosexual” men who were fashion and image conscious.  Though an innovative way to target the male consumer, these advertising campaigns were not successful with their intended target audience.

But it’s 2010 and, apparently,  time to try again.    The one campaign that sticks out for me is Dove Men+Care, which encourages men to “be comfortable in their own skin.”  While I’m sure Dove has done extensive research on targeting men something tells me that this,  like other products similar to it,  will be another failed product launch aimed at men.  In Dove’s case they had a product that was acceptable to both men and woman…bar soap.  Plain old soap.  Men buy bar soap. I don’t have research to back this but I’d say most men won’t pay more for men’s body wash.  Feel free to prove me wrong.

What Dove has done is a classic case of gender bending, in which companies take a product that is typically more male or female and rework the marketing to make it appealing to the opposite gender.  This marketing tactic allows companies to increase their products’ relevance and create more  reach.  Ugg, which originally was a predominately male brand, successfully used gender bending to broaden their customers.  Not only did they broaden their customer base but they also leveraged their product into the fashion community.  Their only challenge now is that they’ve lost traction with their original core target, the male audience.

In the case of toiletries, while I understand the desire to broaden the customer base (and don’t get me wrong, I love the tv commercials) it’s my opinion that these companies risk far more by skewing away from what they know.  In Dove’s case they are a trusted family brand and have been a leader in female toiletries for years.   It seems to me the company is  forcing its brand and line extensions to an area that falls outside of their loyal consumer target.  On one hand, a strong brand gives you flexibility to experiment, but on the other there’s a fine line between putting your image currency to work for you and diluting what made you so strong in the first place.

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