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  • Matt Burke

How beauty brands can tell the science story

This article appeared in Cosmetics Business magazine.

There's science hiding inside every cosmetic product, so what can you do to bring your brand's technical story to life? Science and beauty have always been inextricably linked. But it is only in recent years that the consumer has sought to fully understand product formulations as their desire for transparency and healthy choices grew. Here, Matt Burke, Creative Director at branding agency Almighty Brands, talks to Cosmetics Business about how consumers are on the quest for the truth about the ingredients in their products and why brands need to leave patronising marketing in the past.

“The problem with science is it’s complicated. We haven’t all got PhDs in biochemistry. But it underpins many of the products we buy today, from tech to food to beauty. In a bid to compete in the market, brands try to explain to customers why their science makes their product better. But is this baffling or helpful?"

Removing the clichés of past

In the technology-fuelled 1980s and 1990s, science was in vogue and the mere mention of a magic ingredient like Pantene Pro-V was enough to drive sales. However, consumers soon became wise to the marketing formula and sceptical of the validity of some of the claims. New and shiny alone wasn’t good enough. In 2008, the face of L’Oreal Jenifer Aniston declared: “Here comes the science bit—Concentrate!” It became a cliché. And brands learnt that they needed to earn a deeper level of trust.

Informed and empowered

Today, we’re in an interesting place. Customers are more informed than ever and they’re used to doing their own research online via blogs and forums. Skin care enthusiasts are happily engaging with the scientific names of ingredients. Dubbed ‘skintellectuals’, they know their retinol from their hyaluronic acid, and are sceptical of empty claims around miracle effects. They want to know the evidence.

Dermalogica and Clinique established a science-led category through associating the brands with dermatologists and professional practitioners. More recently, we’ve seen NIOD (Non Invasive Options in Dermal Science) take the focus on science to an extreme. This brand uses unfiltered scientific language as product descriptors and minimal design that puts the focus on the facts. This isn’t about blinding with science, it’s about flattering customers by assuming they understand the technical bit.

A question of health

But there’s something else going on in the beauty category too, related to perceptions of technology. Customers are increasingly worried about the safety of skincare products. Even if they believe efficacy claims, they are questioning whether the ingredients actually good for wider skin health. It’s a trend that’s happening in parallel in the food industry. Ingredients are demonised as toxic, and it is commonplace to see packaging declaring ‘no parabens’ or ‘no silicone’. In line with the clean-eating trend, there’s an interest in products that are simple and natural. Tata Harper promises next generation beauty that’s 100% natural and non-toxic while Susanne Kaufman draws on ‘the healing powers of nature’. The trend for ‘natural’ undermines consumer appetite for scientific and functional as the primary benefit.

So where does this leave science?

The good side of science

We spent a year working with the scientific team and founders of Good Science Beauty to develop its proposition, from name to packaging and online content. The interesting thing about this brand is that it’s introducing a new technology to the category. It uses Silicon particles as a carrier for active ingredients and promises to be both effective and in sync with the body’s natural processes. This brand has a foot in both camps, scientific and kind.

Balancing human and tech stories.

We knew the brand needed to be rooted in science but engage the modern beauty customer too. It came down to three things: clarity, personality and individuality.

1. Clarity

It is important not to mystify the customer. But let’s not patronise them either. We wanted to tell the science story in a way that was accessible but not dumbed down. This principle guided the choice of a straightforward name: Good Science Beauty. Icons are helpful too, as long as the message is genuine. Yes, this is ‘the science bit’. But we really did have something new and interesting to explain. There’s room for explainer content on digital platforms so no need to tuck it away in the small print.

2. Personality

A glut of clinically-styled brands might be in danger of looking samey. We wanted to build a deeper personality and a relationship with customers beyond the science. We wanted to express a progressive attitude, a sense of being non-judgemental and on the customer’s side. We talk about the people behind the business in communications and use language with passion. Being ‘good’ – whether that’s effective or responsible – is cooked-in to the name, so there is a human dimension that balances out the tech.

3. Individuality

Beauty brands must explain the science while avoiding tired clichés. Our aim was to make the graphics stylish and distinctive. The visual assets are simpler than the glossy science of yester-year and this fosters recognition of the brand.

Our conclusion? Science will always be an important part of many brand propositions. The key is in gauging customer appetite for detail while ensuring the brand is authentic in its messages and makes the story its own.”

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