Skin Deep – Advertising and Marketing Cosmetics

I’m at a dinner party in Hawthorn, there are half a dozen women in the room. A fashion designer, a doctor, an art director, a personnel consultant, they are various ages. Various personalities. Various looks.

It’s that time of the night. The Perno’s are being poured. The Cointreau is being sipped. The Cognac sniffed. With one too many Chardonnays sloshing around inside my bloated frame, I’m feeling very French. Arrogant. I think I’ll warm up the conversation. Given I’ve got an article due, I decide to ask about beauty products.

In a split second the women go from cocky to uncomfortable. It’s like someone has turned on the cold tap in the shower.

One guy, sadly more drunk than me, says, in an attempt to be funny, “Why do women use make-up and perfume? Cause they are ugly and they smell”. The silence is palpable. His wife has left him since.

What’s the problem, the male side of my brain asks in my head. It’s just another subject. The girly bit of my brain tells it to shut up and change the subject. It tells me that men are the cause. Ugly, smelly men. Men who hesitate when their girlfriend asks them if they look fat in these pants? Men who are sooo much nicer to the good-looking girl in the shop than the slightly frumpier one.

Another bloke in the room is a surgeon who literally makes millions a year pulling varicose veins from the legs of 30 something’s and pumping botox into their faces.

He handles the issue with aplomb. After all, this is his home ground. His angle is the oldest of all. That beauty may be skin deep, but ugly goes to the bone. His belief is that a person’s personality and outlook on life is dramatically affected by how they see themselves, and how they feel they are perceived. That if you think society rejects you, you reject it. If you feel beautiful, you behave more beautifully too. He said his patients are nicer post operation. Less stressed, more open to others. Like the true noble queen, magnanimous in victory.

I can recall an article in Vanity Fair (international magazine for the intellectual high-society types, in case your idea of a good read is 4WD. And an extremely relevant title, now I think about it,) which was about the London dinner party set. The writer said that if one is just out of school, with a peachy complexion, one can go almost anywhere on those golden wings. That sheer beauty alone will take a person who’s background is ordinary, accent rough, intellect not much, and their looks can give them access to royalty, money and the famous, anywhere in the world. Whilst they remain beautiful. Think about Kate Moss, for example.

Perhaps it’s this belief that beauty equals mobility, nobility, or that beauty equals less effort, that the beautiful get further with less work than the rest of us, that draws people to seek their idea of perfection. I remember  seeing a study conducted in the USA a few years back where parents were asked which they’d prefer; beautiful children or intelligent ones, and something like 80% chose looks over brains. Their belief was that the better looking get further in life.

Perhaps it’s true.

Zo French?

The beauty industry, make-up, moisturisers, crèmes, is run by the French. That’s the only problem I have with it. The French may have the lion’s share of the market in this country now, but that will change. The Estee Lauders, Revlons and Max Factors of the world have proven without a doubt that the French can be beaten soundly at their own game. Mind you, as these brands are USA based, maybe the arrogance factor has something to do with it. If there’s one country who’s vying for the Arrogance World Cup against France, it’d have to be America. Home of the ‘We Know Best’. An attitude from big players which almost always provides opportunities for the canny marketer.

Global Brands Are Useless

Over the years I’ve read heaps about global brands and I’m still trying to find one or two benefits for the customer. I guess if you happened to be flying around the world the whole time it might be nice to be able to buy the same lipstick or hamburger in Dusseldorf as you can in Dandenong, but how much of the global population does that help? One in ten million? Global brands serve nobody but the global head office who don’t want to trust their subsidiaries in far off places like Australia. They want to make sure you Australian marketers can’t get anything wrong. And that’s it. My God, fancy if you used the wrong shade of red? The whole house of cards could collapse …

Vulnerability of global brands

All of the major brands in beauty are Global brands. This means they are completely unable to move or respond quickly. Especially if the problem is in some obscure little country. Which means Australian products can, if they try, grab large chunks of market share relatively easily. Think of the rise of Australis in the 1970’s and 80’s. I have not looked at another market that is so vulnerable to the upwelling of a new series of brands. What is stopping Australian businesses? Is it a lack of finance? Is it a lack of good manufacturing operations? Is it just a fear of the filthy French? Get over it. They may know how to make cheese, but have they ever won a war? No.  Fight them and they fold. You can walk right over them. Ask the Germans or the Vietnamese.  “You’d rather have the Germans in front of you than the French behind you” (to quote a Viet vet). If I was an Australian beauty products manufacturer I’d make damn sure my buyers knew the French think of us as the Muroroa of beauty products. The place where they dump what they don’t want. Where they can test on the next best thing to animals; Australians.

The case for Australian Cosmetics

There’s a reason why Australians use fewer beauty products per head than any other western country. It’s because our women don’t need to.

The fresh air, decent healthy food, an outside lifestyle. Lots of exercise. Good blood lines. (Usually the people who leave a place that’s not-so-nice are the healthier, smarter ones, the survivors. They have immigrated  here.) Our people have become the best looking on the planet. Our women dominate the world stage. Elle, Megan Gale, Natalie Imbrulgia, Kylie, Nicole Kidman. The list rolls on like the world’s who’s who of beauty.

The world looks at our women like Maggie Tabberer (another world beauty) looks at a cream sponge. You think they won’t accept Australia as a beauty Mecca? You think they won’t take our beauty tips seriously? You think they won’t buy Australian beauty products? Of course they will. Like most beauties, it’s only insecurity that holds us back. Our lack of confidence. We just have to believe our products are as good as theirs. The branding credentials (the stars) are already bouncing around the world’s stages. You could use them, or at least profit from our own beauty’s successes.

How to do beauty products in OZ

Reflect our market

Yes, there’s something to be said for ‘aspiration’, but the sheer chasm of difference between the Revlon or L’Oriel girl in their ads and the girls of Australia is so great there must be real mileage in doing ads that feature Australians, selling make-up designed for Australians. Think.

Why is it our movies do better at the box office than imports, dollar for dollar? Because like our customers looking in a mirror, we want to see ourselves.

Ride the wings of technology

Be at the cutting edge of natural and/or chemical. Be aware that a bit of both is really where the market is going at present. But avoid, please, pseudo estrogens, those molecules which mimic the appearance of female hormones. They appear in many  products and cause your sons to have small dicks, your daughters to reach puberty at seven or eight and the trout and alligators, let alone thousands of other species, to change sex. I’m not making this up.

Be smart about cultural preferences

About the portrayal of our women. Less blonde. More brunette. Be diverse. Don’t treat our women like vapid morons.

Be sensitive to fashions/looks

So many ‘international’ ads look plain daggy when they are seen against Australian fashions. We lead the world in street looks. If you don’t believe me, get out of your glass-faced office in the outer suburbs and go to Brunswick or Greville Streets. Using out of date looks ‘cause that’s how they dress in the moronic Midwest doesn’t make for fashion (or beauty) credibility here.

Be a moral leader

Think about your customers and how to make them like you. Support women’s causes. Children’s causes. Especially the long term/environmental causes if your key customers are the younger market.

Be scientific

Or ‘natural’, but speak with authority about the reasons why your product works and go into detail on websites, brochures etc.

Influence values

Recognize you have an opportunity to help causes. Make red lips matter. Make hollow cheekbones matter. Make eyebrows thick or thin. Change hair. Invent looks, attitudes, styles. Boost sex, romance. Boost flirtation and adventure. Encourage freedom.  Encourage empowerment. Encourage self-worth. The beauty industry has the opportunity to undo what the fashion industry always tries to do, which is to destroy confidence (‘You can’t wear that, you’re too fat. And it’s last year’s. Get something new, you ugly thing’.). The beauty industry can give back hope.

Work against the medicos

The beauty industry is the only thing standing to stop the doctors pushing standardized physical perfection on everyone. Have you seen ‘extreme make-over? They think we all have to have ski-jump noses, no tummies, rock jaws, pinned back ears and no wrinkles. The beauty industry must stand for imperfections made into features, for the beauty of individuality versus the ugliness of sameness. The beauty industry has a fantastic opportunity, no a moral obligation, to stand for the different, the unique.

Take a leaf out of Vogue in the 1970’s or Myer Grace Bros during the late 1980’s when they used models who were not the ‘usual’ look. Many of their models were not beautiful in a classical sense, but were made beautiful by an accentuation of their looks. By product. The products you are trying to sell. By using unusual models, you are actually proving to your market that your products work. Proving you can make them, the ‘Miss Average’ look great too. What’s a better reason for them to buy your product?

Spend the money

As a professional marketer there’s one fact you can’t deny. If you don’t have a budget you can’t do anything. If you want to grow your beauty products business you can’t just rely on PR and some nice packaging. You have to market like the pros. Get a decent budget. That’s 10% plus of the sales increase you want.

Spend on packaging

It’s absolutely vital. It’s the key thing that separates the expensive from the cheap, the also-rans from the stuff you pay heaps for. Do good, complicated, multi-layered expensive packaging. Make people believe the product is worth it. God knows the difference in actual ingredients is stuff all. And keep in mind that the cute but cheap ‘old-fashioned’ packs used by people like Botani or Aesops only work with ‘ancient’ style formula. If you want to claim break-through and modern you need packaging that’s fresh and new.

Get distribution

If you want sales you have to get distribution. To get distribution you must grab space in the retail stores. The key ones, the major Department Stores, Chemists, and hairdressers must be worked. Even if you start in the lesser runs, you must aim to get your product into the key stores. And consider related stores if you can’t get into the majors. Country Road used to carry their own lines. The French fashion stores like Hermes carry scents, moisturizers.

If you can justify it within the brand’s image (ie. it may downgrade a better brand), consider the Pricelines of the world – they carry everything. While you won’t get much margin, you’ll be rubbing shoulders with the main players in the market as an equal.

Point of Sale

Point of Sale should hold the product, it must have mirrors that work. It must have a wide range of colors, styles. If you want to be taken seriously, it should dominate the area it is in. Use big photos. Use big bold colors. Use Australian girls.

In department stores POS is a true art-form . You need to create whole test areas, special seats for women to lounge in. Huge posters for atmosphere. Outfits for staff (a cross between a lab technician and a fashion photographer seems popular at the moment) glass display cases, special lighting (to make the punter look nicer) etc. etc.


Works. Again, it’s a visual media.


You must have your POS cleaned up and stocked regularly. Better to have only 10 outlets working well than be running 50 really badly.

Sales Consultants

Most of the department stores will take your sales consultants as free on-floor staff. Actually, they insist on it. If you’re intending to target department stores recognize it’s a long, hard process to get them to take you on and they only will if you can supply all of the support staff, including those on the floor. And a powerful brand.

In Ads, use youth

If youth is what they are aiming at, use it. My six-year-old has absolutely flawless skin. Given the age of models today (16 is getting old) I predict they’ll be using tweens soon. One day even my little Dorothy Coco’s age group may get a run.

20 or so is the dream age group. If you are under 20 you want to look 20, if you are over 20, you want to look 20. I want to look 20. So do you.

And use old(er) ladies

The ageing of Australia has resulted in quite a large market for products marketed to the over 40/50’s. Most players use ‘old’ actresses like Andy McDowell, Liz Hurley etc. who appeal to those who can remember them as young actresses.

Target Metros

I’m told, by extremely reliable sources, that ‘metrosexuals’ males who buy beauty products, account for about 5% of up-market brand’s sales. And that market  is growing very quickly.

Use magazines

Beauty is a visual thing. The best visual marketplace is the glossies. Big, wide spreads; extravaganzas that literally drip glamour. Close ups that are so close up you can see how the pores have been photo-shopped. Not a flaw for miles. Take the front end, the middle spread or the back pages, only.

Use Sundays

The Sunday Herald Sun/Sydney Morning Herald magazine is becoming a showcase media, for some reason. Perhaps it’s the cost per thousand rate compared to traditional women’s magazines.

Use TV

One of the big brands I interviewed for this (I always interview extensively for my articles – I know they read like I just make them up, but actually we at Starship believe in putting a lot of effort into being accurate. So we can be flippant, with authority.) said that the only reason others didn’t use TV was that they couldn’t afford it. Quote: “If they had their pricing and products right they’d use TV.”


Always give away testers and samples. If it works they will come back for the real thing and buy others in the range too. But make very sure the little pack really looks/works like the big one.

Use Direct Mail

Especially if you’re working with Chemists or consultants. It’s important to keep your sales force focused. If you have a good database of customers, consider direct with them too. It’s a powerful visual media and quite often cheaper than magazines.

Use the Web

Again if you are working with consultants, the web is brilliant for keeping them in touch with the big plan. But it’s also great for customers for general information on your products, where to get them, why they work etc.

Consider Pyramid Marketing

Mary Kay and Nutrimetics recognized the stranglehold the big brands have on the key distribution outlets and went around them. By using teams of otherwise unemployed housewives and motivating the buggery out of them with promises of untold riches delivered with a cult style fervor, these companies have carved out a real niche in the market. And big? Are you sitting down? Mary Kay has something in the area of 5000 plus consultants running around the suburbs of Australia selling their wares. Apparently Nutrimetics have even more.

Be empowering

Allow your local staff some autonomy. What’s the point of appointing qualified marketing staff if you won’t let them do anything that a normal marketer would? Have some confidence in your Australian people and allow them to do their job properly.

World brands have severe limitations. Graphics may stay globally consistent, but local content should reflect the local market’s needs, aspirations, accents, looks. No-one here wants to be culturally colonized. Sorry to tell you this, but we are not the 53rd State of the USA. Nor are we Vanuatu.

The major players will stay arrogant and out of touch. If you’re an Australian brand, use this obvious lack of cultural fit to your advantage. Appeal to Australian women (do the bloody market research to make sure you know what they want first) in an Australian way and you’ll clean up. I’m not saying be blokey. I’m saying learn from David Jones, Just Jeans, Elle McPherson underwear, Neutrogena’s ads. Not L’Oreal’s. Because WE are worth it.

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