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Ethics and Cosmetic Marketing

August 17, 2015

Now I’ve worked in the cosmetic industry long enough to go that there are

a) every-day ethics for every-day people.

and there are

b) opportunistic marketing ethics.

Many brands sit in the latter camp and from what I’ve seen if you want to make a motza quickly then that’s the camp for you.

But where does that leave the rest of us?

Let’s re-wind and look at this step by step.

Ethics according to Wikipedia. 

Ethics (also moral philosophy) is the branch of philosophy that involves systematizing, defending, and recommending concepts of right and wrong conduct. The term ethicsderives from the Ancient Greek word ἠθικός ethikos, which is derived from the word ἦθος ethos (habit, “custom”).

So if we take the situation described above we could expand upon this and say this:

The every-day person holds a philosophy that the claims cosmetic brands make are legal, safe and relatively truthful.  That said, the every-day person recognises that the cosmetic industry is one  where sex, ideals and fantasies sell product and thus understand that their quest for youthful beauty and perfection potentially leads them open to being seduced. However, rather than this being seen as a lie, a con or a ploy the every-day person enjoys the gamble that is the allure of a ‘miracle in a bottle’ just as long as the first premise is met – LEGAL, SAFE, RELATIVELY TRUTHFUL…..

Whereas the marketing ethics – in my humble experience – comes at it with boots on and says

  1. Does it sounds good?
  2. Can we make money from it?
  3. Can we cover our ass if we need to?

and then they do it.

These days (I sound so old when I say that) anyone can start a brand without any prior knowledge or even interest in the product or market they are entering.  In fact right now with Instagram being so popular amongst the young and cash rich one could be forgiven for thinking that all you need to start a cosmetic brand is a wifi connection and an eye for social media marketing.  And you would be right to a point.  That isn’t to say that these brands don’t often go on to put in a lot of effort and learn a lot of valuable lessons but one lesson that is often missed is the one that spells out ‘how we do things around here’.  The law as it relates to the cosmetic brand.

Re-wind back to ethics of the everyday-person and we see that ‘legal’ is one of their conditions.  People rightly assume that when they are buying a brand it is being sold to them in a legal way and isn’t breaking any laws.

Well guess what?

The cosmetic industry has laws.

Here in Australia there isn’t a cosmetic law as such but we still have to abide by labelling and claims laws laid down by the ACCC especially when it comes to telling people what is in your product and telling people what your product will do. Oh and on top of that brands do have a legal requirement to sell products that are safe and fit for purpose.  Cosmetic purpose…..

For example claims that your product will cure or improve cellulite, acne,  rosacea, eczema or psoriasis are un-cool and illegal for a cosmetic brand here in Australia as these are therapeutic claims.

Secondly, the every-day person also expects a product to be safe and guess what?  A product isn’t safe just because you didn’t put parabens, mineral oil or SLS in it, no, safety is about micro, stability, toxicology and sometimes irritation testing

and as for the ‘relatively truthful’ bit it is surely a given that what you claim on the pack is backed at the very least by a smattering of relatable evidence that relates to your actual product and not some random trial of a skincare active on the cell culture of an albino mouse in a lab in Switzerland.

It disappoints me to see the very reasonable ethics of the ‘every-day’ kind of person taken advantage of. I get it that some brand owners don’t know there are rules when they start off but that excuse will only wear for so long.  However, it is the brands who consistently push the limits of legality even when they know the rules that do the most damage in the long-run and that sucks.

When one or two people flout the rules and get away with it in spectacular style it devalues the whole industry.

Which begs the question, why are brands getting away with it?

Why indeed……

Like so many others I have come to accept that marketing ethics are a ‘thing’ and it is not my job to play police woman here.

But what it is my job to do is to call it as I see it.

And empower the every-day person to see it too.

We deserve a world where we can indulge in our cosmetic fantasies without being ripped off and sold a product that doesn’t pass our own simple ethics test of being legal, safe and relatively truthful.

and then maybe brands that do invest in doing the right thing could shine.

Wouldn’t that be nice?

Amanda x

2 Comments leave one →
  1. aphraskye permalink
    August 21, 2015 7:03 am

    I like what you shared about ethics here Amanda, at the beginning where it’s so common for brands to tout something is true and will fix all just to make a buck. Perhaps it all about the motivation of those business owners to begin with, are they driven by profit and glamour or are they in it for the true good of the consumer, offering a product to support men and women (hey even kids). Can’t help but think if the intention is “off” from the beginning then the products will only ever carry this seed and not one of true support for the consumer. So end up are lathering our faces and bodies with a dose of greed and total disregard (add in the token vitamin c). Doesn’t sound like a healthy (well-being) way to me. Perhaps we can also look at us, the consumers that drive this demand by wanting the quick fix solutions at any cost? Do we stop and say, is this product going to satisfy my need or actually help me?

    • RealizeBeautyEd permalink*
      August 21, 2015 8:50 am

      Thanks for your feedback Aphra, Yes I think we all have to take a step back and look at our own values as it cuts both ways. I always find it refreshing when I meet brand owners that are open minded and excited by the science behind their products.

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