Thursday, January 29, 2009

loreal & love

i had a brief (all of 8-weeks) stint with mccann erickson working on loreal - loreal the mass market cosmetic/hair color brand, not one of their other brands  - and reading the current news about them, it seems obvious that their problem is the same one i thought i was hired to address. 
i met with a woman called carol hamilton who lives and breathes the loreal brand. 
and i told her the problem i saw (and who am i?) was that the brand was too cold. it was shiny, glam and slick looking but it didn't seem to love women.
or even really like them.
i thought that the on-a-pedestal idealized glossy view of a woman was great for haircolor. but it wasn't for skincare. because there you wanted love. you wanted intimacy, closeness, you wanted to believe it cared about you before you put it on your face.

if the brand cared about you, it had to act like it. 
like moving towards recycled or recyclable packaging, like being more transparent about the ingredients, like speaking to you in a way that was simple, comprehensible and said it believed you could have a more beautiful future.

and she said, "yes, you're right. i'd love to talk more about it."
my boss - or colleague - at mccann, the jagged and wired executive senior vp super-important account guy who hired me, agreed. for about 5 minutes.

in reality, no one was the least bit interested in what i thought. or in anything green. or in questioning the overall meaning and message of the brand. 

no time for big picture thinking - internal politics and strategy sapped everyone's energy.

in action, loreal had no love.

i adore kevin roberts and his lovemarks theory.
absolutely brilliant.
there are brands that inspire devotion by using stories, emotion and magic.
and loreal once had that. 
sometimes it still does.

but i think there is one missing piece. you love brands that love you back.

the funny thing is that as this economy gets worse, that core truth becomes more apparent. if you've only got one dollar in your pocket - who gets it? whoever actually likes you and cares about you even when your dollar is in their wallet.
so there are tons of brands that are lotharios and will tell you all kinds of pretty stories just to get into your pants' pockets. and if they are gorgeous enough, you will go along for the ride.
but only if you've got time and money to spare.
like teenage girls becoming women, we are starting to realize our power and value as consumers.

back again to loreal, when i started working for them, i did my research. loreal was started by a chemist called eugene schueller - by most accounts, he was a fascist supporter and an all round nasty guy. (read bitter scent by michael bar-zohar, amongst others). eugene made hair-dye that didn't harm your hair and reportedly turned in people to the nazis. 
since i believe the birth of a business infuses its soul, i was horrified.
a cute, young jewish copywriter working there, said, "but we're good people, right?"
at least, he seemed to love hair.

not a lot of love to start.

then i started working on the antiageing platform. 
and another bright young woman said, "oh it's so digusting this ad, trying to insinuate that a 60 year-old woman has sex! at that age, she shouldn't be thinking about men and sex."
i also noticed that there were no women over 50 around. (except for carol hamilton. if she is over 50. ) they talked about older models dismissively, "she has wrinkles ON her wrinkles."
i tried to say something about old being beautiful and was immediately shut up for even mentioning the "o-word"
no love lost for the ageing set.

we were presented with an intelligent approach to skincare. by the WRONG person. politically, that is. it was shot down. and everyone seemed to be doing everything in their power to make it go away.

no love for each other.

i asked about getting rid of external packaging. and using recycled and recyclable bottles.  i was politely told, "no."

no love for the planet. or our future.

i'd been moved by the story of the incredibly empowering line, "because i'm worth it," written by a recently-divorced young woman standing up for herself. almost like the secretary become copywriter in madmen, she reinvents herself.


but in today's world, the meaning goes from inspiring to self-centered and egotistical. 

and "because we're worth it" is just not believable.

even if the "we" refers to the brand.

the question is - can we bring back the LOVE? 
because without it, we're more unnecessary plastic on the shelf. 

and if we can't LOVE the consumer, our products and our future - do we deserve to exist?


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