Note: This post was written way back in December 2012. I did not feel comfortable posting it then. But Coco’s post over at The Beauty Milk on current FTC rules inspired me to post this and not let it languish. Reading her post reminded me of certain things that were irritating me at the time, which I have largely moved on from, but I figured it is worth posting now. Kudos to whoever actually reads all of it.
When I finally decided to start my blog, I had one nagging question which I still haven’t fully come to terms with. The question of the overall vibe of this blog. Would I be a cosmetic pollyanna? Or would I be a beauty shrew? Sounds really extreme but you get the idea.
Ultimately, one of the things I love about beauty blogs are people’s genuine opinions. If you are reviewing a product, doesn’t it make sense to provide a written review that accurately reflects your feelings and thoughts on the product? However, isn’t a review more useful when it does not devolve into an emotional rant that is basically comprised of exclamation points and ALL CAPS, with the emphasis basically saying THIS SUCKS! IT’S HORRIBLE! TOTAL WASTE! NEVER AGAIN! You get the idea.
When it came down to the tone I have taken with my posts, it has alternated between a mishmash of pollyannism, shrewism and neutrality. This makes sense. Some products I love because they are effective. Others have been absolutely awful and did not meet the expectations created and advertised by the brand. Then there are the neutrals – the products that kind of work, not necessarily very well, but they don’t have much impact, positive or negative.
Within the blogging world, I know there is a skew towards positivity. This makes sense for a number of reasons. First, positivity is POSITIVE! Who wants negative energy? Who really wants to create it? No one does! Second, this goes to public perception. Who wants to be “perceived” as negative? Third, if you want to build a PR friendly environment where you may eventually start to cultivate brand relationships, this is pretty much necessary. If you want a promotion at your job, are you going to start criticizing your supervisor even if they are making bad judgement calls or decisions? NOPE! These are all rational and reasonable points to remain strictly positive.
This can be hard to achieve unless you ONLY CHOOSE to blog about products you LOVE! This is fair. Only blog about what you think is absolutely awesome and you never have to post a negative review. It doesn’t take away anything from a blog to only blog about what you love. But this pollyannaism gets tricky when you start blogging about things you don’t really like. And believe it or not, I can read between the lines and so can everyone else.
There are so many awesome blogs out there. But I hate when I fall in love with a blog, check daily to read it, and I start to realize that they are releasing like over 90% product showcase with some tepid endorsement. Or they NEVER have negative comments about any product. Product showcases are ok. You don’t have to endorse it. If these tepid endorsements lasts long enough, then they basically fall out of my daily reads. I am no longer interested in what they say. What’s the point? Blah, blah, product literature, blah, blah, brief unconvincing anecdote, blah, blah, tepid endorsement, blah, blah.
I’m ok with product placements without the tepid endorsement. But if I wanted product placements, I can easily flip through magazines, go to Sephora for the real deal, or head on over to INTOTHEGLOSS. Oh wait, I already do! And enjoy it. I get it. But blogs, I feel are different. Why check so many blogs talking about the same products if it isn’t to get someone’s opinion on it. I love getting opinions. Whether they are all the same, or conflicting. It is all very informative and entertaining since, hopefully, you have added “yourself” in there. I like knowing why someone likes something, why they hate it. Someone hating a product isn’t going to kill it for me. Someone loving it isn’t going to sell it to me. But how you put yourself in there does. I love the stories behind the experience.
I know a huge part of the problem is the dynamic between blogs that are trying to establish a professional relationship and beauty brands only wanting positive endorsements. Beauty brands are deathly afraid of negative comments, especially ones that could kill a multi-million dollar launch. Most beauty products, especially the “new” releases aren’t really meant to be sold long term before they are shelved, repackaged with a new name and incremental improvement in the ingredient list. Those first few months of launch, when people are insane for the newness, probably make up the bulk of sales before it peters off and the real strengths, or weaknesses, of the product are known. I think it takes years, due to word of mouth, for blockbuster products to be known and secure a long term shelf life as a beauty brand asset. Wouldn’t beauty brands benefit from genuine commentary regarding the pros and cons of their products? Maybe, maybe not. I know it’s a long term, brand building view, as opposed to a quick revenue view.
I for one LOVE beauty products in all of their permutations. I love the individuality, the stories, the philosophies, the visions, the packaging – for the brands who have taken the time to develop a cohesive story. But it also needs to be effective. No great story is going to sell a crappy product. If it works, it works. I don’t care if it comes in an ugly plain cream bottle with a cheap twist off cap. Ok, maybe I do, a little, and it will annoy me, but I will still buy it. Sometimes, when I think of all the possibilities, I get annoyed with the seaming lack of creativity, ingenuity, and vision in some beauty brands. New skincare lines, for the most part, are pushing into new territories even though we may not know how effective that new ingredient is, but at least there is an interesting angle, permutation. But I am really deflated about the lack of ingenuity, creativity, and vision some beauty brands are showing. Sometimes, I wonder if I am asking too much, and just don’t know enough about the business to know the limitations inherently within. But then I think, this is beauty – make believe turned real. To hell with limitations, give me the fantasy!
I know the beauty industry is a very profitable, multi-billion dollar industry, where advertising and marketing suck up the majority of investment to the tune of hundreds of millions of dollars spent, perhaps in a single parent global company. I know this money is mostly made off of illusion and desire, rather than reality (for the most part), but if I am asking you to sell me a beautiful dream then you better make sure that dream has some legitimate legs to stand on. All the beautiful packaging, underage models, photoshopping, dubious exotic ingredients, and social media spamming in the world, won’t save a sucky product, no matter how much I want to believe. And if beauty brands want to truly benefit from social media, then they will encourage the free flow of information and stories from their customers, the most zealous of which are probably bloggers. This includes the negative stories, as well. Because if you are truly interested in getting our dollars and keeping our dollars, then it makes sense to figure out what it is we want, how we want to packaged, what colors we are dying for and how we want it sold to us. Even if what we want is not realistic given the profit margin (which is HUGE btw but I guess money does have to be spent on marketing and advertising), it can inspire ingenuity in how to meet us in a different way.
We WANT to spend our money on beauty products. Taking a hit on a product, being open to dialogue, and being responsive to it, may actually have a positive effect in the long run, like having an over-zealous buyer base that realizes they are PART of the beauty brand experience. This kind of customer base is the holy grail of customer bases. Companies and their brands can only dream about a base like this, especially as beauty customers become more sophisticated in their understanding of beauty marketing, packaging, ingredients and efficacy.
*The photo above is of the book Beauty Imagined: A Global History of the Beauty Industry written by Geoffrey Jones. It is completely fascinating and if you are into perfumes, this is a great book to read as the start of the commercialization of beauty began with perfumes.