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Male Beauty Survey Reveals a Universal Need to be Masculine

Global market intelligence company Synovate recently released findings from a global male beauty survey showing that 81% of Greek men feel sexy, Italian men are rated as the best-looking and 56% of all male respondents use beauty products created for, and marketed to, men.

In October 2008, Synovate took a look at male beauty in 12 markets across the world, speaking with nearly 10,000 people about beautiful blokes and what makes them that way. In the analysis, the company discovered cultural differences as well as some surprises.

Who's sexy?

The study asked men whether they think they are sexy. Of our nearly 5,000 male respondents, less than half (49%) agreed that they are sexy. However, there were vast differences in self-belief across markets. Blessed with Adonis complexes, 81% of Greek men think they are sexy, closely followed by the Russians (80%) and South Africans (78%). At the other end of the scale, 78% of Malaysian males said they are not sexy, along with China and France (both 66%).

Ciao Bello!

So where can the best-looking men be found? The survey asked all respondents, men and women, which one country has the best-looking men. Many people were simply not sure, but there was a clear winner among the named countries ... say 'ciao Bello' to Italian men.

The top four homes for good-looking men across all markets studied were Italy (11%), United States (US), Russia and Brazil (all 8%). The fact that Italy was on top when it comes to looks was even more impressive as it was not one of the markets surveyed. These men clearly have an excellent reputation for looks all across the world, among both men and women (12% of our male respondents said Italians and 10% of women did).

So are men's looks actually important? The firm asked male respondents to rank just how important their appearance is to them on a five-point scale. Overall, 34% of male respondents, or just more than a third, rate their looks as very important to them. This was as high as 61% in South Africa, 55% in Brazil and 53% in Russia. The markets with the fewest men saying 'very important' were Australia (where only 12% say their looks are very important to them) and the US (15%).

"Australian men are less concerned about their appearance than men in many other countries. It's not that they don't care, but other factors are just more important to Aussie guys, possibly career success, spending time with friends or material possessions. The underlying culture of Aussie mateship is also likely to take precedence over time spent by a guy on his appearance," says Julie Beeck, Synovate's Managing Director in Australia. One recent related finding from Synovate interviews about men's image in the UK found that now, more than ever, men want to take control of their looks.

"People across the world feel out of control of many aspects of their life. They feel job uncertainty as many economies enter recession. But the one thing they have total control over is the way that they choose to present themselves. Men tell us that looking good is more and more important to them. Of course this is also more celebrity-led and aspirational than it's ever been before too," said John Coll, Head of the Qualitative and Consumer Goods teams for Synovate in the UK.

Beauty basics hit the bullseye

With this in mind, what is the bare minimum a man must do before he can be considered handsome? This was a question posed to respondents and the number one basic requirement is that a man practice good hygiene, including fresh breath. The top three most used products by men across all the markets surveyed were deodorant at 72% usage, whitening toothpaste at 61% and cologne or after shave at 58%.

To shave, or not, can also be something of a, err... hairy issue so Synovate asked male respondents whether or not they preferred the way they look with a clean-shaven face. In good news for razor companies, nearly eight in ten (79%) of men agreed that clean-shaven was best although there were significant differences between markets. Most married to their shaving mirrors were South African men (90% agreed they preferred the look of a clean-shaven face), followed by China (88%) and Spain (84%). Most likely to embrace the beard were men from Greece (34% disagreed they preferred to be clean-shaven), Australia and Brazil (both 25%) and Canada (24%).

Bob Michaels said, "Men never - or very rarely - talk about male beauty, making it an almost-taboo subject among our gender. Men don't comment on each other's appearance. They wouldn't dream of dissecting male celebrities' or sportsmen's looks. And they don't discuss beauty routines or products. In the absence of discussion and debate, men are open to well-delivered influence." Is this lucky or confusing? Perhaps a bit of both... depending on which side of the fence you sit. "If you're a regular guy, interested in looking after yourself, it may well be confusing. How should you go about it? If you are in the beauty business, it may just be a beautiful opportunity. The brand that 'does a Dove' for men may well get the issue of a male beauty standard on the agenda, leading the debate... and sales. In the end, men just want to be men. What that actually means changes from culture to culture, but the drive to be masculine is near universal," Michaels said.