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Everything Old is News Again

Nancy McDonald and Salvador Pliego

“There’s an ill wind a blowin … and it’s bringing in a storm.” And with it, a backlash has taken place against what has always been taken to be the “American way.” Conspicuous consumption, it seems somehow, became extinct when you weren’t looking. The consumer has spoken, saying “no” to outrageous price tags and fad items. Consumers are now being forced into behavior heretofore alien to them. They’re closely re-evaluating what’s currently in their closets, their homes and, yes, in their beauty and fragrance collections. Consumers are discovering that their tried-and-true classic possessions still have merit, and they are rediscovering the charm of the basics.

This tight-fisted, antispending behavior is wreaking havoc for consumer products, and, more to the immediate point, it’s significantly impacting the “bulletproof” beauty industry, which has always—somewhat arrogantly, perhaps—been assumed to be sheltered from the storm.

Nancy: The consumer’s new role model is clearly Ebenezer Scrooge.

Salvador: What about those “it,” successful, sexy $1,000 skin care rejuvenators? Regardless, tightened spending may be a good thing. Nancy, didn’t you mention that you were enthralled by a classic economist who declared that the Great Depression was akin to a cold shower? Refreshing and invigorating. That economist has a point. Let’s look at this backlash as a wake-up call—albeit a rude one. We should take a second look at what is already in our own backyard. There is something to be said for the tried-and-true.

And with consumers’ trust factor now being as dicey as it is, what is seen as traditional is comforting. It’s back to the basics, and it’s about time!

Nancy: But you’ve had this same message for a long time. Please consider: Consumers are simply savvier these days; more discerning. Their expectations of beauty products have considerably escalated, given the immediate and perceptible effects of treatments such as Botox—though, perhaps a little unrealistically.

Innovation is of critical importance, now more than ever. Isn’t that clear in this environment?

Salvador: Of course manufacturers are looking for the innovative breakthrough, the holy grail—the one unique thing that makes them different from the others. However, that may not be so important for consumers—in some cases, it may not even be desirable. There is a company in Colombia, South America, that is marketing products using human semen, which is rich in protein. Certainly a point of difference in the industry but a question mark for the consumer.

Nancy: However, a distinct point of difference in ingredient vehicles and deliveries is of key importance in the beauty industry—especially now. Not since Ponce de Leon explored has the fountain of youth been so rigorously sought. That search calls for innovative technology.

Salvador: The ingredient offering must still be realistic. Does the consumer really “get” some of the industry’s new techno-babble? Is it meaningful to them? Do they actually care?

Nancy: Not always, but there is the change—at some level. But, my point is that consumers see technology as a credibility check; they may not understand how nanotechnology works, but they sure know it works better than what they were using. They like intriguing, breakthrough technologies and ingredients. Intrigue is sexy.

Salvador: I understand that innovation is a key component of the whole package, but you can use traditional ingredients, the industry’s classics, and spin them with new technology. Done right, the whole really is better than the sum of the parts.

Nancy: Okay. When a classic is married to a breakthrough, the gestalt has a lot more impact. So it could be said that it’s parallel to the workhorse fashion classics in one’s closet paired with incredible drop-dead shoes to make a remarkable, personal statement.

Perhaps, then, marketing—all of us, in fact—should seriously reconsider the real merit of a given ingredient or technology and engage the customer by integrating a comfort zone ingredient with a scientific technological breakthrough. It would certainly help blunt the complexity of today’s skin care-speak for consumers.

Salvador: Exactly. Let’s take a traditional favorite—and an icon in dermatological circles—retinol. We all know that retinol is an excellent ingredient that offers key benefits such as diminishing visibility of fine lines and wrinkles, smoothing the overall appearance of facial contours and delivering a more even skin tone. Until now, our issues with pure retinol have been that it is not very stable and has a risk for skin irritation. Today’s answer: Encapsulate retinol in a nanoparticle. By doing so, you’ll get all of the retinol’s benefits in a controlled released manner while lowering its irritation potential.

Remember, the classics are classics because they are proven to be effective. Proteins, vitamins, hydroxy acids, shea butter, glycerin, urea and allantoin ... they’re all on that list. Perhaps they’re not as arresting as the flashy newcomers, but form has to take a second place to function in both marketing and science.

Nancy: Through this discussion and considering it through a marketing perspective, it’s clear that some of these very basic ingredients are now being dressed up in 21st century clothing. Like vitamins and their sources, which do certainly sound like old-speak, but re-dress them in a new vernacular such as antioxidants and pomegranate, and you have added the intriguing and contemporary spark.

Salvador: But consider, too, there are some very interesting new technologies out there that can definitely impact the beauty industry. Plant stem cells have been shown to improve skin’s self-maintenance and stimulate the stem cell activity of the epidermal stem cells, thereby increasing their life expectancy. Is this not new and intriguing?

Exciting new ingredients are in the pipeline. I know about DNA/gene technologies wherein you get a generated genetic profile describing an individual’s susceptibility to oxidative stress. This can, in turn, be used as a guide in choosing appropriate preventive or restorative antiaging therapies, and a finished product is tailored according to the individual results.Sexy and intriguing? Very.

At the same time, I have to mention the classic and mighty petrolatum.

Nancy: Petrolatum? That is so outré that younger consumers may not even understand what that is.

Salvador: That’s not, however, a basis for condemning this misunderstood ingredient. Although it has had very bad PR in recent years, petrolatum is a material that has been historically used in the beauty industry because, in addition to being incredibly cost-efficient, it’s one of the best moisturizers on the planet.

There is a reason why traditional ingredients will never die—they are the classic workhorses. Although not sexy as the thoroughbreds, they work diligently to get the job done. And it is the combined job of marketing and R&D to couple these workhorses with new and appropriate technology to have the real cutting-edge winner.

Nancy: This discussion does underline our basic belief that when marketing and R&D put their heads together, it is a sure thing and a win/win for both—and for the consumer.

The perspective certainly invigorates and expands our potential improved and efficacious technology platforms for both skin care and makeup. Even fragrance can benefit from a meaningful fusion of the classic and the exotic, and I’m already composing a product story ... the old and new; the yin and yang. The marriage of classic and breakthrough technologies as complementary elements working in unity for superlative efficacy. A perfect partnership.

Nancy McDonald is president of McDonald Marketing; Salvador Pliego is senior director, technical customer service, R&D and Latin America sales for Tri-K.

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