The full title of the last talk in the Society of Cosmetic Scientists London lecture series for this year was ‘What drives trends in cosmetic claims: consumer dreams or scientific reality?’ The debate was between Stirling Murray – a marketing guru from The Red Tree consultancy and Steve Barton who trades as Skin Thinking. The audience were mainly scientists and so were probably rooting for Steve, who set out to demonstrate that science is the key factor behind cosmetic developments.
Steve is a very good speaker who prepares diligently and presents his points with eloquence and style. He made a very good case, citing numerous examples of the way that science produces the kinds of products that provide real benefits for consumers.
Stirling Murray gave a good talk too. Judged purely on technique you’d have to judge the debate a drawer. But Stirling had the advantage of having a much easier case to argue. He quoted Charles Revson, one of the founders of Revlon.
We are not selling nail enamel. We are selling dreams.
That is the truth of the matter. Beauty product purchases rarely involve much in the way of logic. Consumers are buying dreams not functionality. When was the last time you heard about a waiting list for a £40 nail polish? And yet the shelves groan with equally effective and much cheaper options.
And while the punters might be being illogical here, they aren’t necessarily being irrational. Beauty products aren’t necessities. You won’t die without them. But they are important because of the way they make you feel. If a particular shade of nail polish from a brand that you associate with a life style makes you feel good, then the price tag is worth it. A scientist may not be able to tell the difference between one finely dispersed pigment in a thin plastic film and another, but you sure as heck can.
So much as I enjoyed Steve’s pitch, and much as a I love the science behind the magic, I have to give the prize to Stirling. We aren’t in the pharmaceutical business where the name of the game is coming up with genuine solutions to real problems. Our job is to use science make sure that the products support the goal. But the goal is to make people feel good. So in the end, it is about emotions and not science.