Andrew Doyle On Cosmetics

This article first appeared in Cosmetics International

There’s no denying that the beauty market has got the ‘attractive’ brief fully filled. From the products themselves, to the copy, packaging and imagery that surround them, they all look absolutely beautiful –and so they should. But there’s a problem. Walk into any store and enter a cosmetics or toiletries aisle, and everything looks the same. Lovely, but the same – like a room full of Kate Winslet clones.

The cosmetics and toiletries market adheres incredibly rigidly to what many marketers refer to rather proudly as ‘category norms.’ And the argument about these ‘norms’ goes something like this: consumers want to find certain information on packs, laid out in a certain way, and will reject anything that doesn’t comply with these expectations.

If truth be told, these so-called rules are more ‘marketing norms’ than consumer requirements - rules that make the briefing manager feel safe and secure.

Successful designs, successful new products and successful communications all break these ‘norms’ and succeed because consumers find something on the shelf that’s not yet another Kate Winslet.

So how do you break out of this straitjacket of market norms?

Well, as everyone knows, there is no such thing as a new idea. But there are new connections –existing ideas from different worlds that are forced together. One particularly innovative category in recent years has been the food and drink sector.

What you put on your face and what you put in it will always have vastly different marketing requirements, but there are things that beauty can learn from edibles – as long as the first lesson is that bravery, and being different, are no bad thing. It is fairly crucial to make sure the bosses understand that being different, not being the same, is what marketing is about. I suspect – or rather, I know – that many great new designs and new products die at the sword of the bosses’ conservatism – the reluctance to not do what everyone else is doing.

A salutary tale from the world of brewing: at one- time in the beer market the category norms were that beer should be in ‘strong male colours’ – brown, green and possibly red. Then Boddingtons launches - in vibrant yellow. I laughed like crazy when in a focus group discussion, I heard a lady, supported by nods all round, say: “when I buy beer for my husband, I look for the yellow can because it stands out and is easy to find”.

I have something in front of me at the moment that’s really weird but incredibly useful. It’s a bottle of white wine, a can of Coke and a jar of honey banded together with a thick piece of gaffer tape. It’s a great idea for a new product – potentially. And it’s a brilliant way of making new connections.

Actually, more to the point, it’s an incredibly cheap way of doing new product development. You could do it in the next five minutes. I’d love at least one person in the hair colourant business to tape one of their packs to a pot of Gü or to any of the Waitrose Cooks Ingredients range. The result could be an absolutely brilliant hair colourant, maybe with a new and innovative formulation, or maybe just with packaging that didn’t look like a clone of all the other hair colourant ranges.

Or how about someone in suntan glueing one of their packs to a minimalist Apple iPod. Wow - a sun tan cream with just enough information on it, rather than just too much data and enough small print to make you want to tear your hair out.

You could even pair a face mask with a bottle of Yakult – and develop a refrigerated treatment full of living good stuff. It sounds a little mad but it’s a great – and unusual – starting point.

The best way to sum up this idea of making unusual connections is to use the word ‘analogy’. To go back to sun tan cream for a moment: what is analogous to sun tan lotion? I just asked a colleague and her spontaneous answers were: sunglasses, vitamins, a glass of wine, apples, peaches, armour, an umbrella and bizarrely, bubble wrap. Any and all of these would make great starting points for innovation or design in this category.

So two really simple things to do if you want to break out of the Kate Winslet straitjacket. First sort out the bosses and make sure they’re feeling brave. Second find an analogy for your product or band it together with something completely absurd and force it into a sensible idea.