Truth? You Can’t Handle The Truth. Cosmetic Marketing 101
This year has been tough for me professionally, something is changing and not in a good way. I hadn’t quite been able to put my finger on the end of this thread in order to weave it into a story but that all changed on Sunday.
Let me explain by taking you back to the beginning.
I started my consulting business in 2007 when blogging about cosmetic science was still something that very few people did. Sure there were the health food/ natural home-made skin care ‘gurus’ but very few people getting down and dirty with the science. After leaving my corporate shell I felt adequately qualified to take on this task – ten years in the cosmetic industry including time active in the UK’s Society of Cosmetic Scientists, The Australian Society Cosmetic Chemists and BACS (British Association of Chemical Specialties). I’d worked with everyone from multi-nationals to back-yard start-ups across Europe, Australia and into Asia and had received and given training to and with some of the largest chemical companies in the world.
While I never thought I was entitled to write what I wrote (and continue to write), never held the view that I should go unchallenged, be bowed down to or put up on a pedestal but I did think that my perspective, backed up as it was (and continues to be) would count for something and that my efforts to share this perspective would be somehow useful. That has proved to be the case and to this day I enjoy a large following of readers, readers who bring no direct benefit to my personal wealth (the way I have chosen to continue to act). I don’t offer advertising space on my website, don’t hide content unless people pay, don’t ask for donations and don’t write endorsements or advertorial. So basically I have very little reason to write anything other than what I see, experience and learn in the hope (active hope) that in doing that I might inspire debate, thought and action – actions that result in the advancement of cosmetic science as a legitimate scientific discipline. So there you have it, my motive is and always has been to be an enabler of science. Really sexy that.
So all of the above is just context, so you guys know where I’m coming from when I say what I’ve got to say next…..
Over the past year and a bit my interaction with wannabe brand owners has been changing a little as I alluded to above. In previous years I’ve been solicited for my opinion by many people eager to discuss real problems with a view to learning, exploring new avenues and producing better solutions for the market. These days I’m frequently being approached by people who have a different agenda in mind.
It has not been unusual for a prospective client to come to me with their mind already made up after hours, weeks or occasionally months of ‘research’ on the internet. I am only sounding slightly cynical about this at the moment because of what happens next. Researching on the internet or anywhere else for that matter is an absolutely fine thing to do. I’d do it, everyone does, there is nothing wrong with that.
So what does happen next?
Well I’ve been under the false illusion that my passion for the subject, the hours of work that goes into growing my own knowledge and the intricate understanding of ‘how the cosmetic industry works’ leads people to come to me for a learned (dare I say ‘expert’ opinion). Has their research lead them to the most scientifically valid conclusion, is their proposition as truthful as it could be, is there evidence to support their position, does their thinking stand up to scrutiny.
NO, that’s not what they are after.
So this is what’s happening. I’m finding that more and more people are not liking my ‘truth’ and would prefer bullshit.
My lightbulb moment came when listening to ABC Radio National on Sunday. The program was ‘Future Tense’ and the Subject was ‘Are our perceptions of honesty changing?’.
I kid you not, there is a Philosopher called Harry Frankfurt that works at Princeton University who has written a paper on Bullshit!!!!! He sounds like my kind of philosopher.
Basically the gist of the argument is this:
We no longer expect truth from people in power as they have a) often been found to have lied and b) believing them and then finding out it was a lie all along is upsetting and it is better to expect the worse and be less disappointed.
Lying involves an acknowledgement of the truth. People who choose to lie often do so while caring about the truth but wishing to hide it somehow.
The truth is irrelevant.
Bullshit becomes a brand philosophy, either consciously or not. People like Donald Trump are the epitome of Bullshit artists whose brand of public speaking relies on him spending more time in behind authentic to BRAND TRUMP than actually caring about the truth. So the fact that a larger than reasonable amount of statements he makes are factually incorrect is irrelevant just so long as he says them in his branded way. He is being an authentic bullshitter.
So how does this manifest in a cosmetic brand Vs Amanda scenario.
Firstly I don’t believe for one minute that the 99.5% of people I speak to are pure bullshitters that chose that in spite of knowing the truth. What I believe is more likely is that when in doubt people tend towards a ‘gut feeling’, being honest to their inner selves, intuition, what they FEEL is right. This is human and we all do it but it is the very thing us science people are taught to question and work through.
So the brand comes to me with a story that I immediately notice has some level of bullshit surrounding it. I point out the scientific truth (with reference data) as far as is possible, the brand screws up their face and then engages in some cognitive discourse over how this new and potentially conflicting information might actually fit into and support their pre-held views (Bullshit). I go on to explain that there is nothing wrong in theory with the brand ignoring some of what I’m telling them and BRANDING their products in the way that they currently favour but to at least acknowledge that what they are doing is MARKETING rather than SCIENCE. So, if their brand is to be scientifically authentic and their claims are to stand up to scientific scrutiny then maybe they should re-consider their positioning.
We go on like this for a while. I’m questioned thoroughly, I get the feeling that they think I’m lying or being awkward or somehow out of touch with what the market wants. I remind them that these days we go into a coffee shop for a single origin hand roasted coffee bean because we want good solid evidence that it is what it is and nothing more. They don’t make the mental link between the coffee bean and their brand. I respectfully explain that it is difficult to find really good information on Google because often it is the un-scientific opinion pieces that come up first, written by people who have no more experience than them but that still doesn’t cut through.
The conversation ends. Them leaving it confused and conflicted though (hopefully) not insulted.
I leave the conversation feeling as flat-as-a-pancake.
What is going on with the world?
And that’s why this year has been a tough one for me professionally.
To finish I’ll say this.
I am grateful for the opportunity to have these conversations with people starting their cosmetic brand journey and I as much as this general move to Bullshit (and I’m not immune, believe me) pains me I fully understand that the only choice we have in life is how we respond. I choose to respond to Bullshit with my definition of truth which is as follows:
My Truth (with regards to questions about cosmetic science): An appraisal of scientifically verified data relevant to the clients situation given the application and the market that the client is wanting to operate in.
I will then follow that up with my opinion which will take into account the human ‘touchy feely’ nature of the cosmetic market in order to make suggestions that are not only scientifically valid but that are also marketable and in keeping (at least to some degree) with the brand story.
Whether people choose to take that on or not is not up to me but the least I can do is give it my all.