Last year, things were looking a bit hairy in the world of male grooming. Literally. The rise of the unprimped, unpreened and often bearded ‘retrosexual’ left the market struggling, as value growth slowed to 1.9% and volumes actually declined by 1.4% [Kantar Worldpanel 52 w/e 15 May 2011].

But the industry has fought back. The latest figures show solid value growth of 3.8% on the back of small (but, crucially, positive) volume growth of 0.5% [Kantar Worldpanel 52 w/e 13 May 2012]. Last year’s decline in facial skincare has been reversed, with value sales up 2.8% and volumes up 6.3% - and the hair styling sector has pulled off a glorious turn-around, reversing a long-term decline to boost values by 28.5% and volumes by 10.6%.

” The premium end of the disposables market is doing well - men want a brand they can trust” Bronwyn Andrew, SymphonyIRI

Is this the return of the metrosexual? Not exactly. Beards are as popular as ever, and volume sales of razors and blades continue to struggle, down 3.8% year-on-year [Kantar Worldpanel]. But for every man with a beard, there’s a trendy clean-cut youngster with a quiff or Brit-rock hairstyle looking for the right product to keep his look sharp.

In short, the boys have joined the men in starting to invest in their appearances again - and they’ve been lured by the brands they know and trust.

Key to the category’s growth has been the big brands’ bold diversification into new areas. In the past couple of years, Unilever has launched Dove Men+Care (January 2010), Gillette has expanded its skincare presence (March 2010), Wilkinson Sword has entered skincare (September 2010) - and Lynx has leapt into haircare (January 2012).

It was a smart move. The new range of five shampoos and six styling products racked up sales of £2.2m in its first four months [SymphonyIRI 52 w/e 19 May 2012], contributing 40% of Lynx’s year-on-year value growth of 3.9% (or £5.4m) and helping the brand boost volume sales by 9% [SymphonyIRI].

Its sales have doubtless had a significant impact on the wider growth of hair styling, up 28.5% to £13.2m [Kantar Worldpanel]. And the fact that Lynx has introduced some of its loyal consumers to hair care, making the growth partly incremental, is good news for competitors. That said, some have suffered - not least Teddy Boy favourite Brylcreem, which has seen value sales fall 9.9% on the back of a 17.8% slump in volumes [SymphonyIRI].

Lynx was in the right place at the right time. “The fashion now is for longer hair, which requires a lot more styling,” says Rhian Bartlett, Sainsbury’s beauty category manager. She attributes the trend to the success of the nation’s latest favourite boy band. “It’s the One Direction effect.”

By diversifying its range of men’s grooming products, Lynx has not just responded to demand, it has stimulated it. “Men respond well to NPD from established brands that offers a degree of familiarity,” explains Johnny Gorman, Unilever UK senior category strategy manager for deodorants and men’s toiletries. “For brands to stretch across sub-categories they must ensure they are credible, relevant and offer compelling benefits.”

It is also vital to communicate those benefits. “Consumers do have an affinity with brands they recognise and use, so loyalty is likely,” says Sarah Crawford, national account manager at razor manufacturer Super-Max. “But the support of the retailer and brand to promote the products is paramount.”

” Men respond well to NPD from established brands that offers a degree of familiarity” Johnny Gorman, Unilever UK

The brands that have invested in advertising have reaped rewards in sales. Unilever has increased the amount spent on Lynx by 15.9% to £6.1m [Ebiquity 52 w/e 29 February 2012] and splashed out 217% more (£1.8m in total) on its Dove Men+Care range, contributing to a 29% increase in value sales [SymphonyIRI]. “The success of Men+Care is driven by strong communications, rugby sponsorship, innovative NPD and a suitable promotional mix,” says Gorman.

Nivea, meanwhile, has been defending its number-one spot in skincare with a £3.8m spend, up 42.9% [Ebiquity], helping the brand grow values by 16.1% [SymphonyIRI].

Across the 10 most advertised brands, though, spend has fallen by 16.8% [Ebiquity]. Many of those that pulled back on marketing - such as Right Guard, which has slashed spend by 70.8% - have reinvested the savings in deals. Across the male toiletries category, the total number of promotions in the big five has risen 19% year-on-year to 1,400 [BrandView.co.uk 52 w/e 26 July 2012].

“The level of deal or discount offered has increased,” confirms Sainsbury’s Bartlett, suggesting this has led to own label’s 6% decline in value sales and 9.1% drop in volumes [Kantar Worldpanel]. “A brand on promotion can undercut an own brand.”

She points to deodorants and shower gels as the most promoted products, but many of the brands that have boosted deals are from the beleaguered razors & blades category. Wilkinson Sword ran 31% more promotions, a total of 47, while King of Shaves almost tripled its deals to 90 [BrandView.co.uk]. Leading brand Gillette did not up its offers, but remains the biggest promoter in male grooming, running 335 deals in the past year.

These brands could be forgiven for pulling out all the stops in a bid to rescue sales. The razors & blades market has continued last year’s volume slide, although value sales are up 4% as “men choose to trade up in whichever shaving category they buy into”, says Dulcie Koning, Procter & Gamble business leader for Gillette, UK & Eire. “Men still value performance and want the best products.”

Although they’re not buying into handheld razors as often (something Koning attributes to modern blades lasting longer), men aren’t eschewing their favourite brands. Value sales of disposable razors are up 3.6% and volumes an impressive 8.6% [SymphonyIRI], and “the premium end of the market is doing well,” says Bronwyn Andrew, insight manager at SymphonyIRI. “Men don’t want to buy the cartridge, but they still want a brand they can trust.”

Men, it seems, will follow the brands they know, even into unfamiliar areas. The same is true of teenage boys, although for them it’s as much a case of following bands as brands (at least when it comes to One Direction).

As for the brands, fortune favours the brave, and those striking out into new parts of the male grooming market could well be grooming themselves for success.

The One Direction effect: boys coming back to male grooming