Earlier this month, the brand War Paint launched an advertisement for a line of men’s makeup—specifically, concealer, tinted moisturizer, foundation, bronzer, and anti-shine powder. There aren’t a lot of brands that target makeup directly to men. On paper, it’s a winning formula: a market opportunity upon which brands like War Paint can capitalize. After all, there are plenty of skincare and haircare brands “for men”. Why not launch a men’s makeup brand?
The aforementioned ad, however, chose a very targeted angle, showcasing a muscled, tattooed “man’s man”, if you will, with skull rings and perky pecs, applying tinted moisturizer to his face. The implication: This brand is for REAL MEN. Grunt! A tweet from War Paint explained they created these products because they “couldn’t find a makeup brand formulated specifically for men’s skin”. Huh? “It’s about understanding that not all men have that confidence [to buy makeup in the women’s aisles],” the founder said in another video. “I didn’t, and I suffered.”
I can understand being a victim of bullying for cystic acne or vitiligo or birthmarks, but not for fear of buying Maybelline. The muscley ad itself has since been deleted, but you can envision it easily, like a razor commercial trying to sexify its new 5-blade technology while playing during a WWE broadcast.
The Internet Powers That Be quickly took War Paint to task, and for a number of rightful reasons. One, that Native American-appropriated name. Two, men’s skin is exactly the same as women’s skin. It’s your genetics that take hold instead: While men have larger pores on average, gender plays no role in oil levels, texture, or complexion. And three, the Web called out the way War Paint positioned itself in this corner of the ring, specifically by using the hypermasculine actor and no other models, capitalizing on outdated male stereotypes.
War Paint very much pinned itself into this corner—especially in an industry that’s rounding its edges against consumers who are sharpening their senses. I’ve been writing about grooming for nearly six years, for just about every men’s publication. If you’ve ever Googled tips on styling your hair or trimming your beard, there’s a good chance I wrote that article. Sometimes I write for guys in their 30s, sometimes for young men starting college, or for those going grey and losing their hair. More and more, I’ve been asked by editors to write about products like concealer, primer, and tinted moisturizer—things many of us refer to as makeup, not that it matters what you call it. In the last year especially, the positioning I use in these articles has hinged as well. We aren’t holding our readers’ hands as much when it comes to personal care.
We tell you about the function of the product, and endorse a favorite, just as we would a conditioner or a moisturizer. Some male audiences still need an encouraging push, like “Concealer is not makeup, just like lip balm isn’t lipstick. Try it. Maybe you’ll like it.” Take this as my vow to let go of all hands, moving forward on the matter. It’s a learning moment for me, also, as a grooming writer.
I wrote about War Paint a couple times last year, as soon as they were out the gate. Their products work really well, I should add. I recommended them confidently, despite the less-than-desirable name. I even liked that they had positioned themselves as a men’s brand, because I know the audience well: Men should be using these kinds of products, but they can be stubborn. There’s something about our fragile egos that can’t be caught wearing makeup, much less shopping amongst brands with pink labels or female models. As a proud queer man, I type that with sarcasm and exhaustion. It’s all the bad things—heteronormative, stereotypical, toxic, fragile masculinity. But as a grooming writer who knows his audience, I understand that guys are more apt to buy a product targeted at men as opposed to women. (And the same in reverse.)
While I delight in genderless, unisex brands that understand the mass market, I’m not suggesting grooming and beauty brands shy away from targeting a gendered audience. But target wisely: Don’t make up any facts. Don’t suggest this consumer was ignored or marginalized. He wasn’t. He was just too proud. But as his collective mind opens up, educate him on the functional benefits of the product and brand. After all, that’s the strong suit, since the very tenet of grooming is function. Men like function. Women like function. And we all like to feel included. So, unless you only want to target a hypermasculine audience with a fragile ego, then give us a campaign that includes all the faces of your target demographic. Your product isn’t as innovative as you wish it were, I promise you. But advertising sure as hell can be.
For what it’s worth, I look forward to War Paint’s next campaign, and hope they correct course. I suspect they will. Just as we editors and writers have learned and evolved with the industry—and just as we get to influence those evolutions—I’m happy to see brands grow and change with it, too.
For the time being, let me show you an ad that got it right. It’s from Harry’s. Here’s a brand that could be targeting both men and women with razors, but they’ve always honed in on men. The brand just sold for a billion dollars, so you really can’t convince anyone that this positioning was a bad idea. In this ad, Harry’s hasn’t left any of us out. It features all types of men, of varying skin colors, be they straight or queer, cis or trans, baby faced or fully bearded, young or not so very. What they did leave out is the misguided masculinity and the misinformation.
And, for good measure, here are some makeup products I like, and you might like, too. Some are targeted at men, some aren’t, and some land someplace in between. After all, what does it matter, if they all work effectively?