Skin Care Product Advertisements – Science vs. Nature

How do cosmetic companies choose to brand themselves? When I was flipping through a catalogue with beauty products, I couldn’t help but notice that the ads were divided into two camps. About half of the advertisements were showing off their new groundbreaking technology, and the other half were talking about their closeness to mother nature.  Even without reading any of the texts, it was very easy to divide all of the ads into two groups.

Click the image to see a larger version

In this post, I’m going to take a closer look at the ads that I found in the catalogue, to see how the brands are trying to appear. To make things simple, I call the two groups science ads and natural ads.

I have focused on ads for skin and hair care products in the tax free catalogue. I considered including the makeup ads, but they were not as clearly divided as the skin care products so I simply left them out this time. So I took every ad for skin and hair care ad from the catalogue – 15 in total – and I separated the ads into those that focus on nature and those that focus on research. I was quite surprised to see that each and every one of the 15 advertisements fit either category remarkably well. I put 7 advertisements in the ”science” category – Clarins, Kanebo, Clinique, Estée Lauder, Biotherm, Dr Brandt and Lóreal. The following 8 brands fit the natural category: Lumene, Body Shop, Ren, L’occitane, Weleda, Trind, XL and Boreas. These are all the advertisements from the catalogue:

Even from a quick look, it’s easy to tell that there’s a big difference between the way these ads look. The upper ones use dark backgrounds and cool colors such as blue, while the lower ads use a lot of green, and white or light backgrounds. The pictures in the science ads are studio photos, the portraits show serious looking women, more model-like. The natural pictures on the other hand have a lot of landscapes, and the women in the pictures are more laid-back, laughing and in a nature environment.

Another kind of interesting thing is that all of the science ads focus on one specific product – a skin cream or serum. The natural ads are not only more general advertisements for the brand, the brands in themselves are also more varied. Boreas is a specific foot care brand, Trind makes nail care products and XL is a hair care brand.

So let’s take a look at what they’re actually saying in the ads. The natural ads have a bit less text, in general, and some of them are in Finnish+Swedish (the local languages), while all of the science ads are in English.

I picked out some keywords from both sides, and needless to say, the two groups were very different. The more science-based advertisements used words like technology, formula, serum, promised visible results in x number of weeks. And most recurrent was the statistics – ”a 58% improvement in 12 weeks”.

Here, let me put that in a word cloud for you.


Keywords used in research-focused ads

A few of these ads also added a bit of natural terminology into the mix. Most prominent is Kanebo (the ad to the far right) which uses keywords such as mother ocean and natural substances in addition to keywords such as technology and efficiancy. However, the look of the advertisement completely fits the other science ads.

The natural ads turned out to be somewhat more sparse in the variation of keywords, and also there was less text on each ad, in general. The two words that came up most were (surprise, surprise) nature and natural, but there was also a lot of focus on fair trade and human rights. More so than a focus on organic, actually.


Keywords in natural ads

So here you go – a scratch on the surface on hoe cosmetic companies market their products. Most of this wasn’t very surprising, but it’s nice to have the results down on paper. What surprised me the most were that each single one of the ads in the catalogue fit either category really well. It’s clear that the companies see two target groups, where one puts their trust in modern research, and the other one in the power of natural substances.

To take this further, it would be very interesting to actually examine how different these products are, considering ingredients and environmental impact. My theory is that they are in fact not all too different, when you start digging in to it, and it’s mostly a question of branding. I will most probably not get deeper in to that though, so anyone who finds this interesting is very welcome to take this further.

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