- Associated Press - Monday, October 31, 2011

Everyone wants flawless skin, flat abs and a fab rear — but men don’t always admit it.

Companies that sell products promising to help guys lose weight, conceal bloat and enhance skin have to walk a fine line between men’s vanity and their masculinity. How do you market moisturizer to the Marlboro Man?

Dove plays the theme song to the 1930s TV Western “The Lone Ranger” and compares guys’ skin with cowhide in commercials for its men’s shower gel. Weight Watchers uses TV spots with trimmed-down singer Jennifer Hudson to market to women but opts for average Joes talking about drinking beer and grilling meat in ads for its weight-loss program for men. Dr Pepper is more overt in ads for its diet soda targeted toward men with the tag line: “It’s not for women.”

The ads come as guys of all ages are succumbing to growing pressure to suck in their guts and hide their blemishes. In one of the biggest signs that men are more image-conscious, the number of chemical peels, laser hair removals and other cosmetic procedures on men is up 45 percent since 2000, according to the American Society of Plastic Surgeons.

“Back in the day, guys cared more about working hard and providing than having a hairy chest or a beer belly,” said Brian McCarthy, 32, a Philadelphian who works out regularly and uses hair pomade. “Guys worry more about their appearance than they used to.”

This screen shot provided by Weight Watchers Online shows a recent advertisement for men. Everyone wants flawless skin, flat abs and a fab rear. But men don't always admit it. (Associated Press/Weight Watchers Online)
This screen shot provided by Weight Watchers Online shows a recent advertisement ... more >

Fashion and pop culture have a lot to do with the change. The ultraslim silhouette and skinny jeans that hit the high-fashion world several years ago have infiltrated men’s departments in mainstream stores such as Banana Republic and Old Navy. And because of social media websites like Facebook and Twitter, men constantly are confronted with photos of fit male celebrities such as singer Justin Timberlake and actor Will Smith.

The U.S. economic downturn even plays a role. With unemployment around 9 percent, men looking for a job have to make sure their look is as polished as their resume.

“The better you look, the more you’re going to earn,” said Deborah Mitchell, executive director for the Center for Brand and Product Management at the University of Wisconsin School of Business. “Men are increasingly thinking, ‘Wow, I need to look good or look young.’”

That doesn’t mean men want the whole world to know.

Dove officials had that in mind when they launched a line of shower gels for men. The brand, a unit of Unilever, had been synonymous with women since the 1950s. But when Dove rolled out the Men+Care line of lighter-scented shower gels, it used a more “manly” approach to marketing.

The “Manthem,” which was launched during the Super Bowl in 2010, showed a man’s journey through life from conception to age 30. In another ad, the theme music for “The Lone Ranger” plays as a deep male voice urges men to use Dove shower gel to moisturize their “man hide,” which it says dries out like cowhide. Then the voice-over implores men not to be bashful: “Be comfortable in your own skin.”

Rob Candelino, Unilever’s marketing director for personal wash in the U.S., declined to give sales for the Men+Care line but said the campaign has exceeded expectations.

Before seeing ads for the Men+Care line, James Harris, 32, wouldn’t dare use his girlfriend’s Dove soap. But since seeing one of the ads during a Yankees baseball game in April, he has become a loyal user of the brand.

“If it’s for men, I’ll use it,” said the student, who lives in Birmingham, Ala. “If it’s for women, I won’t.”

Weight Watchers found that men respond better to real men — rather than women or celebrities — in ads for its weight-loss program. In April it launched its first national campaign targeting men, using ordinary guys talking about its online “cheat sheets,” which give tips on the healthiest ways to enjoy beer and grilled meats.

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