Big Business Beauty

Posted: September 27, 2013

Beauty is big business – there’s hair care, nail care and skin care; body lotions, body exfoliations and body butters; lipsticks, mascaras and eye shadows … and let’s not forget the men: colognes, shaving creams and nose trimmers.

According to writer Lolita A. Alford on, total sales in the beauty industry have reached approximately $426 billion. This translates into, for example, MAC selling one lipstick and one eye shadow every two second.

Writing on about cost and trends for 2013, FieldLens’ Matt Sena pointed out that many people now treat their beauty ritual as an escape from the hustle of the information age, whether it’s a few minutes spoiling oneself with a high-end product or a full day at a luxury spa.

Such diversity and innovation exists because we demand it, he said, and predicted global expansion of 8.5% by 2014.

Both writers agree that, while the Western hemisphere accounts for most of the spending in the beauty industry, India and the rest of Asia is not too far behind.

Confirming this, but also highlighting several concerns for companies looking for growth in these markets, is an online study conducted by Added Value Saffron Hill for Allergan (a multi-specialty global health care company with world-leading franchises in medical aesthetics, eye care and neurosciences).

The survey highlighted that this growth could be driven in part by a lack of confidence in the Asian beauty aesthetic, how Asian women view themselves in the area of beauty. In fact, it showed that Asian women aged 20+ score their looks at around 6 out of 10.  Japan stands out as being most critical with women scoring themselves only 4.8 out of 10.

Other statistics coming out of the survey included:

  • The aspiration of Asian women is to be an8 out of 10.
  • 70% of Korean and Thai women claim to think about improving their looks and beauty every day.
  • Chinese and Indian women are claiming they are ready to spend 37% and 28% of their salaries respectively on looking good (in dollar terms).

But how do brands and companies ride this big wave?

Added Value Saffron Hill’s managing director Tessa Brown said that, from a product perspective, categories such as anti-ageing, whitening, cosmetic and injectable treatments will naturally flourish.  But the bigger challenge will be how to stand out and get the lion’s share of the market.

Most importantly, she said, companies need to backtrack and really understand Asian women themselves and understand what resonates with this audience.  They need to appreciate the evolving Asian ideals and definition of beauty across cultures; what women go through to be beautiful and what they consider to be ‘rewards’ for this journey.

Locally, Brown’s colleague Dr Inka Crosswaite of Added Value in South Africa concurred adding that similar challenges face brand owners seeking growth in Africa be it with beauty products or associated products such as fashion and accessories.

She said the biggest of these challenges is how to ensure a brand remains relevant in today’s fast-paced world in which consumers are not only assaulted by myriad marketing messages each day, but have relationships with brands that are influenced by cultural factors and driven by trends that ebb and low.

“Culturally, beauty carries rich meaning on the African continent,” said Crosswaite, a cultural insight and semiotics specialist who has a Doctorate in Social Anthropology from the University of Cape Town and is ex-lecturer at Stellenbosch University.

“Tapping into (or decoding) cultural insights gives marketers a better understanding of how the world is changing and help them to pull out the patterns of change – or trends – that are going to be important for a brand in the future.”

Added Values’ analysis of current communication codes used in beauty product advertising in Africa identified that there are more than a dozen different representations of beauty including those it termed:

  • ‘Detangled’ – represented by those who work hard to change one’s look to achieve ‘straight hair’ sophistication
  • ‘Blonde ambition’ – those whose studio perfect looks follow international standards of beauty
  • ‘African Queen’ – a powerful, respected and independent woman
  • ‘Classic beauty’ – someone who is comfortable with traditional beauty
  • ‘Retro tribal’ – a woman who marries a very modern and a traditional world

When using these representations to guide a client’s brand strategy, Added Value classifies these representations into three: ‘residual’, meaning their impact on the future is minimal while others are rated as ‘dominant’ and yet others as ‘emergent’.

Any representation mimicking Western ideals of beauty (fair skinned with highly-styled long relaxed hair, weaves and extensions, slim bodies) falls into the residual category.

Those showing darker skin tones, less styled hair, is accepting of natural curves and enhancing given features fall into the dominant category.

The emergent category is characterised by natural dark skin tones, unpretentious hair styles, inner beauty, a celebration of self, love my style, love myself, extravagant playfulness and exploration of beauty.

“Always, the more culturally relevant and respectful approach would be to reflect the dominant and emergent codes. So, Added Values’ analysis shows that the ‘detangled’ code or representation of beauty is on the way out, ‘African Queen’ is powerful and relevant, and ‘classic beauty’ is the way of the future,” said Crosswaite.

“And, as much as I appreciated how culturally relevant Dove has been for women in the west by  acknowledging that every women is beautiful in her own way, I have to question why this is not happening the African context,” she concluded.