Let's Discuss!: Beauty Product Marketing

Monday, October 29, 2012

I promised a post on a new eyeshadow love, but since I'm holed up inside on account of the hurricane, I finally have the time to hash out something that's been on my mind for a while. This topic in particular is a bit of a hefty minefield, so I'm especially interested in hearing your thoughts!

Honestly, this title is probably too vague to even properly tackle my concerns, so here's the gist of what I probably failed to convey: There are a lot of criticisms when it comes to marketing and advertising beauty products, and I just wanted to share mine and open up the discussion to anyone who wants to partake in it!

I think it's safe to say that we don't typically hold companies to every claim they make about a product--but even that statement really varies depending on the "type" of marketing we're talking about. (I am not at all an expert, and probably only have the vaguest idea of what marketing really is).

First, we have that sort of catch-phrase gimmick the brand will constantly promote to convey how fabulous the product is. L'Oreal Elnett, for example, does not "disappear at the stroke of a brush." At all. But there's something about the set-up of that piece of advertising that makes their lie catch-phrase more forgivable. I think it has to do with how it blatantly sounds like a commercial (a 1950s black and white commercial at that)--it's not really intended to relay factual information about the product, and so we don't mind as much when it fails to hold up to our expectations.

*The Elnett is my first and last example. I don't want to call anyone out as my complaints heighten, and in any case, you'll probably know who I'm talking about. 

But then we have the more serious offenders: the advertising that will promise you all sorts of fabulous results and ground that in facts and scientific "studies" and "polls" to make all these vague claims sound serious (does this sound a bit like politics to anyone else?). The culprit here tends to be skincare, with an enormous emphasis on anti-aging. Most commercials for anti-aging products would make you think the contents of the bottles are filled with unicorn blood and crack, and the mixture of the two is actually the Fountain of Youth.

This is all obviously a case of salesmen telling the consumer what they want to hear. We would dearly love creams that could actually erase fine lines and decades from our faces, but they simply can't. I've heard of a few lawsuits involving cosmetics companies and the claims they make on their anti-aging products, but it's still such common practice.

I have to admit, while all of the above is unsettling, nothing bothers me as much as a different type of marketing: the one-size-fits-all kind to convince everyone that no matter what type of skin, hair, eyes, etc. they have, they will be able to use this product. You see a bit of this with foundation advertising, but my real pet peeve is with mascara.

People are picky with makeup in general, but I think mascara is a particularly fussy department--or at least, it definitely is for me. There are of course, millions of different mascaras on the market, but lately I feel like I've been seeing more packaging that promises something like, "thick, full, voluminous clump-free natural-looking lashes, beautifully defined, separated and curled."


Does that also come with world peace?

I understad the angle here, of course--these companies want as many people to buy their product as possible so they simply list every and all appealing words for the consumer. Apart from how ridiculously borderline-oxymoron the claims are, there's something a bit offensive about this approach. It makes us, the buyer, seem stupid. As if we would just see a word we like here and there on the packaging of a mascara and buy it, too foolish to really read all the absurd claims. And then there's the subtext, which is that selling product is more important than creating a product that really works for consumers.

Now, this is all not to say that some beauty products with standard claims (ranging from slightly suspicious to flat-out absurd) don't work. They may be fabulous, and even Holy Grail products to some people. But the issue here isn't with the product, it's with the way the product is being sold.

There's such an emphasis on splashy marketing, advertising, and newness, so much so that I call these brands the reality television of entertainment. In the beauty world of overpackaging, overselling and overhyping, I find myself constantly wishing these brands would remember the age-old "less is more."

But some companies know that very well and always have (you know who they are!). Lately, we've been seeing more popularity of some previously underrated brands, and I think that has a lot to do with the pure simplicity they offer. No ridiculous promises, no wildly patterned and printed packaging, just a simple clean bottle, compact, tube, etc. of something that works. Again, there are definite product misses with these brands too, but there's less chance of disappointment in a very minimalist marketing and selling strategy. When something doesn't work in this type of marketing, you're disappointed, sure, but not because the packaging promised to move heaven and earth.

Maybe this sounds ridiculous, but as a beauty junkie, I tend to trust the "simple" brands more when it comes to the quality of what they produce. There's a kind of sophistication and confidence in the products they sell that emulate from companies who simply say, "Try this. It won't work for all of you, but those who like it will love it."

(Obviously, I am not in any way cut out for marketing!)

I definitely think the over-engineered beauty companies are winning popularity contests now, but in a few more years, who knows? Maybe consumers will be so fed up of bullsh*t promises and tireless marketing that the quietly dignified brands will replace them.

Hopefully I've given you a lot to think about, so I'll turn it over to you!

Do you agree with my thoughts on beauty marketing? Should there be any legal consequences to promising all sorts of ridiculous effects when in fact, there are none? Does the offensive marketing I mentioned bother you, or, if the product is good enough, does the selling of it even matter?

Leave me a comment, I'd love to know what you think!

Hope you're well, and that anyone affected by the hurricane is safe, warm and dry!


  1. You're not kidding. (Ever noticed that every single item on the women's home shopping networks is "the most fabulous, stunning one yet!")

    I have a sh*t list of my own: various T.V. and radio commercials that either wrack my nerves or insult my intelligence, or both. I wish I had one of those big, red buttons I could push and make each one of them disappear forever.

    But it is well-written, thoughtful articles such as yours — empirical, word-of-mouth brand-ratings and such — that do the most to counter the over-hype and fluff. Besides, all the major cosmetic companies — and, probably, half of the seemingly independent ones — are owned by conglomerate corporations, which have so much legal pull and govt privilege, that litigation is practically futile.

    Keep getting the word out. Keep educating folks. You do it very well and look beautiful doing it: you walk the talk. Nobody can accuse you of overselling yourself. You're way under-hyped (unlike most of the items on the shopping networks).

    1. Yes, I agree, it's the commercials and advertisements that dumb us down that are some of the most offensive!

      And I don't expect much to come from the lawsuits, either--it's too much of a "little guy" suing a big corporation for anything constructive to actually happen.

      Thank you for the lovely compliment, and for commenting! I love when people actually respond to Let's Discuss! posts.

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