Ad Nauseam: Manscaping

Bikini waxes are a relatively new phenomenon. Prior to the 20th century women hardly showed off a bare shoulder, let alone a bikini line. Shaving underarms and legs had yet to become widely practiced. So it was with keen interest that Wilkinson Sword observed the 1915 edition of Harper’s Bazaar, featuring for the first time a model in a sleeveless evening gown, her clean-shaven underarms clearly visible.

With a target audience limited to half the adult population, the company sought to capitalise on changing fashions and the influence of magazines like Harper’s Bazaar. They launched a campaign to persuade women that underarm hair was unhygienic and unfeminine, thought to be the first ad connecting armpit hair with ugliness. Sales doubled within a year.


Wilkinson Sword’s campaign was enormously successful, not just because of short-term profit gains, but because the campaign helped initiate a wider trend towards female shaving that has proved hugely profitable for the shaving (and waxing) industry. Nowadays, women shave just about everywhere. There’s a product for every body part and every type of hair.

Only recently, however, has the shaving industry begun to make gains in the other gender camp. For most of the 19th century male

hairiness has been associated with masculinity and sexual attractiveness. Beards were signifiers of authority and success, but were the first victim of razor companies, enabled by the launch of the Gilette disposable razor in 1906.

Gilette were able to sell the clean-shave by establishing it as a distinctly male ritual that was a signifier of manliness and paternalism. The image of ‘Dad shaving’ has become a brand in-and-of-itself, used to sell a whole host of unrelated products, from Carnation condensed milk to New York Life insurance. Gilette would have been all too pleased about this, because when a product-related activity enters into mainstream popular culture it’s the advertising holy grail. What’s more, by associating the ‘responsible Dad’ with his ‘admiring son’, the image helped reinforce shaving as a rite of passage for generations.


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was only the beginning. While ‘below-the-neck’ shaving was once considered a rather metrosexual activity, it has become increasingly popular as has male grooming in general. It is difficult to pinpoint the exact reason for this. The tendency for profession athletes – particularly swimmers and cyclists – to shave has undoubtedly played a role, as has the ever-increasing importance of looks and image in modern culture.

Advertising has played its part. For shaving companies, the decades of acceptable male hairiness would surely have been considered a time of bad business. Given that men have more hair that’s thicker in distribution, male hairiness has been a time-bomb waiting to go off.

Introducing Gilette's ‘manscaping’. It’s an advertising campaign encouraging men to engage in general body grooming utilising a range of online instructional videos that demonstrate how to shave your back, underarms and groin. Like the best shaving ads (remember 'Mow The Lawn?'), the ads feature some spectacular euphemisms. “You might say when there’s no underbrush, the tree looks taller”, says one; “A sweater should be bought, not grown,” says another.

Another element of the campaign is called 'What Women Want':

The campaign features models like Kate Upton generally being hot and also rating male body grooming as “very important”, a clever bit of classical conditioning if ever I saw it. Using QR codes, you can ‘scan the minds’ of different models and find out their personal preferences in male body grooming. The creators argue the ad is empowering women by acknowledging them as having needs and demands of men, rather than just being sex objects. On the other hand, sex sells, particularly when the link between product and sex is direct.


The campaign has been very successful, with Gillette’s research showing that 68 per cent of men aged 18-24 perform below-the-neck shaving regularly. It seems that some time in the near future we will become what might be termed a shaving industry utopia: a completely hairless society.

But there does seem to be one area where men are yet to be convinced: leg hair. In a recent advertising assignment we were asked to re-brand a stale product to a new target audience, my fellow advertising students and I attempted to sell leg waxing to men. For anyone that knows me well, I’m not exactly pro-shaving. But one of the most interesting things about advertising is that you are sometimes forced to consider things that you had completely disregarded with an open mind, learning things you would have closed yourself off to otherwise. It’s made all the more fun when it remains safely hypothetical and well away from having a genuine influence.

While conducting research on the field, i.e. asking men about shaving at parties, I was surprised to discover a lot of men already shave their underarms, and some shave their legs. They were open to the idea, given that the advertising gave them a good reason. I put lots of ideas to the target audience: shaving makes skinny jeans more comfortable; it makes you look like sporting heroes; it makes the muscles look bigger; and that it generally looks cleaner. While these ideas were interesting, most said they wouldn't be persuasive enough to get dudes to shave. It made me realise what a feat it was for advertisers to convince women to shave, given that it takes time, money and effort, and that previously unshaven legs were completely fine and normal.

At last, however, an offhand comment at a party seemed to point to an answer. A guy I had accosted at a party said: “Tell men to shave for men, they probably won’t bother. Tell them that women will like it, and you’ll have more luck.” He added: “And don’t make it into a big deal. Most men don’t want to look groomed, they just want to look good.” It was an insight that formed the basis for our campaign, and the tag-line, 'She won’t know, but she’ll notice'.

Beth Gibson


That’s it for Ad Nauseam! Thanks for reading and indulging all my messy ideas and thoughts. Thanks to the editors for putting up with bad grammar and spelling errors. It’s been fun, and to my surprise, I’ve finished on a much more positive note than I started. Advertising; perhaps it’s not so evil after all.


Catalyst has been the student publication of RMIT University since 1944. We may be older than your parents but we’re still going strong!

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