Message to Big Beauty Marketers: Pick A Lane and Stick With It

In the mid-1990s, when Lancôme had l’audacité to nudge long-time spokesmodel Isabella Rossellini out the back door after a 14-year run because she refused to share the limelight with Spanish stunner Inés Sastre, I wasn’t one of the many beauty editors (or women, for that matter) who got all rant-y and rave-y about it.

The way I saw it – which is allegedly the way the French beauty behemoth saw it, too – Rossellini had enjoyed a fabulous stint, one that millions of model-actor hyphenates would’ve killed for. So why not let the young whippersnapper Sastre pop up in an ad every now and then? Why feel threatened? And, more importantly, why throw the baby out with the rose-scented bath water?

Cut to 2011, and the Lancôme spokesmodel roster looks like the front row at the Oscars. There’s Kate Winslet! And Julia Roberts! Wait – is that Penelope Cruz I spy in a Trésor ad? Why, yes! Yes it is.

And that’s in addition to Harry Potter cutie Emma Watson, who will be featured in upcoming ads for Trésor flanker Midnight Rose. Not to mention a bench that includes Sastre,  catwalk superstar Daria Werbowy, and Elettra Weidemann, who is, in a strange twist of iron, Rossellini’s daughter.

Not that Lancôme has the market cornered on massive spokesmodel stables. Estée Lauder’s roster is gigantic, as are those of mass brands L’Oréal Paris, Maybelline and Garnier.

The lockstep 21st century beauty marketing-think is this: No one woman represents every aspect of a given brand. And if we fully commit to just one face, we run the risk of alienating anyyone who feels that a particular mode, or celebrity, doesn’t speak for her.

I can wrap my mind around this rationale. But I don’t like it. In fact, I now pine for the bygone Rossellini era, or the days when I could count on seeing Paulina Porizkova traipsing through every single Lauder ad, for every single Lauder product.

Do I identify with Porizkova? No. For starters, she’s a foot taller than I am, with darker hair. But in all the years she represented the brand, I never once thought to myself: “I don’t look like Paulina, therefore this Lauder perfume, won’t work for me. The wallet stays shut.” Not once.

Even way back then, I understood the concept of aspiration. Of lives that were far, far more glamorous than my own. And guess what? I really liked that. It fed into the fantasy that maybe, some day, I could get there too. And in the meantime, slathering on that miracle crème, or spritzing on that perfume, might make the journey more delicious.

That’s why I’m dumbfounded as to why a brand that has the excellent fortune to land a star of Winslet’s or Cruz’s caliber doesn’t just utterly go for it, and lock her in for every last bit of advertising and promotional collateral.

In other words: Pick a lane, and stick with it.

I can’t be the only woman in America without a clear read on L’Oréal Paris anymore because, in a single night of prime-time television, I’m seeing J Lo for EverSleek, Gwen Stefani for Infallible Le Rouge and Beyoncé for Féria. And if I happen to have a stack of magazines on my lap while I’m watching (as I often do), I’ll be flipping through images of Evangeline Lilly for Sublime Mousse, Diane Keaton for Age Perfect and Eva Longoria for whatever it is she’s cheerfully shilling for. I forget at this point. Who wouldn’t?

In my humble opinion, asking beauty junkies to connect the dots between so very many different products and franchises, and the stars and personalities who represent them, is a bridge too far. Or maybe the marketing whizzes behind these alliances are just hoping that if they put enough options out there, surely something will resonate. Right?

A smart industry-watcher I know calls this approach “spaghetti marketing – throw a bunch of stuff against the wall and see what sticks.” And, as she points out, it isn’t only the beauty biz that’s deploying this frenetic plan of attack. Geico, for example, has filled its ranks with cavemen and “the Pierce Brosnan look-alike” alongside that cute little lime-green gecko.

Another non-cosmetics case in point: Capital One, which is asking those club-wielding medieval heathens to share screen time with the zippy and erudite Alec Baldwin.

But back to the beauty biz. I just don’t think “the spaghetti thing” is working. A single glamorous creature should represent a brand. And I couldn’t help reading the tea leaves a bit when, in early September, L’Oréal chief Jean Paul Agon announced that he’d ordered a “review” of the company’s estimated $8 billion global media spend. Clearly, ROI is an issue.

Compounding the problem is that some of the biggest celebrities now have both fashion and beauty contracts. Winslet, for instance, is everywhere in a current St. John campaign. So that means the one or two products she’s attached to for Lancôme really get lost in the shuffle. And if the Lancôme print advertising budget gets whacked, as it surely will once the results of this sinister-sounding “review” come in, it could be curtains for Kate.

Here’s what Big Beauty needs to do: Siphon a hefty chunk of the money being used to sign big-gun celebrities for one or two products and use it to hire the best talent scouts in the world. (If Sarah Doukas, who discovered Kate Moss, is available, nab her.) Then sign a woman who is both breathtaking and multi-cultural in her appeal. This woman – and she should be a woman, not a girl – will be a completely new face, with absolutely zero backstory and marketing baggage.

And then lock her in but good. No fashion contracts, no pricey watches, no Champagne, no anything else allowed. Then really go for it, and build an entire world around this woman.

Pick a lane, and stick with it.

Dana Wood About Dana Wood

A beauty journalist for 20+ years, Dana Wood has served as Beauty Director for BRIDES, Cookie and W magazines, has written for numerous national publications, and is an author and a blogger. She also spent several years in the Luxury Products Division of L’Oreal, as AVP Strategic Development. She recently relocated to Florida, and is embracing high-speed, expressway driving.