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Men's Madness Reigns at Unilever

March 27, 2014

The company is stepping up its marketing efforts during the NCAA Tournament, which plays a a role in its personal care plans.

In the personal care space, men’s grooming has always been like the 65th best team in college basketball—okay, but not quite good enough to make it to the big dance. But with a new crop of kids interested in looking good and a Millennial Generation that’s eager to experiment with styling products, fragrances and skin care products, men’s grooming is in the spotlight.

And what better way to showcase that than during March Madness? The NCAA men’s basketball tournament is, after the Super Bowl, the biggest sporting spectacle in the US, and Unilever is taking an active role in the event with a coaching tie-in and a big advertising spend. Unilever’s personal care lines are also the official products of NCAA locker rooms at this year’s Final Four in North Texas.
The company formed a retail partnership with the head coach of Virginia Commonwealth University, Shaka Smart, which urges guys to “Step Up Your Pre-Game” with a new in-store retail asset based on Shaka’s own pre-game rituals. In addition to this new partnership, these tournament activities bring together the family of Unilever men’s personal care brands all in one interactive space, featuring Dove Men+Care, Axe, Degree Men, Clear Men, Vaseline, and Suave Men.

The VCU Rams may have been bounced from March Madness in the first round, but according to Matthew McCarthy, Unilever’s senior marketing director of men’s grooming, win or lose, Smart has been a great spokesman for men’s grooming in general and Unilever in particular in that his personal grooming routine is part of his pre-game ritual.  On game days, Smart works out, usually with the coaching staff, after a shoot-around, which gets done about four hours before the Rams play. When he gets done working out, he typically cuts his hair, shaves and showers in the coaches’ locker room and gets ready to go.

“Our program with Shaka and message is made powerful by the fact that he is relevant in March because of the tournament, but also because he is someone who can authentically represent the positive impact a dedicated ritual can have in men’s lives on and off the court,” said McCarthy. 

A New Attitude

According to McCarthy, men’s attitudes and habits toward personal care are changing.  Unilever’s research has found that 7 out of 10 US men think it is important to look good physically in order to succeed professionally and personally.

Men are becoming more sophisticated when it comes to their grooming appetites, a shift attributed to the increasing availability of male-specific products designed for their needs,” he explained.

According to Unilever data, over nine in 10 men use some sort of grooming products, which includes men’s skin care (facial and body), shaving, hair care and fragrance. McCarthy insisted that the foundation of Unilever’ssuccess is built on consumer insight and world-class innovation based on understanding—as a result, the company can anticipate the male consumer’s evolving grooming needs and create products to meet them.

“For example, Axe research found that while 87% of 18-24 year-old guys wash their face every day, the majority used bar soap or water, rather than a specific facial cleanser,” observed McCarthy. “Because of this, Axe launched a face wash, shave gel, and hydrator that make it simple for guys to keep their skin feeling good.”
At the same time, Unilever found that men are increasingly identifying themselves as the primary shopper in the family (65%), as such they are more attune to retail destinations and products tailored to their needs. 
“We know that men prefer a simplified shopping experience, they have a ‘get-in, get-out’ frame of mind in-store,” explained McCarthy.
As a result, Unilever is changing how men shop for grooming products by simplifying the experience with products designed specifically for him in retail sections dedicated to guy’s grooming.  McCarthy described the new Shaka Smart “Step-Up Your Pre-Game” shopping environments as being culturally relevant, masculine environments dedicated to men, with Unilever products designed for his skin, hair, face and underarms to meet this emerging need.
Profitable Partnerships
The Smart signing is just one way Unilever is reaching out to men. Unilever also forges partnerships and creates programs that will reach consumers in places where he (or she) already seeks information and entertainment, according to McCarthy.

“We know that men are actively engaged in NCAA March Madness over a three week tournament period, which helps increase and elevate our campaigns and brands for a sustained period of time,” he explained. “This year we are expanding beyond retail activations—Unilever men’s brands are the first ever official products of Final Four locker rooms.”
Long after a new NCAA champion is crowned, Unilever will continue to reach men in relevant ways that address men’s specific grooming/personal care needs. McCarthy won’t divulge any specific upcoming plans for its portfolio of men’s brands, but noted that Unilever has a history of reaching men with grooming content in places that intersect with his personal passion points. 

“We will continue to create breakthrough, relevant programming to engage men where they live, work, play and shop with breakthrough sports and style collaborations this year.”

Regardless of what team is cutting down the nets on April 7.
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