Communicating Anti-Aging Beauty Products

Dr Vikram Kaushik*
Dr Pragya **
Sonal Bansal***

Beauty is not the hue and glow of right,
Nor for man’s pleasure given.
Even Hell itself is beautiful at night
From the far windows of Heaven.

 Alfred Hitch

Introduction

Stories of ‘once there were beautiful fairies with tremendous powers’ are told to almost every child from generation to generation. Girl child is groomed with Cinderella belief that it’s the beauty that will make them live happily ever after.

Indian mythology is full of colour complex where Lord Krishna often asks Yashoda why Radha kyoun Gori Main kyoun Kala. Lord Shiva and Lord Rama always fought dark- skinned demons.

Such beliefs created stereotypes in the minds of the religious followers. Social historians hypothesize that first the defeat of the indigenous dark-skinned Dravidian people at the hands of the lighter skinned foreigners, the Aryans, and then the British influenced the minds of millions of Indians that fair skin signifies superiority, dominance and power while dark skin represents the weaker and inferior masses. Light skin thereby emerged as a vehicle for shifting one’s social status from the side of the oppressed to that of the more powerful oppressor. (Natasha Shevde 2008)

The perception about the colour of the skin is not only prevalent in India but is universal. Black women slaves who were lighter skinned and had features that were associated with other races like straight hair and had European facial features tended to be housemaids and the black women with darker skin, kinky hair and broad facial features tended to be slaves on the field. In light of the existing youth culture and beauty ideals, women perceive the appearance of facial wrinkles and other visible signs of skin aging as a threat to their identity, sense of social currency and self-esteem (Clarke 2002). Poor women, particularly if coloured, have poor health and receive less adequate health care than the majority of women in this society. They experience higher rates of infant mortality, problems during pregnancies and higher death rates and face many other health risks besides AIDS (Mc Nair  Roberts 1997)

Beauty and Business

The obsession for white skin is not a taboo issue anymore. Marketers were the first to commercially exploit it and justify it. Marketers use beautiful women to endorse cars and bikes. Even editors and advertisers have joined marketers. They consider women as ornaments and think that they should be viewed in the same way as cool cars.

Aspiring models and actress are stressed and pressurized to be Barbie-like eye candies rather than be an intelligent and emotional person. Eminent ad guru Prahlad Kakar considers intelligence as an added advantage but the model must have artistic body to be on the cover page. Opinion like these set the ground rules for the new entrants. Films like Page Three and Fashion highlight the ultimate pressure on women to look beautiful in order to be successful.

The basic ingredients of being beautiful set by the glamour industry are perfect figure, fair skin and youthfulness. Business worth billions of dollars is done on beauty enhancing and age-defying products targeted at women and young girls. Marketers have created a false reality that if you do not look young and fair you will be ignored by your very own people. Women and girls who have dark complexion are constantly judged critically by others, not the women and girls who are fair. Lamentably, advertisements have also sent a fundamental message that if you are young and fair the chances of your employ ability and success increases exponentially.

Advertisers choose careful words to avoid trouble with the censor board but hook innocent girls with alluring taglines like age miracle, gravity defying, reversing damage, delay or slow down aging, age protection, regenerate, look ten years younger, perfect radiance, rosy fairness, time reversing, skin firming, skin repairing, white night cream, skin renewal, age miracle, white glow, age protect, anti ageing skin, whitening and brightening, winkle lift, forever glow, superior faster lasting fairness, white beauty, advance fairness, anti-puffiness, prevent darkness, and premature ageing, miracle skin, perfactor, reduce line and imperfection, healthy white sparkling glow, dark spot reduction, advance whitening, 10x whitening, white glow lotion, anti spot, and total glow etc. Advertisers are very adept at addressing the insecurities of every group and their self-esteem by providing solutions for staying young and defying the aging process.     

Age defying practices are becoming increasingly normal and regarded as natural requirements. From the consumption of hair coloring products, hair loss remedies, skincare products, non-cosmetic surgical procedures to cosmetic surgery, the desire to control the process of aging has been translated into a multimillion dollar industry (Thompson and Hirschman 1995). Contemporary consumer culture views apparent body aging as problematic and falls for the market solutions to the problem (Coupland 2007), especially the women customers.

The proliferation of anti-aging products and services and the development of medico-technical possibilities marketed to diminish signs of skin aging have made women increasingly believe that they can to a large extent stem the signs of passage of time using an array of products and services ranging from moisturizing creams and facials to drastic procedures such as surgery (Rana Sobh 2008) and botox treatments. Becoming invisible in the dating and mating game appears to be the most concerning issue that dreaded middle aged women strive to avoid. This comes as no surprise in a culture that places so much emphasis on appearance and equates youthfulness with beauty and seduction and their loss with deficiencies in femininity and sexuality (Scrift 1994)

In old days anti-aging products and beauty creams were meant for housewives or women looking for a partner. However when women came out of their homes and started  competing with the male it was the same marketers that told them that to become successful they need to be beautiful, physically perfect as well as fair. (Michael Shally Jensen 2009).

During the industrial era feminism was not a trait to flash around. By embracing male attire and minimum makeup the working women camouflaged womanhood or compromised personal traits to satisfy male egos. But with liberalization and women empowerment people started witnessing feminine presence in the corporate world and places of power.

More attention is now paid to the physical attractiveness than intelligence. Markus and Tanya concluded in their study that physically attractive workers are more confident and higher confidence increases wages. Employers further conclude that physically attractive workers have oral communication and social skills. Invariably such approach put pressure on the women to be competitive besides being beautiful. Women at large look upon fashion and beauty magazines to keep a tab on the latest products available. In the present context fashion and beauty editors act as symbolic encoders and play a pivotal role in defining and sanctioning the ideals of beauty. These cultural gatekeepers are instrumental in framing standards of beauty by virtue of the models they choose (Solomon, Ashmore & Longo 1992).

Many marketers however ignore the feminist implications and concentrate on the convincing effect of advertising and the power of product image. Their focus is on how to blend female endorsement characteristics such as gentleness, elegance, sexiness and perhaps even coquettishness with the optimal product image in order to maximize the amount of attention given to a product. (Bloch and Richins (1992), Courtney and Whipple (1983) Kahle and Homer (1985). It is hard to find good advertisements that encourages women especially young ones to strike a balance between real beauty and apparent beauty.

Good advertisements in recent visual media are like magic mirrors in fairy tales. Advertisers try to convince women that one of their major responsibilities is to remain magically young and attractive forever by purchasing the correct products and services. Most manufacturers are careful not to promise miracles. If the reader is not careful the message starts to sound as if real changes in the texture of the aging skin will occur. This product says only that it makes fine lines seem to disappear. Seem is the operative word which clearly plays on their fears of aging and abandonment.( Waters & Ellis, 2013)

Since the launch of fairness cream in 1978 it has been evident that the advertising strategy would rest on a core pillar that exploited the existing social stigmas associated with darkness. Two key factors, advertising and Bollywood, have played influential roles in the commoditization of fairness products making it possible for them to perform a host of cultural tasks. It is mostly fair skinned people who are commanding maximum box office collection. Now the market has shifted its gun towards male fairness as well. But the big question that arises here is why do people fall prey to advertisers? Most images of women in advertising do not correspond to real women, yet they spend considerable amount of their earnings in something that is actually not their need. 

Prophet Isaiah questioned, “Why do you spend your money for that which is not bread and the fruit of your labour for that which does not meet your needs” over 2600 years ago.  For the modern buyer the answer might simply be, “Because a fool and his money are soon parted” Or Kehl (1983) phrased it as “You spend your hard-earned money on illusory commercial promises just as you buy deceptive political propaganda because you are functionally illiterate, never having learned to read an ad”. The public buys its opinions as it buys its meat or takes its milk on the principle that it is cheaper to do this than to keep a cow (Kehl 1983).

Objectives

  • The study was conducted with the following objectives
  • To know the understanding of women towards key words used in anti-aging beauty product.
  • To know the perception of women towards anti-aging beauty products.
  • To know the perception of women towards anti-aging beauty product advertisements
  • To know the socio-psycho imprints of anti-aging beauty products

Methodology

The researchers have used the survey technique for this study, selecting 163 women respondents through a prominent beauty saloon in Hisar, Haryana. The researchers visited the beauty saloon during the June-July 2013 and administered questionnaire to those who voluntarily agreed to get interviewed.  

Data Analysis

Figure one is about the age and education of the respondents. The majority of the respondents were either in the 20-30 years age group (66) or between 31-40 years group (69). More than four-fifths of the respondents were at least graduates and one-third of them were post graduate professional degree or diploma holders. Eighty-two per cent of the women were married and more than four-fifths of the married women were at least graduates Thirty six per cent married women were homemakers forty six per cent of the married women were working and 13 of unmarried women were students. One-third of the respondents were less exposed and an equal number of the respondents had a higher exposure to TV commercials whereas two-fifths of the women were moderately exposed to TV commercials

Anti-Aging Cream Commercials

Two-thirds of the women (108) successfully recalled that they have seen the advertisements of anti aging beauty products in various magazines. Maximum recall was observed from the age group of less than thirty years (45) and less than forty years (43).

Thirty per cent (50) of the women under 30 years of age have frequently seen the TV commercials and one-fourth of women less than forty years have also frequently seen the TV commercials. On the other hand one-fourth (41) of the respondents claimed that they have never seen these advertisements on TV.

Approximately, two-thirds of the married women claimed to have seen the anti-aging commercials in magazines and on television. However when married women were asked to recall the celebrities who were endorsing the advertisements only one-fourth of them were able of recall it correctly whereas the same figure in case of unmarried women was one-third.

Table-1

  CROSS TABULATION Pearson
ChiSquare
Value
df sig
A education of the respondents
& exposure to anti ageing
commercials in magazines
48.163 4 0
B education of the respondents
& exposure to anti aging
commercials on TV
50.128 8 0
C occupation of the respondents
&  exposure to anti ageing
commercials in magazines
28.722 2 0
D occupation of the respondents
&  exposure to anti ageing
commercials
11.901 4 0.018

Exposure to anti-aging cream advertisements increases with education. It is indicated from the graphs that up exposure in magazines to such commercials remain more or less the same (16) up to the post-graduate level but it increases (28) sharply with higher professional qualifications. The same trend is noticed in case of exposure to TV commercials with a slight decline in post-graduate respondents. Both the relations are significantly associated (Table 1AB).

Table1c Graph 3 shows that within working women exposure to anti-aging products is nearly 85 per cent, within students it is 70 per cent and within homemakers it is 40 per cent. The explanation behind this trend is the extensive media planning and fundamental need of women to look beautiful and admirable when they step outside their homes. These women frequently visit the beauty saloons and parlors where they are exposed to many fashion and lifestyle magazines.

More than ninety-five percent (Graph 4) of the women have seen the advertisements of anti- aging products on TV. It is evident that irrespective of their occupation TV remains the most powerful tool of delivering the message.

Table – 2

Cross tabulation of variables age occupation and education with the different terms  used in anti-aging advertisements

*C=Correct, PC=PartiallyCorrect, IC=Incorrect Correct

Key Words in Anti-Aging Beauty Products

It is clear from Table 2 that when it comes to the awareness of the terms used by the advertisers to differentiate their product it is perceived differently by the different age groups of the respondents. It indicates that young women do correctly understand some of the words used in advertisements, especially where direct approach is used like anti- wrinkle (50%). But the comprehension declines as a more complex terminology is used like gravity-defying (43) or cellregen(21). Broadly, one-third of the young women (20-40 years) do understand the words used to defy the anti-aging process.

Profession of women is a major factor in understanding the different terminology employed by the advertisers of anti-aging products. The observation is supported by Table2 where exposure among the student and working women is comparatively more than the homemaker. But the term Gravity-Defying seems to be incomprehensible even among working women. Only 13 per cent of the women correctly understood it whereas students and homemakers drew a complete blank about its meaning. However, nearly one-third of the working women were not so confident about understanding the term gravity-defying. Words like Age Miracle are not alien to students. More than ninety per cent of the students were correctly able to tell its meaning against only five per cent of the homemakers. Nearly 60 per cent of the homemakers were aware of the term but were not sure about its meaning. Except the term Anti-Wrinkle which is self explanatory rest of the other words under study were not correctly understood by even ten per cent of the homemakers.

Interestingly, all the words under study were beyond the understanding of the illiterate women or who had studied even up to the high school. Not even a single of these words was correctly or partially understood by the illiterate women. The least correctly understood word amongst post-graduate women was Gravity Defying(156) whereas the most correctly understood word within the post-graduate women was Age Miracle(66) The word Gravity Defying is also least understood (8) by the women with professional degrees whereas three-fourths of the women with the same qualification correctly understood the word Anti-Aging. Women with graduation degree were also not able to correctly understand the Gravity Defying concept.  Only less than four per cent were able to correctly describe its correct meaning.

Table – 3

S.N. STATEMENTS    Figures in Percentage
    SA A NO DA SDA
1 Commercials of anti ageing beauty products develop my interest to use these products 22 47.2 5.5 21 4.3
2 Commercials lured me to test anti-ageing beauty products once or twice 18 35 19 21 7.4
3 Regular TV commercials of anti-ageing beauty products prompt me to continue the use of these beauty products 10 19 27 34 10
4 My trust on the performance of these products is reinforced by the brand name 31 32.5 16 15 6.1
5 I do not use anti ageing creams which do not appear in any advertisement 14 20.9 26 31 8
6 Claims made in advertisement of anti ageing, beauty products  appear to be based on scientific research 22 27.6 28 17 5.5
7 Animated reaction of the cream on the skin of the user increases my faith in the results of these products 20 38.7 14 20 7.4
8 In context of TV commercial, beauty is generally measured in terms of colour of the skin 25 49.7 9.2 9 8
9 TV commercials of  anti- ageing products create more opportunities for fairer women 10 30.7 25 28 6.1
10 Anti-aging advertisements should not lure younger women  22 31.9 34 10 2.5
11 TV commercials of beauty products have made ageing more challenging 26 28.2 25 15 6.1
12 Celebrity endorsing the anti-ageing beauty products in TV commercial attract my attention 18 41.1 18 14 8.6
13 Being woman I am expected to look young and beautiful like celebrity in the commercial endorsing these creams and lotions 32 28.2 10 17 12
14 The celebrity endorsing the anti-ageing beauty products in TV commercials makes me believe that there is no side effects of the products 18 41.1 18 14 8.6
15 One can look beautiful even without using anti-ageing beauty products 28 46 12 10 3.7
16 I see myself as a part of an urban fashion woman while using anti-ageing products 14 18.4 41 19 8.6
17 Whenever I use anti-ageing beauty productsI normally get more noticed by my friends and family 12 23.9 14 38 12
18 The use of anti-ageing products gives me new confidence among my friends 13 35.6 23 23 5.5
19 Advertisements have created the phenomenon that acceptance of women depends on using or not using these products 8 38 18 28 8
20 High priced anti-ageing beauty products deliver better results than low priced anti- ageing beauty products 9 28.2 35 20 8.6
21 Anti-ageing beauty products only make me fairer instead of removing wrinkles 8 18.4 33 34 6.1
22 I often purchase anti-ageing beauty products based on recommendation of my friends 21 20.9 18 36 4.3
23 Before reaching us, anti ageing beauty products are scientifically tested for dreaded skin and other disorders 32 20.2 37 7 3.7
24 Before applying cream on my face I read all the ingredients mentioned on the product 23 42.3 20 10 4.9

SA=Strongly Agree, A=Agree, NO=No Opinion, DA=Disagree, SDA=Strongly Disagree

Anti-Aging Beauty Product Advertisements

Nearly seventy per cent of the women accepted that TV commercials of anti-aging beauty products do create an interest in them but only fifty two per cent of them agreed to have tried it once or twice. Less than one-third (288) of the women confessed that regular TV advertisements are not sufficient to induce them to continue the use of anti- aging products. Yes, the brand name has a great role in reinforcing the faith in the quality and performance of the products whereas nearly 63 per cent of the women at least agreed that they give preference to the brand name. Nearly two-fifths of the women said that they may prefer the anti-aging beauty products that have not appeared in any advertisements. They are probably referring to products based on network marketing (like Oriflame, AVON, JAFRA, etc) Twenty-two per cent of the women did not believe the claims made in the advertisements of anti-aging beauty products but on the other hand there were equal number of women who strongly believe every word of the advertisements. Nearly three-fifths of the women were of the opinion that animation used in the anti-aging beauty products was very effective in developing faith in the function and reaction of the product.

However in a major finding 75 per cent of the women believed that TV advertisements of beauty products are purely about colour of the skin and not on other factors which create more employment opportunities (41 per cent) for women with fair skin. Nearly 53 per cent of the women advocated that anti-aging product advertisers should not lure young women and make them start using such products at an early age. On the other hand, 54 per cent of the women believed that anti-aging commercials have made aging phenomenon more challenging instead of a natural and graceful transition.  Approximately, three-fifths of the women accepted that they are not influenced by the celebrity in the anti-aging beauty commercials on TV while one-third (31.9 per cent) of the women strongly believe that there is pressure on them to look younger like celebrities in the advertisements despite their age and duties. However, 50 per cent of the women do feel that presence of celebrity doesn’t guarantee that such products are free of any side effects. 

Socio-psycho Imprints

Close to three-quarters (74 per cent) of women felt the there is no need to use any anti-aging beauty product to look beautiful. It indicates that such products are being pushed for indirect male dominance. Women are reduced to objects and those who look younger will get the attention and success. Close to one-third women felt that these products will connect them to urban fashion phenomenon whereas 28 per cent of the women disagreed and opined that such products are just a passing fancy. Nearly half of the women rejected these products outright, saying they do not contribute to getting noticed by friends and family members. At the same time 46 per cent of the women held advertisements responsible for creating an environment where women’s abilities are measured on the parameters of fairness and youthfulness. In reality it is these advertisements that have made the lives of the women more challenging and stressful. Forty eight per cent of the users have more confidence while being with their friends which is an indicator that women do feel the peer pressure in terms of their appearances. In such a situation they often try to score by using age-defying products.

Advertisers have created a myth that the price of a product is directly proportional to its performance. In this study also 37 per cent of the women also believed that expensive anti-aging products are more effective than the inexpensive ones. Such engineered myths provide more opportunities to the manufactures to inflate the price. Two-fifths of the women actually believed that such product do remove the wrinkles instead of making the complexion fair. It is probably the lingering effects of the animation in the advertisements which gets embedded in the minds of the consumers along with the pressure on their own appearance. One-fifth of the women strongly agreed that they purchased anti-aging products on the recommendation of their friends whereas more than one-third (37 per cent) of the women disagreed that their friends have any say in choosing such beauty products. It appears that purchase of such products is a very complex phenomenon. Women decide their needs by themselves and normally do not share it for a very simple reason that even after applying such products they would like to be seen as natural.

Surprisingly, two-thirds of the women said that they do read all the ingredients before purchasing the anti-aging products. This seems to be an inflated response. Researchers have found that respondents firmly believe in the product, brand name and the advertisements including the celebrities. Researcher observed during the conversation with the respondents that they are actually not much familiar with the ingredients. But they presume that the ingredients of the products contain the chemicals which are actually not known to be harmful. This is supported by the response of more than half of the women that there are no harmful chemicals in age-defying products.

Conclusion

India is a country where the philosophy of SATYAM SHIVAM SUNDERAM lives in the soul of every citizen. People worship Kali with the same zeal and purity as they worship goddess Saraswati. Truth is God and what is God is beautiful. That implies that the truth is always beautiful. This is what is being taught to every child at school and at home. However, the same values are challenged by the advertisers with a promise of eternal youthfulness of the Indian goddess. Advertisers have embedded in the minds of Indian women myths like the need to have fair skin and postponement of aging. The majority of women accept that such products do create false hopes but they compete with each other to buy such products and believe that they cannot live without such products. Respondents have also held the celebrity endorsement of such commercials equally responsible for making their lives more stressful. By using complex languages, the advertisers position their products as something that has been thoroughly researched and meant for the people who are intelligent and educated. 

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