Sunscreen for men

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Men have higher rates of skin cancer than women, but they're less likely to wear sunscreen. One company hopes to change those habits with a new sunscreen line for men.

By ANDREW ADAM NEWMAN/New York Times News Services

Banana Boat is introducing what it says is a first in the sun-care aisle, a men's line, and unlike typical sunscreen advertising filled with sand and surf, commercials for Banana Boat Triple Defense Sunscreen for Men are, in every sense, no day at the beach.

One spot opens on a scorching day in a subdivision, where a garage door opens to reveal a man (actor Brady Novak) on a riding mower. Shirtless and a bit pudgy, he wears shorts and striped white tube socks, and listens to a portable CD player on cheap headphones.

"Only a fool would go shirtless on a day like this," says a voice-over by Jim Norton, delivered with gravitas but a hint of whimsy. "But dip that fool in some Banana Boat Triple Defense for Men, and you have something quite different: You have something called freedom."

Another spot opens on a bald man (Tim Halling) practicing on a driving range at a golf course.

"The sun says, 'Hit golf balls all day with your dome exposed, and I will roast it like a chicken,'" the voice-over begins. "Banana Boat Triple Defense for Men says, 'Be bold, be brave, be bald.'"

Only one of four spots has a setting more typical of a sunscreen commercial, a backyard pool, but it still has a twist, casting Kurt Ela, who sports a 1970s-era mustache and long sideburns, and who naps, mouth agape.

"Take a nap in the noonday sun, and it will burn you like bacon," says the voice-over. "But with Banana Boat Triple Defense for Men by your side, you can nap like a man."

The spots, which introduce a tagline, "Defy the sun," are by JWT, New York, part of WPP. They are running online and on monitors in about 235 health clubs through Zoom Media's fitness video network, with a focus on Sun Belt gyms with predominantly male memberships. Direction is by D.A.D.D.Y., a moniker for co-directors Mike Ahern and Enda Loughman, with production by 1stAveMachine.

Banana Boat, a division of Energizer Holdings, will spend an estimated $2.8 million on digital advertising; in 2013 it spent $14.8 million on advertising in the United States, according to the Kantar Media unit of WPP.

Billy Faraut, a creative director at JWT, New York, said the commercials used humor to convince men that sunscreen is "not some froufrou product," but he did not cast buff, hypermasculine actors to make the point.

"We didn't want anybody model-like," Faraut said. "We wanted to show real men in everyday, mundane situations for guys, but to make the scenarios sound heroic."

Strategic humor

David Vinjamuri, the author of "Accidental Branding" and an adjunct professor of marketing at New York University, was impressed with the commercials.

"I loved them and thought they were hilarious, and it's really nice to see everyday men in this kind of spot," Vinjamuri said, adding that, unlike some over-the-top advertising to men, there was a strategic underpinning to the humor.

"They've turned it into an archetypal battle, like a heroic journey between men and the sun, and they're showing men in the settings where they actually get sunburned, like playing golf, or in their backyard or mowing the lawn," Vinjamuri said.

Sun risks

Men have higher rates of skin cancer (also called melanoma) than women - about 27.7 new cases per 100,000 American men in 2011 compared to 16.7 new cases for women, according the National Cancer Institute. Likely not helping matters is that only 22.8 percent of men report using sunscreen when out in the sun "usually or always," compared with 43.5 percent of women who do so, also according the institute.

Although most sun-care products are unisex, the industry has done little to appeal to men directly with advertising. A 2006 study by the Boston University School of Medicine found that 77 percent of magazine ads for sunscreen were placed in women's publications, with their summer issues carrying an average of four ads, compared to magazines typically read by men, where only about 1 in 7 issues had a single sunscreen ad.

The Banana Boat men's line is sold in black containers, unusual in the sun-care aisle but common for men's grooming products. Because research by the brand indicates that men are more apt than women to complain that lotion feels greasy, the men's line is faster absorbing than other varieties, and along with a lotion version is available in a spray that barely needs rubbing in. Like many men's facial lotions and after-shave gels, it has a fresh scent with no fruit or floral notes.

"Most guys don't want to smell like a coconut when they're out golfing," said Carla Luca, the senior brand manager for Banana Boat, referring to a scent common in sunscreens, including those made by another Energizer brand, Hawaiian Tropic.

Smelling like men's grooming products helps telegraph that the sunscreen is - for men's health and, conveniently, for Banana Boat's bottom line - best applied, and reapplied, daily.

"It has a scent that doesn't make you feel like you just came from the beach to encourage everyday usage," Luca said.

To highlight nonbeach situations where men should apply sunblock, the brand is also working to strategically place stand-alone storage displays in stores. Because men get sunburned in their backyards and playing sports, such displays are in the lawn care, pool supplies and sporting goods sections at some Wal-Mart locations.

More fundamentally, though, the challenge is that most men are strangers to the sunscreen aisle.

"A goal of ours continues to be to get men more aware, and part of that is in putting the product in places within stores where guys are," Luca said.

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