La-la Land

Magical realism can’t hold a candle to the fantasy world of skin care marketing. Have you ever read the claims skin care products make? Haruki Murakami would be ashamed to stretch reality to such proportions–and he’s a master at it. First, there are the secrets of exotic origin: “For generations, the Dead Sea has been visited by people seeking new life for their skin.” or “Discovered in a sake brewery in Japan–when people noticed older workers still had remarkably youthful-looking hands–this seemingly “age defying” phenomenon sparked scientific research, which led to the miracle ingredient, SK-II Pitera.” The headline to the latter is “Touch the Miracle.” But didn’t that happen at the Dead Sea? Oh no, it was the miracle in the sake brewery. I forgot.

I’ve spent the past six months creating and launching a new brand in the women’s anti-aging skin care category. It’s not the first time. For several years, when I worked at DDB, I oversaw all of J&J’s skincare products’ global advertising–from Neutrogena, RoC, Clean & Clear to their Rx anti-wrinkle brand Renova. Renova we launched on the tagline “Hope in a Bottle versus Truth in a Tube.” In those days, claims had to be verified by teams of attorneys, both at J&J and the agency. Television and magazines had their own review boards and standards. No such standards exist on the internet today.

Take for instance Stages of Beauty, a line of anti-aging skin care products marketed by Hungry Fish Media, the makers of another over-claimed muscle builder brand Force Factor. The retouched “before treatment” models look freshly unearthed from a grave. The “after treatment” models look like Gwyneth Paltrow. HFM’s rating with the Better Business Bureau is C-. And yet the products sell.

What about Dermacyte–“a new and innovative Oxygen Brand”? Their claim: “Oxygen is essential for radiant, young looking skin.” Hmmm…I think oxygen is essential to be alive. I’m sure your skin would look awful without it. Have you ever looked in a casket?

I attended a Spa and Esthethician trade show in Long Beach last month, and am attending the east coast version in Philadelphia this weekend. In Long Beach, the products and claims were out of this world. Next to our booth we had the Kakadu Nut man, seen in his ceaseless video harvesting the wild Kakadu nuts with native Aboriginals in the outback of Australia. Having lived in Australia, I don’t think anyone, least of all themselves, would consider the noble Aboriginals to be skin care experts.

Then there were the purveyors of 24 karat gold facial masks. “Experience the ultimate luxury in cleansing…” I guess so. Or, a “powerful moisturizer that is infused with nano-gold technology.” What the hell is that? Who makes up these things?

Maybe best of all is the $1,222 a jar Dr. Jucre Million Stem Cell Magic Concentrate. “For those who wish to have their own fat extracted and used, the company offers that option at an additional price.” And by the way, all extracting is done in South Korea. Definitely a magic potion.

The issue for legitimate marketers is how to break through this sea of exaggeration and false advertising. Do you have to join the fray, with even wilder claims, to capture the attention of doubtful women? Can an honest approach work? Or do forthright claims get ignored and lost?

We launched our new brand with the direct claim that the product visibly reduces the appearance of fine lines and wrinkles by 50% in just one hour. We have dermatologist supervised clinical trials that verify this claim. We have a significant reason to believe in a patented transdermal infusion process. There is nothing false or misleading about our promotion. We are not Hungry Fish Media.

And very few women have bought our product. There are many reasons, but a critical one is that in this category of inflated efficacy claims, a woman doesn’t understand what a 50% reduction might look like. Dematologists think this is an extraordinary achievement in one hour. Women are disappointed their wrinkles aren’t erased. Though we never say they will be, the expectations are high and based on the wishful thinking so pervasive in anti-aging skin care marketing.

The balance between truth and beauty is a delicate one. Beauty is an ambition, a hope. People–women and men–want to create their own beauty and will pay enormous sums to achieve the look they want. They will even inject botulinum toxin type A–commonly known as Botox–into their faces.

As Catherine Deneuve once said, “If a woman is not beautiful at twenty, it’s God’s fault. If she’s not beautiful at forty, it’s her fault.”

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1 Comment

  1. Bruce Shaw

     /  October 21, 2011

    Loved this post…the humor, the truth of it all, the intelligence of it. How do people get away with it? Maybe conversations like this can make the world a better place.


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