Lost in Transition
by Drew Neisser

Okay, I admit it. I am not a metrosexual. I don't wear perfume--I mean cologne, manly musk or otherwise. I don't dye my hair even though it is nearly all gray. And heaven forbid, I use the same lotion for my face that I put I on my hands when winter forces me to care about either. But because this business often takes us to new places, I have of late spent a lot of time in cosmetics land. Reading women's mags, visiting retailers and even joining chatrooms, were just some of my stops on this adventure, all of which left me feeling very much like Bill Murray in Lost in Translation. Despite the help of numerous interpreters, the whole trip was a haze of confusion without resolution. This might be a fine metaphor for life and enough for an Oscar, but as a marketer left me wanting.

My journey began innocently at the newsstand, buying enough women's books to fill at least two Prada backpacks. "This should be great", I said to myself, expecting to see fresh marketing ideas or at least fresh to me since I hadn't cracked open most of these books since I was an AE on Lubriderm many years ago. But alas, nothing had changed, nor could I identify any new ideas. Nearly every ad featured the old stand-by formula: a beautiful model next to an array of gleaming boxes. Now I like looking at attractive women as much as the next reader, but with a beautiful woman on every page, am I to believe that Claudia Schiffer will actually inspire more women to buy L'Oreal than Inès Sastre will Lancome? Hoping that the copy would at least provide some semblance of differentiation, I was again struck by the similarities especially among the two category leaders with Estee Lauder "defining beauty" and Lancome saying "believe in beauty". My interpreters offered little solace, saying "what's your problem, everyone knows beauty sells beauty, so get on with it."

So I got on with it, continuing my adventure by invading the cosmetics floors at Saks and Bloomingdales with the cosmeticians, the recreational shoppers and the desperately seeking rejuvenation. Ever-lasting beauty was only a bottle away but what about trial-generating, loyalty-building, advertising-extending brand experiences? Not a chance. Sure you can get a lovely makeover from Shana at the Stila counter but she's a carbon copy of Cindy at Chanel. They all look great to me and therein lay my consternation. How is a brand to stand out in this mass of sameness and equally important, how is the target, assuredly not me, to make her choice?

More lost than ever, I was determined to find some new insight for cosmetics marketers or die trying. This led me to the Internet, where I was seemingly the last to discover MakeUpAlley.com. MakeUpAlley is Malcolm Gladwell's Tipping Point in action, where the hardcore "cosmetically addicted" can confer with kindred spirits, swapping stories, ratings and even product. Trespassing through the bulletin boards, this outsider was overwhelmed by the shear quantity of responses to such questions as "what is your HG pink blush?" or "can anyone compare Mac Orb to Samoa?" Unable to help with these questions, I thought about adding "don't you folks have anything better to do with your time?" but atypical restraint and a sudden realization took hold.

Cosmetics are to many women, what sports are to many guys. They are something you talk about, read about and share with friends. And while ads with beautiful models may be the price of entry, the future belongs to the brands that can generate the most buzz outside the retail environment, putting memorable samples in the right hands and helping the word spread. For high end cosmetic marketers to hit home runs, they are going to need to take the show on the road, both physically and virtually, creating a base of rabid fans that will champion the cause of branded beauty wherever they go. Without such 1:1 efforts, prestige brands risk getting lost in transition, hanging onto traditional marketing approaches while their younger target leaves them behind. And while Bill Murray ended up leaving his youthful Tokyo soul mate behind in Lost in Translation, this is not the ending of choice for the bursars of beauty.


Drew Neisser is the President & CEO of Renegade Marketing Group. Like a classic hand saw, Renegade Marketing has a distinctive knack for cutting through the baloney that impedes success. Renegade is a sanctuary for unconventional thinking, devoted to finding fresh approaches to age-old marketing problems.

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