Indian Men Put on a Pretty Face

Tall, dark and handsome? Make that tall, fair and handsome in India. While savvy brand managers have always cashed in on Indian women’s obsession for lighter skin by peddling a raft of `fairness’ products, they have now zeroed in on a new cache of clients – Indian men.

Didier Villanueva, country manager for L’Oreal India, was quoted recently as saying that fairness creams account for half of India’s skin care market although until recently they were primarily marketed to women. Men have believed until recently that it was more macho not to bother about skin color. But as they climb the economic ladder, Indian men have begun paying more attention to skin color, just as men in Korea, Japan and other Asian countries have done.

Indian men are perhaps more susceptible than those in other Asian countries, however, because of the powerful presence of Bollywood, the country’s hyperactive movie industry. Scripts focus on the fair-complexioned hero who walks away with the beautiful damsel in the end, usually by vanquishing a dark-skinned villain or two. Accordingly, according to Clarins, the French skin care company, 12 per cent of local revenues in India come from the sale of men's products as compared to six percent of local revenues in Thailand and seven percent in Singapore.

For south Indian superstar Rajinikanth’s just released blockbuster `Sivaji’ — India’s most expensive movie ever made at Rs90 million (US$16 million) — cinematographer KV Anand made the ebony-skinned superhero look light-skinned with the help of skin grafting.

However, not all Indian men endorse the growing preoccupation with fairness or products that enhance it. Mumbai-based fashion stylist Ajay Kachroo, for instance, says the emphasis should always be on clear skin, not fair. "By accepting that being dark is inadequate, you are exercising the worst kind of racism over yourself," he says. "You need to accept your own individuality. Men ought to look into fitness, not fairness."

The frenetic activity over men’s fairness products has left some Indian women flummoxed. While earlier they had demanded that fairness creams be banned because they project women in a regressive light — and promote racial bias in society — are now at a loss for words.

Not that their opinion matters to the fairness companies. From gels and foams to `whitening’ moisturizers, bleaches, creams, scrubs, peels and masks, an array of fairness products are now targeted at Indian males. About half a dozen companies are going after the segment including such giants as Emami Industries (Fair and Handsome), Elder Pharmaceuticals (Fair One), CavinKare (Forever), Revlon (Touch & Glow) and Nivea (Nivea for Men).

Emami launched its `Fair and Handsome’ cream in collaboration with Activor Corp. of the US in mid-2005. The response was so favorable that the company amplified its sales pitch by roping in Bollywood superstar Shahrukh Khan as its brand ambassador for two years for a whopping US$ 1 million.

“Emami Fair and Handsome has been a star brand in our portfolio and we thought of associating Shah Rukh's brand image with it," said Emami Group Director Mohan Goenka at a press conference last month.

With Khan endorsing Emami, other players have been left seeking a share of the Indian market. Last month, Beiersdorf AG, the German company which owns Nivea, launched its Nivea for Men line in India.

Analysts predict that the launch of Nivea products will further intensify the competition in the segment. According to Nivea India's Managing Director, Kai Boris Bendix, the company's target customers are upper and middle class men while Emami and HLL are zeroing in on both the urban and rural markets, cutting across all segments.

According to trade analysts, the Indian fairness products market – poised for exponential growth – is currently Rs80 million. Of this, the men’s segment constitutes a substantive 35 per cent, or Rs30 million. The figures are hardly surprising considering Indian men are increasingly conscious of their looks. A recent Gillette survey cited by Euromonitor states that while Indian men spend an average of 20 minutes in front of the mirror each morning, women primp for only 18.

The cosmetic companies’ interests were spurred by a pre-launch study that revealed that a many Indian men were clandestine but avid consumers of women’s fairness creams. Emami, in its TV ad campaigns, seeks to capitalize on that by showing a dark-skinned young man caught red-handed using a women’s fairness cream by a bevy of girls. Emami has gone so far as to declare somewhat unconvincingly that women's creams don’t work on men because of the differences in their skin types and the conditions to which they were exposed on a daily basis.

“While we thought that our customers would start from 18-year-olds, we found that a large number of teenaged and pre-pubescent boys too were using our product," said Goenka. The company has already achieved sales of Rs100,000 in Andhra Pradesh and Goenka says they will launch Fair and Handsome in other southern states soon. Aditya Agarwal, sales director of the Emami group, adds that men now contribute to about 45 per cent sales of the Rs1 million Emami Naturally Fair brand.

According to Rakesh Pandey, Chief Executive Officer of Kaya Skin Clinic, a beauty and fitness chain, Indian men have joined the rush to be metrosexual and cosmopolitan. “They travel, socialize, meet customers, make presentations, strike deals. That's why they are more conscious of their looks now, so that they can present themselves well," he says.

Beauticians reiterate that while men are much more exposed to the sun than women, they earlier considered it macho to not bother about it. Not so now. “Today, grooming is very important for Indian men and a lot of them go in for skin lightening treatments,” says dermatologist Arup Godbole. "Men are increasingly going to cosmetology clinics for treatments like fruit peels and micro-dermabrasion which improve skin color, tone and texture. In fact, male patients have begun to outnumber women!"

Men-only salons are also mushrooming. “Indian men are highly conscious of their looks," says Gilles Beroud, vice president (Asia) for Clarins. The pricey French cosmetics and skincare company has launched seven products for men and will be launching three others soon. Their current offerings claim to provide tired skin with an “refreshing boost” to eliminate signs of stress and fatigue.

Men are also finding it’s not just a matter of a pretty face. The Japanese cosmetic giant Shiseido has launched 10 products in the Indian market for men. One of them is Body Creator Abdomen Toning Gel, which supposedly improves skin tone in the gut. The company recently opened an outlet at Hyderabad Central and will soon open a “beauty studio” to pamper men.