In a market as saturated and competitive as the Chinese beauty industry, one demographic appears to be outperforming all others; the male shopper.
Tmall, China’s largest B2C e-commerce platform recently revealed that the growth rate for men buying beauty products is higher than among women (31% year-on-year growth versus 29%). And the Chinese male beauty market continues to outperform those in other countries, with a projected growth of 15.2% over the next 5 years, compared to a global average of 11%. According to Tmall, we are entering the Chinese ‘Male Beauty Era’.
A concern for male beauty in China dates back to the Han Dynasty scholar He Yan who was famed for his white skin and was famously never without a powder puff in hand. The market has changed considerably but its history speaks to a current trend in China and much of the rest of east Asia for using skin-whitening cosmetics.
Rapid changes in Chinese living standards fuelled by decades of breakneck economic growth have generated huge demand for aspirational lifestyle brands across all different product categories. Personal success has become equated with better personal grooming habits and more elaborate skincare routines. And demand doesn’t always come from where you’d expect it. In a report on male grooming in China from 2018, it was reported that the biggest consumers of male grooming products are new graduates and men in their 40s. As such, beauty brands should “enlarge its consumer base in the forecast period, to penetrate more age groups, with widened product presence and higher acceptance of gender-specific beauty and personal care products”.
Several foreign brands have begun to rise to the challenge of meeting these new demands. Products including Tom Ford’s concealer for men and Chanel’s Boy de Chanel cosmetics range are selling well on platforms such as Tmall. The popularity of foreign brands in this space is not surprising. In the quest for quality and efficacy, consumers are not afraid to spend a little more. The top five male beauty products by sales during Chinese shopping festival Singles Day were all at a premium price point, including La Mer, Biotherm and Lab Series.
The primary way in which many brands — especially those in the beauty industry — build awareness in China is through influencer or KOL (key opinion leader) marketing. Within the male beauty industry, a new generation of ‘young good looking men’ (known in Chinese as ‘little fresh meat’ 小鲜肉) is dominating this space and opening up exciting opportunities for brands to communicate directly with their target audiences, whether male or female. Indeed, China’s most popular lipstick blogger, Li Jiaqi, is male, regularly pulling in millions of views for his reviews of color cosmetics.
Luhan, the popular pop idol who has a similar young boy cute-ish look, was selected by Lancôme and L’Oreal Paris as their Brand Ambassador. The prevailing belief that brands should target a wider audience and appeal to more than one gender has driven the ‘little fresh meat’ effect for men to spend as much as women on skin and beauty. In a partnership with L’Oréal’s China labs, Tmall’s Innovation Centre (TMIC) unearthed five main male beauty consumer profiles, including the young and stylish consumer in their early 20s looking for male-specific products and urban professionals in their 30s with a specific focus on self-care. The majority (58%) of the market is made up of the ‘traditional man’ who shop for mass marketed products. These findings have made way for male consumer targeted campaigns to encourage men to discover new products, personalize their grooming regimens and embrace their place in the market.
Beyond building a brand, the barriers to entry for foreign brands looking to enter the Chinese market have never been lower. Changing e-commerce laws and growing interest in more niche products as a way to differentiate oneself are opening up opportunities for SMEs in particular.
Yet despite the size of the market, consumer demand is not yet being met. Tmall reports that 91% of brands on the platform have had requests about whether their products are suitable for men, yet only 45% of brands offer male-specific products. Even without male-specific products, brands can optimize their China presence by pushing relevant Chinese content for the male consumer, such as L’Oréal’s partnership with Tmall’s Innovation Centre to develop more male-specific products to help brands target key audiences.
Katherine Brown is the Marketing Executive at Tong Digital, a leading Chinese social commerce agency headquartered in London. Established in 2014, TONG delivers end-to-end digital and e-commerce solutions for global retail brands looking to enter and scale up in the Chinese market.