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The Imperative Relevance of Ethnic Hair Care

By: Liz Grubow and Elle Morris
Posted: June 22, 2010, from the July 2010 issue of GCI Magazine.

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Within the U.S. alone, Hispanic and Latino populations draw from 25 different countries, accounting for a variety of hair textures and issues associated with naturally curly, dry and easily damaged hair. This high degree of variety has long confused many beauty brand marketers, leaving them unsure how to communicate with such a diverse group. For years, Hispanic consumers have exhibited preferences toward either African-American–specific brands or Caucasian products, depending on hair texture, even in lieu of products specifically developed for them. However, with rising Hispanic populations, the hair care needs and concerns of this group have been recognized by brands that understand the potential of communicating to and showing them that they understand this market’s particular challenges.

For example, while Ouidad is not a Latino-specific brand, the product addresses needs associated with curly hair and recognizes the potential of communicating directly with Hispanic consumers. By using Latina models in its advertising and incorporating values such as family, community, personal style and the importance of feeling beautiful into their marketing campaigns, Ouidad has become a favorite across hair types for Hispanic consumers. Mainstream brands such as Pantene Pro-V and Sunsilk also have achieved a good response from Hispanic consumers by incorporating Spanish language instructions that address common Hispanic hair needs on to their shampoo and conditioner packaging.

What to Be Watching

With the recession, many consumers limited trips to the salon, and more women of color are starting to incorporate at-home products into their beauty regimen as a cost-saving measure. Ethnic consumers, more increasingly than the general population, are purchasing natural and organic products and looking for more natural alternatives to chemical hair relaxers.

Education around ingredients and choosing effective, less abrasive products also is increasing in popularity with ethnic consumers. Within the ethnic beauty market, women are celebrating their own hair textures, embracing looks that reflect natural curls and soft styles. Products such as Carol’s Daughter, a line of natural products started out of Lisa Price’s Brooklyn kitchen in 1993, appeal to both black and Hispanic consumers, and can now be found at online retailers such as Sephora and HSN, as well as at beauty salons. Curls, a company that carries products to enhance natural curls, grossed nearly $3 million in sales in 2009, and recently altered its marketing strategy to invite anyone, regardless of ethnicity, to try its products. The natural look requires a greater awareness about one’s own hair, watching for varying degrees of curl and texture that might affect choices in styling. It also encourages greater experimentation in order to find products that complement and enhance natural texture.

According to Packaged Facts, ethnic consumers are not necessarily loyal to products specifically formulated for and marketed to them. These findings show more money is actually spent on general market products, with this consumer more inclined to spend on a product that addresses her specific needs, whether that is dryness/deep conditioning, damage protection, manageability or something else. Clearly, product performance and benefit is the purchase trigger for this group. One mainstream beauty brand that has listened to ethnic consumers and successfully marketed to these consumers is Pantene by Procter & Gamble. This brand has worked to create a relationship with both Hispanics and African-Americans. Pantene Pro-V launched Extra Straight/Extra Liso to address Hispanic consumers’ concerns with thoroughly cleaning hair while, at the same time, achieving the soft and straight look. Similarly, the brand also launched Relaxed and Natural, which addressed the specific hair needs of African-American women. Pantene Nature Fusion, Beautiful Lengths and Curls Collections were created to target issues such as hydration, luster and damage protection, all of which affect these two consumer groups, as well as the general market. Of note, all Pantene products are shelved together in the mainstream hair care aisle.

Continuing Relevance