Q&A with author Mark Tungate on marketing within international beauty and cosmetic brands

The Drum speaks to author Mark Tungate about his view on the marketing being developed by beauty brands around the world having written his latest marketing tome 'Branded Beauty; How Marketing Changed the Way We Look'.

How do you feel social media works for beauty companies?

As in almost every sector, beauty brands are keen on social media because it enables them to chat to their consumers. But perhaps social networks are even more useful to beauty brands, because many of their products are sold by outlets like Sephora and Boots, who apparently don’t exactly spread their customer data around. Social networks allow beauty brands to gather information on their consumers, build databases, and promote products through online tutorials.

Do you feel advertising has ‘normalised’ an unrealistic vision of beauty?

Absolutely. And the irony is that consumers have gone with it. Ideologically they admire initiatives like Dove’s “Real Women” campaign, but sales suggest that they are even more keen to buy in to the impossible vision. Most beauty advertising is driven by the promise that “you’ll look better”. A campaign suggesting that you’ll look exactly the way you do today is honest but hardly alluring. Beauty consumers buy hope. Can’t say I blame them: wanting to be desired must be one of the oldest human urges. Pass the eye cream.

E-commerce is rapidly taking over from traditional retail. What impact do you think this will have on the beauty industry?

I spoke to a few industry experts about this. They’re interested in e-commerce but find the economics of distributing millions of tiny packages somewhat off-putting. They add that a successful online store only makes as much as a single bricks-and-mortar outlet, so it’s a bit of a yawn as far as the bottom line is concerned. And they report that customers enjoy the “consultative” aspect of buying beauty products – makeovers in stores and the chance to try cosmetics on their skin. Bearing in mind that a lot of the appeal of cosmetics is sensual, from packaging to texture, there’s still a feeling that face-to-face works best.

What can we expect from the beauty industry in the future?

I think the digital world is forcing the industry to be more transparent. As you know, beauty advertising is driven by “claims” – lengthy and usually pseudo-scientific blocks of copy about what a product can do for its customers. But a number of independent websites now analyse beauty products and explain what their ingredients actually do. The result will inevitably be a new generation of savvier beauty consumers. The industry will have to face up to that and be more realistic in its claims. It may well choose to focus on the mood-enhancing aspect of beauty products: the comfort of the ritual, the confidence that cosmetics instill in their users. Both of those are genuine benefits.

What are the key trends in beauty advertising?

For many years the beauty industry imposed an essentially western ideal of beauty – skinny and white – on the rest of the world. However, the big beauty companies are now adopting a more “glocal” approach to advertising, with a wider diversity of skin tones and body shapes among their brand ambassadors. In terms of other visual trends, my beauty tipsters report an 80s throwback trend, as well as vampy and Gothic looks – bright red lips on the one hand and smoky eyes on the other. In general we’re seeing more aggressive and provocative beauty imagery, driven by the likes of Tom Ford and Givenchy. Apart from all that, we’re inevitably going to see more claims of “organic” and “natural” ingredients.

'Branded Beauty; How Marketing Changed the Way We Look' has been published by Kogan Page and studies the history and evolution of the businesses, speaking to marketers from brands such as Revlon, Dior, Yves Saint Laurent and Body Shop.

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