Health

How erectile dysfunction got trendy

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Hims and Numan are giving formerly ‘taboo’ mens health topics a Millennial makeover – and getting younger guys to share their experiences in the process

If Hims or Numan have cropped up on your radar, it’s probably thanks to their striking (and surprisingly similar) branding. In recent weeks, both companies have embarked on an impressive word-of-mouth social media campaign encouraging men to share images of their products. Both are using soft pastel colours and the kind of rounded, floaty, open fonts you’d associate with ‘right now’ logos. Both are targeted squarely at younger men, with catchy, chummy tag lines and visuals starring mostly 20-something models.

These are all advertising tropes familiar to a Millennial consumer scrolling through their Instagram feed – as true for the marketing of a feel-good smoothie brand as an achingly cool denim label. This is intriguing, because Hims and Numan arent selling green juices or acid washed jeans. Instead, they are helping young men come to terms with and treat ‘taboo’ health issues, primarily hair loss and erectile dysfunction (ED).

Usually, these are the sort of concerns that you’d see pitched at a much older customer. Most current advertising for ED or hair loss treatments align with a 50+ age group: silver-haired men alone in bathrooms inspecting their receding hairline or looking mournfully at their wives through monochrome montages. When you think about it, the fact that Hims and Numan are targeting men in their 20s and 30s with these same topics – and asking them to share their experiences on social media – is pretty radical.

And there are facts to back up why younger men should want companies such as this. According to the latest study, 40 per cent of men under 40 are affected by erectile dysfunction at some point, and according to Numan’s own findings, one in two Londoners suffer from ED – clearly, there’s a gap in the market to be exploited. Numan is brand new, but Hims launched in the US in 2017, and has seen rapid growth throughout the States (the company was valued at $500 million in June last year) making a UK launch the next natural leap. In fact, ED and hair loss treatments are just the tip of the iceberg for Hims, which has expanded its practise to include a whole range of treatments for women (see forhers.com), skincare products and ‘vitals’ – vitamin supplements designs to support a range of healthy bodily functions.

Their joint arrival in the space of only a few months suggests that Millennial wellness-cum-healthcare brands like Hims and Numan are picking up on a zeitgeist change among British men. It’s also spooky that they’ve stumbled on more or less the same identity; approachable design, youthful, contented looking models, pastel pantones, and so on. Seemingly, change is afoot in the men’s healthcare market.

Sokratis Papafloratos, CEO of Numan, explains. ‘The conversation around masculinity and what it means to be a man today is rapidly evolving. Men are starting to open up and change their attitudes to health problems they may be facing, but it’s still a very sensitive issue.

‘It struck us that there’s a dearth of approachable, thoughtful, trustworthy information available to help men make decisions about their health and wellbeing. There are now plenty of ways to access different medications, but a lack of guidance as to what works, why it works, and what other options you might have to help treat the problem. We provide information with rigour and candour, and we trust our users to make choices that are right for them.’

Papafloratos is well-positioned to understand this sea change; he’s a serial social entrepreneur who was previously one of the first investors in mindfulness concept calm.com, and a founder of TrustedPlaces, the UK’s earliest local reviews website. His solution, and that of Andrew Dudum, CEO of Hims, is to make erectile dysfunction and hair loss treatments easily available online, via confidential digital medical consultations and subscription services.

The idea is that men who’d benefit from treatment can access it without having to undergo awkward conversations with their GP, or take time out to seek treatment – simplifying the process of finding help.

Again, the logic underpinning this is simple. ‘We’re on the right path in opening up the discussion around these pain points for men’, says Dudum. ‘When we were in the research phase ahead of launching Hims, we found that less than 10 per cent of the guys in our target age group (20-40 years old) were comfortable in talking to their doctor about these health concerns. Prior to launch, I found that lots of my friends were dealing with hair loss and sexual issues, but not talking about them because they felt embarrassed. Fast forward to now, and things are starting to open up. I’m proud to think that Hims has been instrumental in driving this conversation.’

Are we entering a brave new world for men’s healthcare, then? Perhaps. Certainly, services like these seem to be galvanising men to approach uncomfortable health issues with more confidence. Similar success stories include letsgetchecked.com, which launched in 2015 and offers comprehensive STI and cancer check-up kits via post. The platform launched in Ireland, but has since rolled out across the UK, such is its popularity.

The critical long-term success factor for Hims and Numan, as far as we can tell, is in the acknowledgment of psychological factors that can influence ED. For many men, ED is not solely a physical problem, and while medicine can treat its symptoms, sex therapy is often needed to resolve the underlying cause. To their credit, Hims and Numan acknowledge this too.

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‘In most cases, ED is a symptom that results from mixed causes; it’s rarely the case that one measure results in complete resolution of the problem’ says Papafloratos. ‘Uncovering these underlying issues, which may include concerns of a psychological nature, is a process which takes time. That’s why it can be so useful to have a treatment that provides symptomatic relief whilst the causes are identified. We think the way into these topics is through information and understanding rather than leading people into a relationship with medications that they might not fully understand.’

To this end, Numan has launched two platforms to promote the further discussion around ED, a blog called ‘Numankind’ and an information resource called ‘The Book of Erections’, while Hims has a website featuring some refreshingly candid myth-busting editorials.

Whether or not these services are the answer to the prayers of British men remains to be seen, but there’s no denying they’re different. Quite apart from anything else, they are encouraging a dialogue around men’s health, emphasising the reality that hair loss and ED are far less rare than many men fear, and ultimately, that they aren’t the end of the world.

forhims.co.uk / numan.com