On the face of it

Is hiring a big name all it takes to ensure a platinum-selling beauty product these days, or in a world where celebrity is now an elastic concept, is it a harder sell? Kirstie McDermott finds out.

STEVEN SEAGAL’S lightning bolt. Hulk Hogan cheeseburgers. Limoncello, by Danny DeVito. Sylvester Stallone high protein pudding: those are products celebs endorse in their own country.

For the stuff they’re embarrassed about, they go to Japan, where Sean Connery hawked yoghurt, Brad Pitt shook his ass to flog jeans, Harrison Ford sold Kirin beer, and, for Tsumura, Dennis Hopper got in a bubble bath with a rubber duck.

A big celebrity face can have mass appeal. The idea is not new: L’Oréal Paris used actress Joanne Dusseau 40 years ago in the first Preference hair colour adverts and Isabella Rossellini fronted Lancôme for 14 years from 1982. With the definition of celebrity becoming more elastic, attention spans are halving by the month. Hundreds of products launch each week to divide our notice further, so is that investment worthwhile for a beauty brand — and do we even believe that Liv Tyler washes her hair with Pantene?

“Celebrity endorsement gives a supposed validation and credibility to the brand or product,” says Ellie Balfe, make-up artist and acting beauty editor for Image magazine.

“It generates a feeling of trustworthiness and faith in the brand — rightly or wrongly,” she says.

Jane Cunningham, the woman behind the razor-sharp, up-to-the-minute British Beauty Blogger, says. “I actually quite like the Cheryl Cole endorsements and think it’s a clever move by L’Oréal Paris, because, along with her face, Cheryl brings a literal army of fans who will dye their hair that colour, or wear that lipstick simply because it has a Cheryl connection.”

For L’Oréal Paris, the Girls Aloud singer’s involvement has been worth it. “Without a doubt, Cheryl Cole has been the most successful face,” says Anne Gallagher, senior product manager for L’Oréal Paris in Ireland. They get bang for their buck if the face works, as it does in Cole’s case — she offers admiring fans an easy way to get her looks on a reasonable budget.

That’s all well and good for a beauty behemoth like L’Oréal Paris, one of beauty’s ‘big five’ conglomerates — cash-rich. But what if your pockets aren’t quite so deep?

“As a launching pad, you couldn’t have a better advantage to have a famous, well-respected face behind it,” says Rachel Kavanagh, owner of Irish beauty brand, Rockstar Tan. “But for repeat sales and to establish a lasting brand, the product you are selling has to perform and have results. No famous face can maintain longevity without it.”

It’s a refrain echoed by Ellie Balfe. “People will be curious to see what the product is like and if they, too, can in fact have skin like Julia Roberts. The reality is frequently a little different and people are very beauty-savvy these days, so if a product doesn’t actually perform, they won’t repurchase.”

Reality TV has changed the idea of fame. “With society’s obsession with celebrity, we are only going to see more and more product endorsements,” says Kavanagh, and we’re seeing items like Lauren’s Way tan being launched off the back of TV shows like The Only Way is Essex. Model Georgia Salpa recently debuted a line of heavily branded lashes and nail wraps.

Scent is massive for celebrity profiteering too. Taylor Swift, Justin Bieber, Katy Perry, Britney Spears and Kim Kardashian have launched or added to their fragrance portfolios. It doesn’t matter that sometimes the juice inside is a vanilla-sugar-soaked chemical assault — as long as the ‘sleb’ name is stamped in place and the price-point is right, it’ll sell like hotcakes to the masses.

“I do think this will eventually stop paying off, as the market will just become saturated with cheap, under-performing products,” says Kavanagh.

If a brand is savvy, given diminishing returns in a beauty market awash with famous faces and a sceptical buying public, they’ll look to shorter-term collaborations.

Mac is brilliant at this trick. Signing one or two famous faces a year to front its Viva Glam AIDS campaign — this year its Nicki Minaj and Ricky Martin — everything else the brand does celebrity-wise is geared to short-term limited-edition hookups.

These headline-grabbing, high-fashion alliances are always quirky and on the zeitgeist: recent collaborations have included bonkers couture lover and socialite, Daphne Guinness, star product designer, Marcel Wanders, and Gossip singer, Beth Ditto. To come? Chanel supremo Karl Lagerfeld and ex-French Vogue editor Carine Roitfeld are both on stream for autumn.

Topshop is following the short-term suit with a collection created by UK designer, Louise Grey, which lands later this summer, and Artdeco, a relatively unknown German make-up brand, is cleverly effecting a metamorphosis-style transformation, thanks to a super-clever collection with burlesque star Dita Von Teese.

The ‘face’ of collaboration will change as brands broaden their horizons. In the US, Estée Lauder recently signed blogger Emily Schuman, from Cupcakes and Cashmere, to endorse their products.

As an antidote to clueless reality TV stars, we’re likely to see more beauty pros fronting products they can stand by. “I believe that experts in their fields will be used more and more to front new brands, especially in beauty,” says Kavanagh. Dermatologists and science advisors will endorse brands in a bigger way.

Balfe says the power of the web is the way forward. “I think marketing has so many channels and new ideas that a small brand can be clever with their imagery and what and how they release to the press. If they are very social media savvy, that will assist them further than hiring the huge star.” Mac are checking online for opportunity, in 2011 releasing a Blogger’s Obsession collection with well-known beauty bloggers, including Temptalia and Make Up and Beauty Blog.

If the right face doesn’t work, then, based on the popularity of beauty blogging, that real-woman experience does: don’t be surprised if your favourite brand crowdsources opinion via social media channels for its next big campaign.


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