Men’s cologne lines get manlier


Men, if you’ve been looking for a manly fistful of fragrance, a scent that, say, invokes the adrenaline rush of NASCAR rather than a shirtless jog on the beach, take a deep breath -- the industry is paying attention to the growing percentage of guys who are taking care of their own grooming and buying their own scents.

That’s why, alongside faces like Matthew McConaughey and James Franco (shilling for Dolce & Gabbana’s the One and Gucci by Gucci, respectively), you’re likely to see rapper 50 Cent pitching Power, and Common promoting Diesel’s Only the Brave. Words such as “power” and “brave” are a key part of the pitch from perfume makers battling for a piece of a men’s fragrance market that reported sales of $1.1 billion in 2008.

“In 2007, we saw the percentage of men buying fragrances for themselves edging closer to the percentage of women buying fragrances for them,” said Karen Grant, vice president and global industry analyst at NPD Group. This year, Grant said, research by the Port Washington, N.Y.,-based market research firm shows that 41% of men say they are opening their own wallets for scents, compared with 40% who say their partners pick the potions.

Pretty-boy pitchmen have hardly been put out to pasture; this year’s all-star lineup includes actors Patrick Dempsey (with his second scent) and Antonio Banderas (with his sixth) but there’s a distinct top note of testosterone with recently tapped athletes such as Derek Jeter and Tom Brady fronting Driven and Stetson fragrances, respectively.

In the last 12 months, country singer Tim McGraw has had a hit -- without singing a single note. His McGraw by Tim McGraw has racked up nearly $6 million in sales, making it the sixth-bestselling men’s scent in the mass market (drugstores, grocery stores) category, according to Chicago-based market research firm Information Resources Inc. Not bad for a scent that has been around only since August 2008.

There have been some noncelebrity “masculine” fragrance launches this year as well. For men hoping to capture the essence of a day at the racetrack (hold your burning rubber jokes, please), NASCAR gave the checkered flag to its first licensed scent -- cologne Daytona 500 Fragrance for Men. The cocktail of bergamot, nutmeg and sandalwood comes packaged in a glass cylinder with chrome rims and a red metal and rubber tire top.

Another recent rollout is a cadre of colognes officially licensed by the U.S. Armed Forces. The American Line pays homage to the Army, Navy, Air Force, Marines and Coast Guard, giving each group a signature scent. For example, the Army-inspired fragrance (dubbed Patton) is described as “defin[ing] masculinity with a sensual, woodsy fragrance. A confident blend of sage, bergamot and cedar elicit feelings of majestic woodlands and endless horizons.”

And alongside the more genteel-looking stopper-topped flacons that traditionally package perfumes are new glass bottles shaped like clenched fists (Diesel’s Only the Brave) and containers reminiscent of car parts (Power by 50 Cent). The recently launched Play by Givenchy may be fronted by Justin Timberlake, but it’s sold in a bottle designed to resemble the most covet-worthy of techno-gadgets: a portable MP3 player.

Robert Passikoff, president of marketing and branding firm Brand Keys Inc., said a brand such as Givenchy is creating an additional emotional connection beyond the celebrity affiliation.

“Face it, with celebrities, it’s the emotional side of the equation that’s getting puffed up. It has nothing to do with the way it smells. So what you’re seeing with the cars and the music connections is different ways of trying to make those additional emotional connections.”

NPD’s Grant sees the same strategy at work. “With more men buying their own fragrances, [perfume makers are] trying to figure out how to appeal directly to that guy. I think it’s a smart tactic. Just look at how successful Axe body spray has been by being playful about the sex appeal of the product.” She noted that when men were surveyed about what factors influence their fragrance purchases, casual users cited masculinity as one of the top three factors.

But it wasn’t the most important reason. Grant explained: “The top reason men buy a particular scent remains, as it has been for a long time, that it appeals to and resonates with their partner -- in terms of imagery and scent.”

Can the manufacturers of these new “masculine” scents expect them to resonate this holiday season?

“It’s too early to tell how successful they’ll be with this strategy,” Grant said Monday, “since 50% of the fragrance sales for the year haven’t even happened yet.”

Gentlemen, start your engines.