Published in Sep-Oct 2018
Many decades ago, a beauty brand was purportedly created with extra moisturising cream for men who toiled away in physical labour; the bar was meant to clean away tough, sticky grease. It wasn’t a hit apparently and someone, a very smart someone by the likes of it, decided to reposition it as the non-soap; a beauty bar for women. So it is especially ironic that a soap that was never meant for women became the standard bearer for ‘real beauty’, the anti-objectification brand that celebrated women in all their diversity and imperfections.
Dove’s Evolution campaign now may not seem out of the ordinary but 14 years ago, the transformation of an ordinary girl into a sultry beauty via makeup, lighting and a whole lot of Photoshop made us all sit up and take notice. Advertisers working in the personal care category realised it was time to rethink the approach to the category. At the time, it also invited a fair share of ridicule from those who dismissed it as a one-off publicity stunt. The brand persisted and the well thought out gamble has paid off, despite the occasional PR hiccup.
Other brands followed suit. MAC cosmetics have long championed gender diversity and are dedicated to funding HIV/AIDS prevention programmes through their communication and their product offerings. Maybelline ditched the catchy ‘Maybe She’s Born With It, Maybe It’s Maybelline’ to the rather well-meaning but meh ‘Make It Happen’. ‘Higher order purpose’ and ‘brand consciousness’ have been rallying cries in marketing across the board, but for beauty brands it became especially important. The beauty business, by its very nature, smacks of superficiality and false confidence for most people. A red lipstick (one of the few purchases to survive every global recession) is my own personal armour and therefore a necessity, but it wouldn’t feature on Maslow’s hierarchy. So, beyond products that are safe, not tested on animals and aesthetics that appeal to us, brands need to give us a deeper reason to swear our allegiance – that chips away at the superficial to become more meaningful and gives us a good enough reason to justify that purchase.
It’s great to see brands stretching the limits and going beyond the obvious. However, apart from Fair & Lovely and Veet, I was hard pressed to think of any other personal care brand that was doing the same, with the exception of Pond’s Miracle Women perhaps. It is refreshing to see women celebrate other women.
Closer to home, Fair & Lovely, recognising the limits of a skin whitening cream, masked the benefit with a bigger benefit (healthy skin) and a bigger purpose (confidence). And a cream that was often bought shamefaced and hidden in the depths of a bag now has a range of products from cleansing to moisturising to men’s care, found on dressing tables and bathroom shelves around the country. But at the end of the day, it’s still a product that feeds into our complexities with our skin colour and helps them to fester further. So, building on the confidence and empowerment shown in their communication, the brand established the Fair & Lovely Foundation, which awarded scholarships to girls. Despite my personal distaste for the product, I like what they have done with the brand. Unfortunately, according to their website, scholarships have been closed since 2015.
Veet went into content generation. Miss Veet is a reality show that now goes beyond grooming and beauty to include both physical and mental challenges. The Veet Academy is sadly underrated and could do with more promotion. The webisodes featuring Aaminah Sheikh provide tutorials in negotiation and organisational skills, leadership skills and entrepreneurship to empower women. More recently, the brand spearheaded the successful #UnPose campaign on social media, partnering with influencers such as Soul Sisters Pakistan, encouraging women to share their candid images, unfiltered and unabashed. The TVC featuring Mahira Khan was a misfire and was called out by Sana Mir for valuing smooth arms over strong arms.
It’s great to see brands stretching the limits and going beyond the obvious. However, apart from Fair & Lovely and Veet, I was hard pressed to think of any other personal care brand that was doing the same, with the exception of Pond’s Miracle Women perhaps. It is refreshing to see women celebrate other women. The Miracle Women are high achievers with impressive stories, which they share to inspire others. They are listed as mentors, but there is nothing more than that. Might be a good idea to share their mentorship stories on social media or YouTube. Perhaps each one of them gets to mentor younger women in the same field or area of interest. Not only is it content, but it creates a tribe of sorts.
Yet none of the brands pushing the parameters are local. Brands like Medora and Olivia could have used a brand purpose or content to revitalise and restore their brands. Instead, Olivia was derided as a brand that illegally appropriates images of foreign celebrities on several marketing forums. Perhaps local brands know what all of us think – that the average Pakistani consumer does in fact want the superficial – no matter what social media says about loving the skin you’re in, we want to be fair and beautiful and we want to see beautiful people around us. Does the average 25-year-old Pakistani girl living in Hyderabad or Faisalabad really care about ethical beauty marketing?
Perhaps local brands know what all of us think – that the average Pakistani consumer does in fact want the superficial – no matter what social media says about loving the skin you’re in, we want to be fair and beautiful and we want to see beautiful people around us. Does the average 25-year-old Pakistani girl living in Hyderabad or Faisalabad really care about ethical beauty marketing?
My emotions see-saw when I see the conversations on Facebook, on various groups or posts by friends. While some have moved beyond the basics and have started to question the ideals of depiction of beauty and ethical implications, there is an unfortunately large majority that doesn’t really care. Skinny, gori, pretty is the only face of beauty. I would love to see the Veet Academy posts shared the way Masterclass is, or the Pond’s Miracle Women stories going viral. Maybe it’s just who we are – in which case, maybe it’s time for the re-education of Pakistani women. Yes, women. Not men. Well, not just yet anyway.
Perhaps a smaller brand with less to lose (Tibet perhaps? They did a good job with their sporty soap) can push the limits that much further, not just in what they communicate but what they do on ground and online, to stand for something more meaningful than beauty. My guess is that once one local brand does it, the others will follow.
Rashna Abdi is Chief Creative Officer, IAL Saatchi & Saatchi.