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Synovate global male beauty survey uncovers attitudes and perceptions towards appearances and male beauty products


KUALA LUMPUR — Leading global market intelligence company Synovate, today 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, we 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%).

Maria Darmi, Managing Director of Synovate in Greece attributed her countrymen’s confidence to their mothers and a macho culture.

“We all know that self-belief is half the battle when it comes to appeal to the opposite sex and Greek men have this in spades. Why? There are two major forces at work. One is maternal - Greek mothers instill self-esteem from birth! And the other far more paternalistic... Greek society emphasises masculinity. This goes as far back as the Greek Gods,” she said.

At the other end of the scale, 78% of Malaysian males said they are not sexy, along with China and France (both 66%).

Synovate’s Managing Director of France, Thierry Pailleux, believes the lower-than-expected figure for Frenchmen is a matter of semantics, as well as a reflection of the way attraction is viewed in France.

“This result most certainly does not mean that Frenchmen are not sexy. Overall, the men of France are confident and accomplished, especially when it comes to matters of seduction and attraction. But seduction is a subtle dance and, in France, the idea of ’sexy’ is far more overt.”

Also cultural, said Synovate’s Managing Director of Malaysia Steve Murphy, is the fact that Asian men tend not to identify with the sexual side of their nature.

“I am not surprised that the two Asian markets in the study, China and Malaysia, have men who are least likely to believe they are sexy. We’ve done similar studies before across Asia and it’s clear that sex and beauty are generally lower priorities for men from this part of the world. That’s not to say it’s not important! It’s just not talked about or thought about as much as it is in other parts of the world.”

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 (it’s hard to narrow it down to just one!) 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).

Bob Michaels, US-based Senior Vice President of Synovate’s Consumer Insights group, said that, overall, most respondents were very patriotic and nominated men from their own country.

"One stand-out, and possibly quite reassuring, finding for men was that in most markets, women were even more likely than their male counterparts to go for handsome home-growns than to look abroad.

“But it’s perhaps more interesting to look at the results within markets to see which nations are parochial and which look outside their borders for attractive people,” he said.

Just some of the market-specific findings were:

* Russia had the highest result for its own nation, with 65% of people saying the best looking men come from their own country
* The US was fairly confident in the attractiveness of its blokes with 55% saying Americans were the best looking men
* Canada had a low result for its own men... only 24% of respondents said the best-looking men are to be found at home
* Brazilian women were a lot more patriotic than the men, with 57% women saying Brazilians were the best-looking versus only 39% of men. Additionally, the Brazilians were pretty keen on Italians (16%) but also American men (9%)
* The Greeks really like the Italians with 28% nominating them (32% of women and 23% of men
* 17% of Chinese respondents said men from the United Kingdom (UK) were the best looking. Is this the Beckham effect? The English football star is widely recognised across China and consistently ranks as a top 5 sporting hero
* Brits had a pretty low opinion of the homegrown men... only 23% went for the home vote. And nearly the same number chose Italian men... 21%

Hey, good-looking

So are men’s looks actually important? We asked our male respondents to rank just how important their appearance is to them on a five-point scale. Overall, 34% of male respondents, or just over 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,” said 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 bulls-eye

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.

Pleasing women could be easier than men think as it turns out keeping it simple and sticking to the basics is far more important to women than it is men. One third of all women said that good hygiene was an absolute necessity before a man could be considered handsome (34% - the highest single result), while only 23% of men thought this was the number one requirement.

Men tended to think more difficult and stereotypical things were more important, things like muscles and dressing well.

Second in overall ranking was a man who ’carries himself with confidence’ with 20% of all respondents naming this as an absolute requirement, followed by ’dresses well’ at 14%.

Bald men need not worry. Only 1% of respondents said that a ’full head of hair’ is necessary for someone to be handsome.

Potions and lotions for blokes

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%.

Russian men led the pack on whitening toothpaste and Maria Vakatova, Synovate’s Director for Marketing Communications in Russia, said this was driven by the pursuit of the Hollywood smile.

“White teeth have truly become aspirational. Russian dentistry standards are improving, but it is very expensive and not all can afford it, so a Hollywood smile remains a dream. If a product as simple as toothpaste can help, why not try it?”

Deodorant is least-used in China with only 14% of men masking their scent. Why? Synovate China’s CEO Darryl Andrew said the Chinese still largely regard personal grooming, and using grooming aids, as being feminine, and masking body odour is not a priority for social etiquette.

“This belief is slowly changing though as more and more Chinese adopt a more sophisticated outlook to grooming. In turn, this means China is around about as high a potential growth market as exists for beauty product companies.”

So, how do products specially designed for men and marketed to men go? Overall, 56% of our male respondents use them so tailoring products to men’s needs is clearly worth it for beauty companies.

The men of Russia and the UK are most likely to use men’s products (both 73%). The UK’s John Coll said: "Products that are tailored for men will be less embarrassing to use because they won’t carry effeminate associations that products made for women do.

“The advertising also has to display male characters that are confident about using something ’feminine’ and can assure it won’t take anything away from their masculinity.”

A hairy issue or a close shave?

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%).

Synovate China’s CEO Darryl Andrew, said that a clean-shaven face is commonly accepted as a social requirement for a well-presented man in China.

"Chinese men feel more confident clean-shaven and also believe they are showing more respect to others by presenting themselves in this fashion.

“Of course Chinese men have a lot less facial hair than many other races so this may be easier to keep up as well,” he said.

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%).

The study also asked women whether they preferred the look of clean-shaven faces on men and the same number of women as men agreed (79%). Again, the highest results were South Africa (92%), Spain (87%) and China (86%).

Women who are more open to facial hair are from Canada (30% disagreed), Australia and the US (both 26%).

Bob Michaels said: "It’s no coincidence that all three of these countries have a pioneering history and a love of the outdoors.

“But there’s also the celebrity factor... while most American women still seem to prefer the clean-shaven look, celebrities like Brad Pitt and George Clooney have made the ’five o’clock shadow’ synonymous with sexy. Women are conceding that they don’t mind a little stubble on a man’s face - it’s considered rugged and masculine.”

Rob Myers, Synovate Canada’s Managing Director, cited similar reasons: “Canada is still seen as the great white north and has a history of discovery and outdoor pursuits. A clean shave is not a must for good looks... after all, this is the home of the lumberjack!”

Male beauty: Taboo or beautiful opportunity?

Bob Michaels said the survey uncovered some fun facts but there is a serious side to male beauty too, offering the thought that a male beauty standard simply does not exist.

"Men never - or very rarely - talk about male beauty (although you cannot shut some of them up about female 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,” he added.

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.


* Seven in ten of all men surveyed say their main motive in looking good is for themselves. 35% of Brit blokes say it’s for their partner... or to attract one!
* 77% of American women believe a man’s appearance improves with age
* Only 6% of women in the US and 8% in Australia say their partner’s looks are ’very important’ to them whereas 58% of South African women admitted aesthetics are a high priority
* Overall, 13% of men said, from a list of attributes, they would least like to be bald, but this was as high as 24% in China
* 69% of men in Brazil take their grooming products with them when they leave home (the overall total across the markets surveyed was 30%)
* Chinese and Malaysian men were the least likely to consider plastic surgery in order to look better with 96% and 94% respectively saying no way to the knife

Note to editor

There is a great deal of market-specific information available on product use among men in the markets surveyed. Please email Varian Ignatius on to be put in touch with someone in your part of the world.

About the Synovate global male beauty survey
This In:fact survey looked at male beauty and covered nearly 10,000 respondents in 12 markets around the world – Australia, Brazil, Canada, China, France, Greece, Malaysia, Russia, South Africa, Spain, the United Kingdom (UK) and the United States of America (US). The study was conducted in October 2008 using online, telephone and face-to-face methodologies.

Synovate, the market research arm of Aegis Group plc, generates consumer insights that drive competitive marketing solutions. The network provides clients with cohesive global support and a comprehensive suite of research solutions. Synovate employs over 6,000 staff across 62 countries.

For more information on Synovate visit


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