Friday, April 26, 2013

Cosmetic Marketing and the BFF Style

I thought my post on the Dove Beauty Sketches ad was so late to the party that it might be the last one - but apparently the debate continues to rage. Well, actually, calling it a debate seems a bit disingenuous. The vast majority of the articles I've read have decried it as being exclusionary, too focused on beauty as the core of a woman's self worth, and being sneaky wolfish marketing dressed up in "activist" sheep's clothing. I'm not interested in arguing the moral value of marketing companies attempting to appeal to our self esteem in order to sell products - although you should feel free to do so in the comments if you like. However, I do find the psychology of this type of "friendship" marketing endlessly fascinating, and I have a great example of this kind of marketing done horribly wrong to share with you today.

Loyalty based, "friendship" style marketing is at the core of what Dove is attempting with their Natural Beauty campaigns. They're trying to convince us they're not a soulless corporation that only wants to sell lotions - they're our friends. * They want us to feel good about ourselves (and buy their soap), they want us to be happy and successful (and buy their soap), just like our real friends. They tell us we really are beautiful, no matter what we tell ourselves, just like our real friends. And in turn, they hope we will reward the company like we do our real friends - with our loyalty and commitment. They hope that we will forgive their mistakes and support their endeavours, just like we would a real friend. And the thing is, regardless of whether it's morally right or wrong, this type of marketing isn't going anywhere because it works like WHOA.

Loyal customers bring in tons of bags just like this.

Lush is an excellent example of a company that has built an enormously financially successful empire from this sort of "friendship" marketing. They encourage their sales staff to treat customers in the store like friends. If you want a hand massage, and then walk out without buying anything, that's totally cool. The staff are happy to just make your day little bit better, because we're all friends here! Lush products are often themselves touted as being as "friendly" as cosmetics can get - no animal testing, nasties, not many preservatives, all handmade natural warm fuzzy feelings yay! They don't sell "youthening" treatments, because you're all beautiful just how you are! All their employees love working there, because it's super fun and cool! Lush loves everyone, and everyone loves Lush!

Lush time is FUN TIME
Some of their claims are totally true - Lush don't do any animal testing on their products, and they do use very few synthetic ingredients compared to other cosmetics manufacturers. Their products are indeed handmade (to a certain extent) and they put a little friendly sticker of the person who made it on the package to prove this somehow. However, their marketing has worked in such a way that the loyalist Lush customers will come down like a rain of fire on anyone who dares suggest that not every single claim they make is 100 per cent true. The PR section of Lush doesn't really have to DO anything anymore, their customers do it all for them, and they do it with gusto. Courtney over at Those Graces did a post about how disenchanted she was with Lush products once she realised they weren't as natural as she had believed them to be, and she got hammered with negative responses for six months. SIX MONTHS. That's an eternity in the blog world. People who had never read her blog before came over specifically to argue with her about how wrong she was, and a LOT of them. These weren't marketing reps, or anyone getting paid to argue on the company's behalf - this was a gang of Lushies arguing with Courtney out of fervent belief in Lush. This sort of brand loyalty is marketing GOLD. Anyone working in marketing DREAMS of creating a campaign that inspires that sort of loyalty, because it equals sales out the whazoo. A lot of the Lushies I know refuse to buy any other cosmetics now they've committed to Lush, and a marketing firm couldn't possibly dream of any better result than that.


Lush, and to a certain extent Dove, have convinced a certain portion of their customer base that they are actually really friends underneath, and this exchange of money is just a formality, because of the warm, friendly way they speak to their customers, and while I don't have statistics to back this up, my feeling is that they have probably made a LOT of money from this. The marketing agency for Dove must at least be VERY pleased with amount of copy the Natural Beauty Sketches video is generating. So it makes sense that other companies would try and copy this style of marketing. However, while nosing around the cosmetic section the other day I came across this range of products that illustrates exactly how NOT to talk to your customers in order to inspire loyalty.

Apparently you CAN actually scrub unsightly fat right off.

On the Bliss site, this has a little disclaimer saying it's "Not a fat or weight loss product"

Seriously, I'm so fat I need to cream up with slenderiZZZe complex in my SLEEP?!
This...this line of products made me so irrationally and immediately angry I had to walk away in order to resist the urge the flip the stand. I can see what they were trying for - the copy gives me the impression of a marketing person who thinks they are being really cool and hip by calling fat girls what they are. They're attempting a type of "friendship" marketing, but unfortunately trying to copy a type of "friend" I really fucking hate. Dove and Lush have copied the type of friend who always tells you you're always beautiful against all reason and evidence, which I find mildly irritating, but it doesn't really make me rage. Bliss have attempted to copy the friend who playfully teases you about having another slice of cake, and when called on it explains that they're just looking out for you - which makes me FURIOUS. I HATE that person. Their "helpfullness" makes me want to kick them in the genitals. I don't know who thought copying that type of friend was a good idea to sell products, but it has utterly failed to engage this fat girl in any way.

And you know what really adds insult to injury? The "weight loss" creams they are selling are complete and utter bunkum. There are so many issues with the claims they're making I don't even know where to start. How about the fact that if the cream was actually extracting the fat from your cells as it claims, you would end up with either a fatty slime coating your thighs, or an enormous amount of fat in your bloodstream, neither of which sound like particularly GOOD outcomes to me. Or the fact that there is no way I'm aware of that a cream could actually penetrate all seven layers of your epidermis to even get to the fat cells it's supposed to be draining. Lush aren't everything they say they are - but their soap does actually wash you. Their moisturizer will actually add moisture to your skin. Bliss is selling total snake oil, and attempting to distract you with "friendly" marketing of the most irritating and ill advised kind.

The fact that just seeing these boxes made me SO ANGRY is an interesting reflection of the downside of loyalty based "friendly" marketing - when it goes wrong, it goes REALLY wrong. Getting people personally invested is a great way to get at their wallets, right up until the point where you let them down. Post like this illustrate just how damaging a reversal of "friendly" marketing can be. If companies want to be our friends, then we're going to treat them like our friends when they piss us off - we're going to get angry. Walmart has been treating it's employees like crap...well, forever, and while people care, it doesn't stop them shopping there for the most part. But Lushies who have realised that Lush might not treat their employees in a way that is entirely in keeping with their warm fuzzy image get OUTRAGED - they take it personally, because Lush's marketing campaigns have made their relationship with the company personal. I think it will be interesting to see if the negative reactions to the Dove campaign blow back on them in a similar way. I am predicting there will be very little blowback in terms of actual sales for Dove, despite the amount of negative press, simply because the vast majority of people I've seen criticising this campaign probably weren't avid Dove consumers in the first place.

Can you think of other companies that have used this sort of marketing? Where have you seen it go right, and wrong? Do you think I'm just glorifying something inherently evil by discussing it? I'd love to hear your thoughts.

*Just a little caveat here - I don't mean for any of these observations to apply to small business owners I know who are ACTUALLY friends with their customers. I don't think it counts as a marketing tool if you actually know and genuinely care about the majority of your customer base. What I'm talking about here is larger corporations attempting to emulate the way small businesses operate, without the heart. 


  1. I seriously can't believe that they think that something called 'Fat Girl' will sell.

  2. Here's the thing. What if you actually are fat? I actually am fat. I have had to work hard to accept my actual fat self. The problem is, these products use fat as an insult, when it should be a neutral thing. Enough damage has been done by the fat equals ugly equation perpetuated by advertisers.

    1. I can only assume Bliss have heard something vague about the fat acceptance movement, and have decided this means it's okay for them to throw around the term fat now. If they had stopped and thought about it for a minute, maybe they would have realised it's totally NOT okay, and whether you are or are not objectively fat, it's still far too loaded a word to use humorously.

  3. I kind of like the Dove campaign... but I don't buy Dove products and am not convinced to start... but I think their message is positive and that's a good thing. I wasn't aware of those particular Bliss products...but they make me furious! I've never bought a Bliss product either, but now I won't EVER...

    1. Yeah, I think the positive side effects of the Dove campaign is definitely something to be happily noted, as I said in my post the other day.

  4. Have a look at the comments on the four or five Lush posts on the Mitherings from Morningside. Lots of them are from employees and ex-employees.

    1. I had a read through those, and I've heard very similar testimony from other ex-Lush employees. I think it's interesting that so much testimony about the way they treat their employees has been floating around for years, but Lush don't feel the need to even address it, let alone do anything to fix it.


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