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Allison O'Brien

Whitney Gilchrist

ENC 2135- Research Paper

24 April 2017

Deception: An analysis of cosmetic marketing to middle-aged adults

Big business makeup companies advertise the promotion of making women feel

beautiful while giving them a product that is going to give them outstanding results.

Whether it is skin care or makeup, they advertise that it is an amazing product with

wholesome ingredients- but how do we know that? How much do we actually know

about the cosmetics products that we are buying- are we, as a market, blindly subjecting

ourselves to potentially negative side affects of products that are potentially false

advertised. The cosmetic industry is a big business, whose main goal is to, of course,

make money, not to satisfy the consumer. With technology and Internet trends advancing

day in and day out, millennials are often quick to catch inconsistencies with the claims

that cosmetic companies make and the actual results. Middle-aged adults, however, are

typically not as quick to point out the things that dont make sense.

Have you ever heard of the term smoke and mirrors? That phrase goes hand in

hand with marketing and advertising to the mass population. Obviously not every product

is going to work the same or look the same on every person; we are all different.

Moreover, we all have different skin types (dry, oily, combination) and preferences. It is

quite impossible to please everyone- it is fair for a company to advertise their product as

miracle working or revolutionary if they truly believe the product meets the claims.

At the end of the day, we must remember it is a business and ultimately the company is
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trying to sell the product and make profit. However, it is unfair for the company to say

that the product will work for everyone, give false claims and/or exaggerate the benefits.

It is most common for companies to do campaigns with youthful models, but what about

the more mature customers? Obviously, a foundation isnt going to look the same on a

40 year old as it would on a 20 year old, and customers often forget to account for that. It

can be quite disappointing to envision something looking one way on you but it turns out

looking another way.

It is not uncommon for companies to over-Photoshop an advertisement campaign,

setting unreasonable expectations and goals for the product, making the resulting image

unattainable if you, as the customer, used the product. A company will set up a campaign

shoot advertising a specific product or a product line to promote the sale of said product

to the consumer; saying that the company edits the photos is a fair assertion to make, and

editing small imperfections to polish the campaign is not shameful. Contrarily, when the

original photo is unrecognizable in regards to the finished product the companys patrons

feel angered and dissatisfied. Grown adults go to work 8+ hours a day, working hard to

make a living. Surely, it can be quite frustrating to see an advertisement on a product that

makes impressive claims, but in reality is nothing but a letdown. As we mature in age, it

is natural to develop insecurities concerning wrinkling and sagging in the face and neck-

it just comes with the territory. Maturation is a delicate topic for many aging people, and

to feel as though there is nothing that can mask your aging, even when you pay the

expensive fees for the products, is disappointing.

On October 27th, 2013 a 37 second video was posted onto YouTube called

Photoshop makes anything possible depicting the manipulation of a womans picture

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from an average photo into a Barbie girl, in a Barbie world (Brown). Women idolized

the idea of looking like a Barbie doll, and the power of Photoshop fuels the fire of

unattainability. This is exactly what big shot companies rely on- the nave consumer.

Some see this level of excessive editing as being deceptive; enough so that the National

Advertising Division (NAD), a company that works in conjunction with the Better

Business Bureau, motioned to ban all use of Photoshop in cosmetic advertisements

(Brown). According to the Better Business Bureau NADs mission is to review national

advertising for truthfulness and accuracy and foster public confidence in the credibility of

advertising. The NAD works quickly and quietly while still ensuring fair and legal

litigation. Some see this level of excessive editing as being deceptive; enough so that the

National Advertising Division (NAD) motioned to ban all use of Photoshop in cosmetic

advertisements (Brown). This specific ban was suggested in response to a 2012 CoverGirl

ad featuring Taylor Swift in which the brand was advertising mascara, claiming that it

made the users eyelashes longer and thicker as well as stating that the mascara will

give 2X more volume(CoverGirl qtd. Brown). The NAD deemed the ad to be

deceptive, claiming, her [Taylor Swift] eyelashes were airbrushed to exaggerate the

effects of mascara. Eventually the NAD decided that the assertions made against

CoverGirl were valid, in turn forcing the hand of Proctor and Gamble into discontinuing

the ad, for it stood in contradiction to the primary message conveyed by the


Cosmetic companies seek out influencers, like Taylor Swift, to promote a product

to their platform by stating various positive attributes, even if these claims are false.

Typically cosmetic companies will pay public figures that have the capacity to have a
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significant influence on thousands, if not millions of people to advertise their product.

The Kardashian family has a major influence on millions of people; Kim, Kendall, Kylie

and Khloe are all in Instagrams top 10 most followed people list. Together they hold

over 30 million followers; they have the power to reach people all over the world and set

trends as easily as a simple post to any social media outlet. The Kardashians are known to

promote various products including cosmetics, fashion brands and tea companies. They

have such a strong following that anything that they promote will be followed by an

instant sell out of said product.

Not only do celebrities have a major say in whats hot or not, in recent years,

YouTube has been the up and coming place for beauty vloggers (video bloggers) to talk

about whats new in makeup, give tutorials and advertise their favorite brands. You tubers

with significant influence include people like Jaclyn Hill, MannyMUA and Desi Perkins

to only name a few. Manny Gutierrez, better known as MannyMUA is a male You Tuber

with close to 2.5 million subscribers. As a homosexual male who films videos about

makeup, he has come to inspire many LGBTQ+ people to be their authentic selves.

MannyMUA has collaborated with brands such as Make Up Geek, Ofra cosmetics and

Gerard cosmetics to create products for all of his fans to purchase. Manny has also

become the first male spokesperson for Maybelline, a major, affordable cosmetics brand.

These public figures have extremely dedicated followers who do not take their opinions

and recommendations lightly. Following the hype of the promotion video, it is not

unlikely that the product is going to be mass purchased and even sell out within days if

not hours. The negative aspect of this business deal between a cosmetic company and

influencers such as MannyMUA is the fact the Manny probably doesnt know much
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about the actual product itself. Manny will most likely make a video using the

merchandise, spreading the word via YouTube, without researching the ingredients of the


For a cosmetic product to be approved for production and sale, it must follow

certain guidelines in regards to ingredients used to create the product. According to

Giaccone et al, the authors in the International Journal of Analytical Chemistry, there

were instances in which cosmetics products were deemed illegal because they were

composed with corticosteroids, which, from a dermatology standpoint, are used to treat

skin disorders like psoriasis, dermatoses and eczema. (Giaccone et al.6). Consumers were

unknowingly purchasing these products and suffering intense side effects from what was

thought to be a normal and safe product. Blind, prolonged use of corticosteroids will

eventually cause skin atrophy- it should not be included in everyday products such as

makeup. Cosmetic products are not chiefly meant to be therapeutic or corrective in any

manner unless clearly stating so; in the interest of full disclosure, the presence of

glucorticoids should be outwardly noted to ensure consumers know what they are putting

on their faces.

The European Union is having a major issue with the lack of medical supervision

that they have within the union. There are illegal products for sale on then market that are

used for bleaching pigmentation spots and lightening skin tone which have forbidden

pharmaceutical agents including corticosteroids, hydroquinone and tretinoin (Demedt et

al). There is an apparent issue, but what is being done about it to protect the consumer?

The average consumer: 1. Is not a scientist, and probably doesnt know the difference

between any of the chemicals in the product that they are purchasing. 2. Probably doesnt
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even know what most of the chemicals are or what they each specifically do in the

product. 3. Is very likely to not even read the ingredient list because they just assume that

since the products are being sold, they are automatically safe and regulated

A survey was conducted in Malaysia in April of 2015 to ask the participants about

their perspective on cosmetic products in general. According to a journal by Ayob et al,

interviews were conducted face-to-face and lasted 15 minutes, all audio recorded for

accuracy and then later translated and transcribed. The demographic pool included 10

male participants and 20 female participants between 18 and 55 years old. There were 4

subtopics within the overall survey: Awareness of cosmetic products, Perceptions related

to cosmetic products, attitudes toward the use of cosmetic products and the personal

experience in using cosmetic products.

In theme 1, the awareness of cosmetic products, studies show that Malaysians

have very low awareness level of cosmetics, i.e. they arent keen on knowledge

concerning cleanliness and packaging. In this subtopic, they were asked about their skin

condition, with reference to the fact that the cleanliness (or lack there of) of cosmetics

can trigger skin conditions such as irritation or acne. The participants listed some of the

positive and negative affects that cosmetic products have in which they were aware of;

Positive affects were their appearance was enhanced, their skin became smooth, and the

color of their skin became brighter. Negative affects mentioned were pimples, dry skin,

skin rashes, and skin erosion. (Ayob et al)

In theme 2, perceptions related to cosmetic products, over 50% of the participants

had a positive view with regards to natural cosmetic products. They felt that the use of

natural products was much safer than the use of conventional cosmetic products, saying
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that even though it will take longer for their positive attributes to be implemented, at least

their skin is saved from negative affects like erosion. (In a similar yet unrelated study of

citizens of the town Jijjiga in Eastern Ethiopia, 44% out of the participants who had used

cosmetics in the previous 2 weeks had reported using herbal cosmetics.)

In theme 3, attitudes towards the use of cosmetic products, the majority of the

people interviewed did prefer to use natural cosmetic products, but they used

conventional products in their every day lives. They also said that in some circumstances,

the packaging or the brand name is a factor that influences purchases, and in a way sucks

them into consumption rather than the quality of the product.

In theme 4, personal experience in using the cosmetic products, out of the 20

females interviewed, 13 of them had experienced negative outcomes in conjunction with

using the product; breakouts and dryness were common complaints. One male participant

reported the use of facial wash that caused severe dryness, but eventually went away after

ceasing usage of the product.

In researching the various aspects of the cosmetic industry, one thing was evident

to me-- in some way, shape or form the cosmetic industry is always pulling one over on

the consumer. Whether it be falsifying the products capability or hiding the ingredients

that are actually in the product because they are illegal or something that the average

person would never voluntarily put on their face, one thing remains. Deception. As

consumers in the cosmetic industry, we must take it upon ourselves to stop the companies

that we show our patronage to from taking advantage of us for being naive. These

companies dont deserve our business anymore- if we stop giving them our money,

eventually they will go out of business. There are so many small, independent brands that
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offer safe, quality products companies like Burts Bees, Au Naturale and Herbivore all

offer products with natural ingredients that actually serve to be beneficial for you to put

onto your face. These types of brands, the ones with the customers best interest in mind,

are the ones that deserve our patronage. As long as we all take charge, we wont be

deceived out of our hard-earned money any longer.

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