Men’s personal products are getting the Glossier treatment.

Direct-to-consumer brands like Roman, which sells erectile dysfunction medicine, Keeps, which prevents men’s hair loss, and Hims, which covers a range of products for issues including ED, hair loss and skin care, have cropped up in the past year, designed to take a new-age approach to men’s health and wellness that practices both sensitivity and empathy. These companies are flooding the men’s personal-care market as it’s evolving to go beyond traditional grooming products, like razors and deodorants, to include products like anti-aging skin care and cosmetics.

These brands are popping up at an opportune moment, as patents for drugs like Cialis have expired and telemedicine laws have gotten more relaxed. But they’re also taking a modernized approach to the way they talk to their male customers, borrowing the marketing tactics of women’s wellness brands like Glossier and Thinx to change the conversation.

Instead of rugged Brawny men, sexy Axe guys or salt-and-peppered Cialis Baby Boomers, these brands run ads with soft color schemes, diverse every-guy models and sans-serif fonts. Hims even sells branded merch. The approach feels fresh, but also familiar — it’s the same as exhibited in direct-to-consumer women’s beauty and wellness brands like Thinx, Glossier and Unbound. As the wellness industry ballooned by 11 percent to $3.7 trillion between 2013 to 2015, even the masculine stalwarts like Old Spice have introduced a softer approach to advertising; in one of the brand’s campaign sfrom January, a video part of a body-positivity advertisement opened with the question: “Who needs a six-pack?”

“For the first time at the forefront of the [cultural] conversation, we are seeing an open dialogue about how men can be part of the solution and how men can embrace what has traditionally been slightly more feminine attributes,” said Soraya Darabi, an investor from venture capitalist firm Trail Mix, which focuses on investing in wellness and lifestyle companies like The Wing and Parsley Health. Whether they’re encouraging mental health, speaking openly about other health problems or promoting anti-aging skin care, men’s direct-to-consumer brands are finding a new voice that speaks to the more mindful millennial customer, by borrowing from women’s gendered marketing strategies.

Speaking a modern language
Hims, launched at the end of 2017, has secured over $50 million in funding as of June and taken a sweeping approach to the men’s personal care market by branding itself as a lifestyle company that is “the one-stop shop for trusted self-care solutions that address hair loss, skin care, sexual wellness, and beyond,” according to its website.

Using a combination of facetious ad copy like “Prevention. More effective than denial” and friendly images like cacti as euphemisms for the male anatomy, Hims has embraced embarrassing conversations around erectile dysfunction and male baldness. The brand seeks to educate and empower men to discuss their problems, said Andrew Dudum, the founder and CEO of Hims. This has influenced its content strategy; eight months prior to launch, the brand stockpiled content on topics like meditation, anxiety, alcoholism, sexual performance and how the sun influences aging; it now has over 500 articles on its website and receives “tens of thousands” of visits per day, he said.

“Hims is about accepting that all of these things men are going through are exceptionally common, and removing the stigmas and talking about them,” he said.

Part of removing stigmas comes down to the products themselves, not just their ad copy. The bottles for prescriptions are stylish with a minimalist aesthetic that speaks to the omnipresent Insta-friendly packaging of today. Even the vitamins are cute — the brand’s hair-strengthening vitamins are not pills, but red gummy bears. And so far, customers are receptive; as of early March, Hims has sold around $10 million worth of products, according to Wired.

Hims is not alone in its endeavor to de-stigmatize men’s health and wellness. Roman, which launched in October 2017, has also entered the conversation around erectile dysfunction, a global market expected to reach $4 billion by 2020, according to a study by Technavio. Roman operates somewhat differently from Hims (Roman considers itself purely a telemedicine company and not a lifestyle brand, for example), but it still infuses compassion into its marketing. Roman works by having patients fill out the medical history during an online visit, which offers automated follow-ups to their questions and concerns. Their info is then sent to a doctor for review, and if they are an appropriate candidate for medication, they can instantly get a prescription written for Viagra, Cialis or generic drugs. The prescription can be filled anywhere or at Roman’s in-house online pharmacy, where pills by dose are packed in stylish packaging that looks like an iPhone box before shipping them to the customer.

“We wanted to make sure that when someone has an interaction with Roman, they are having an interaction with a doctor or physician,” said Saman Rahmanian, chief product officer at Roman. “It [feels] responsible. We didn’t want people to come to Roman and just buy pills. We didn’t want it to be a transaction.”

Med Men
For any company, reaching consumers en masse is important, and as brands born online, search visibility and online sales are highly correlated. Hims is “incredibly well positioned” in Google searches, according to Chelsea Gross, an associate director of beauty client strategies at business intelligence firm Gartner L2. Hims, for example, ranks number four (after the paid ads) for “men’s hair loss” without ever paying for the privilege.

“Effectively their site is bare bones [on content], but they do have the must-have text descriptions for Google scrapers to pick up,” Gross said.

Meanwhile, Roman has focused particularly on Facebook for advertising, where 62 percent of men in the United States use the platform, according to a 2018 report from the Pew Research Center. The brand has seen high engagement through sharing or tagging friends when Roman posts organic content like funny videos or articles, rather than traditional ads, like one on a video compilation of “awkward ED” commercials from the past 20 years with over 1.3 million views and over 7,000 likes, shares and comments.

Original content to educate consumers about a brand and its offering is something that Thinx and Glossier have also pioneered to great effect. The origin story for Glossier is based around the popular blog Into the Gloss, while Thinx’s blog Periodical is comprised of information surrounding topics like politics, empowerment and feminism, with stories like “This Week in Feminism” and “A Love Letter to Feminist Kim Kardashian.”

To take it a step further, Roman has added another dimension to the original content approach. In addition to using original content and humor to reach customers, Roman also created its own app called “Morning Glory,” wherein men could measure the strength of their morning erections, which can help determine their overall health. The app was developed within four weeks and since its launch in January, it has been downloaded approximately 100,000 times, according to the brand. The product development team, as a result, was quickly “overwhelmed” by suggestions from users, Rahmanian said, adding that the Roman team did not have a product road map or any planned updates for the app because it assumed it would be a small part of the brand’s marketing.

“We underestimated initially how open men who would to sharing their experiences with Roman. People were sharing their videos about their experiences, and we have thousands of people coming through [from] referrals,” he said. Roman surpassed its one-year projection within weeks of launching, he added.

To further capitalize on offering a sensitive approach around the topic of ED, ads for Roman focus around how a man relates to those around him, as a father, grandfather, husband, son. The idea here is that erectile dysfunction does not only affect a man, but also those around him, like a partner. This idea of telemedicine infused with sensitivity hones in on modern consumer values, which emphasizes caring for oneself in order to care for others, according to Will Nathan, another investor from Trail Mix.

“One of the trends we have seen is that when studies used to ask people what their priorities were, it was family, followed by friends, followed by your own wellness, and what we are seeing now is that your own wellness is ranked No. 2,” Nathan said.

Growing pains
Despite early fanfare over these brands, scale remains an issue, according to Gross. Not only do they need to continue to grow their awareness through social channels and search engine visibility, but when those spaces are saturated, they will need to move into brick-and-mortar to inspire purchases and reach a larger audience.

“They are going to have to keep focusing on making men convert online [from browsing to purchasing],” she said, adding, “We’ve seen a conversion gap of men buying online, but they buy more in store.”

But there isn’t a formula or usual timeline for how and when DTC brands break out into the retail space, she said. Only recently has Glossier ventured offline — Glossier opened up its first permanent brick-and-mortar store in late 2016 and in June opened a second in Los Angeles. Thinx opted to open its first pop-up location in October 2015, almost two years after it launched.

For its part, Roman will stay focused solely on telemedicine, Rahmanian said. Hims, meanwhile, plans on expanding into the lifestyle category with a recent launch into skin care, and will branch into heart health and sleep in the coming months, Dudum said. But this does not mean the brand plans on becoming the men’s version of Goop, at least not yet.

“The men’s market is so undeveloped — it’s just in the beginning — so there are some very common issues that haven’t been taken care of [yet],” he said. “[For us,] it’s about starting at ground zero and helping as many people, with the highest impact, as possible.”