Beauty not just skin deep

After paying them little more than lip service for decades, everyone it seems - financial services companies, auto makers, sporting goods manufacturers, the travel industry - is making a concerted effort to target women these days. Over the next few issues,...

After paying them little more than lip service for decades, everyone it seems – financial services companies, auto makers, sporting goods manufacturers, the travel industry – is making a concerted effort to target women these days. Over the next few issues, Strategy will take a look at some recent female-focused initiatives. But first, we thought it might be useful to look at how women’s images of themselves – and marketers’ images of women – have changed in perhaps the most traditional of women’s categories: beauty.

Christie Brinkley. Cheryl Tiegs. Cindy Crawford.

It wasn’t so long ago that these icons of American beauty were the standard to which every woman was expected to aspire.

While the marketer’s definition of beauty hasn’t broadened dramatically, a study by LeoShe, a division of Chicago-based Leo Burnett, says it probably should.

Presenting the study ‘Bone Deep’ to executives at Leo Burnett in Toronto, Cherri Patel, vice-president and senior planner with Leo Burnett Chicago, says marketers must recognize that there’s been a significant shift in how women define beauty.

‘There’s no longer a single standard,’ says Patel. ‘It’s now a broader and more inclusive view.’

She says in the United States, where attitudes roughly parallel those of the Canadian market, fewer women aspire to the model-perfect look and, accordingly, have reduced spending on products and services to achieve that goal.

Instead, the study shows that women are embracing icons who represent diverse ethnic groups, ages and accomplishments, and are spending their money on goods that help them enhance who they already are.

As Patel puts it: ‘Marketers have historically been doing demographic segmentation of beauty, but this is the first time that we have seen an attitudinal and behavioral definition of beauty – of the different beauty points of view.’

So if one beauty standard no longer cuts it, what should marketers do? They should sell to women using messages that align brands with intrinsic values, advises the study, such as strength, wisdom and wellness. They should speak to the individual and the aspirations that drive her as opposed to her desire to look a particular way, it says.

One marketer that clearly understands the value of going beyond a specific look to addressing a woman’s values and beliefs is first-time advertiser Melanie Lyne.

The national women’s wear chain, which is owned and operated by Montreal-based Laura’s Shoppe, recently launched a national newspaper campaign featuring interviews with ‘regular but remarkable women’ in which the clothes play second string to the aspirations of the women being interviewed.

In one execution, executive assistant Yvette Azoulay sounds off on what she wants for her grandchildren (‘to live in a better world’), for her body (‘to be as agile and energetic as I knew’), and what she expects in a clothing shop (‘a fitting room with a mirror.’)

Dave Crichton, partner and creative director of Melanie Lyne’s agency, The Crichton Kim-Kirkland Company, says the campaign, ‘What I Want’, is a celebration of women that’s designed to get the brand noticed by addressing women’s desires for personal fulfillment.

It’s a way of thinking that even such beauty stalwarts as Revlon are embracing. Melinda Wells-DeRocher, the cosmetic company’s vice-president of international marketing, North America, puts it bluntly when she says: ‘Pretty pictures don’t sell products any more.’

Wells-DeRocher says her company has just started to recognize the need for ‘lifestyle’ marketing, citing recent efforts to use models of various ethnic backgrounds and ages, albeit in much the same glamorous context as before.

She reports Revlon is currently conducting a study to determine how consumers’ lifestyles are changing their purchasing habits, usage of and attitudes toward color cosmetics and, depending on the findings, is prepared to further revamp its creative strategy.

Still, change doesn’t happen overnight. Clarence Poirier, director of research for Canadian women’s magazines Chatelaine and Modern Woman, says beauty advertisers used to broadly define their target audience as women, 18 to 49. Messages, he says, tended to be generic, delivered to one large, all-encompassing demographic. If a company was advertising a premium product, it might address working women, but that was about it.

To a large extent, says Poirier, that hasn’t changed, despite the fact that the audience for cosmetics has.

‘When we look at the research, the heaviest users (of beauty products) are in the 50-plus segment. That’s what I find interesting. The population as a whole has been aging quite rapidly, but the messages haven’t changed.’