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Better Living Through Ideas

By: Jeff Falk
Posted: May 4, 2010, from the May 2010 issue of GCI Magazine.

I feel I’m an equal opportunity editor when it comes to print sources. I love The Wall Street Journal, MIT’s Technology Review, BusinessWeek ... all those publications that can lend a person instant credibility when dropped in a cocktail party conversation, “According to the Journal, women only hold 7.8% of German board seats.”

But I’m also open to ideas from sources a little further from the mainstream print media. Wired is a good one and, though I’d be reluctant to drop a reference from it while in formal wear, The Onion’s A.V. Club always offers ideas and insights that stimulate thought. Recently, between reviews of the latest hipster albums and indie movies, I came across the feature “The Honeymooners, ‘Better Living Through Television,’ ” which touched upon the power of television as an advertising medium and the potential for those who manage to harness some of that power. According to the feature, “[In 1950], Hazel Bishop’s $50,000-a-year cosmetics company proved the effectiveness of advertising when it placed ads in the few markets that had television, and within two years saw business expand nearly 9,000 percent.”

I had to google Hazel Bishop. Turns out, while working for dermatologist A. B. Cannon, she took classes in biochemistry and helped Cannon create the Almay line of hypoallergenic cosmetics. According to information on www.chemheritage.org, Bishop experimented with lipstick recipes in her mother’s kitchen laboratory and created a lipstick “guaranteed not to come off on cigarette butts, glasses, or him” (I love ’50s advertising copy). In addition, Bishop added another distinctive touch by using simple color descriptions to name her lipsticks: “Dark Red” instead of, for example, “Passionate Pink.”

Although I was not familiar with Bishop or her story, the character type and plot are not unfamiliar. There are new brands coming across my desk nearly every day, and though not a whole lot of brands growing 9,000% in two years, there are a number of very successful brands built by characters with a bit of beauty background and intriguing ways to tell their brands’ stories—to set them apart and connect with consumers. QVC and similar television shopping outlets continue to demonstrate the power of TV as a selling medium, but brands today also have so many other new digital mediums and outlets available to create even deeper, two-way connections. Is there a brand owner who can leverage today’s marketing/advertising mix and the growing power of the consumer’s voice for four-digit growth?