It May Be Beauty, But You Still Need The Brains

I was having brunch with a copywriter friend and telling her how much I enjoyed working as a copywriter for beauty advertising. She kept on smiling politely, until she blurted: “But … don’t you miss it? Being a creative?”

I smiled. It was not the first time I’ve been told by someone in the Hispanic market that I’m no longer perceived as creative because I do shampoo ads.  

To be honest, I thought the same when I started. Where were the ideas? The jokes? The awards? I only saw pretty faces and spectacular manes.

It took months of being immersed in the work to realize there were indeed ideas, a different kind of ideas.

I also discovered that this perception was very particular to the Hispanic culture. In the general market, it’s way cooler to work in beauty. As for creative … just look at John Frieda’s launch of its Precision Foam Color: they used black and white in a category where color is THE benefit; and skipped traditional media to debut the brand with a series of quirky “film noirs” starring Katie Holmes.



In other markets, such as France, beauty is one of the biggest categories in terms of billing, glamour and, yes, creativity.

I kept wondering then, why do we feel differently about it?

Was it the Ad School’s fault?

I come from a generation of Latin creatives trained to take a benefit or a problem and make it either big, small, exaggerated or literal.

If the above fails, I’m the first to use a metaphor or put in a strange character, usually an alien or a centaur. For others, llamas seem to do the trick as you can in the spots here, here and here.  

When I tried to apply my usual creative methods to beauty, the results were … not pretty.

I had to learn a whole new way of thinking, and come up with ideas that were (hopefully) big, bold, and beautiful. It sounds simple, but you can’t imagine how often I forgot the beautiful part!

And as for llamas, well, now they would only make the cut when worn as a coat.

It’s not cheap.

More than in any other category, the power of the idea is intrinsically linked to quality of execution. Cutting corners is a big no-no. The less-expensive model with a lazy eye is not going to make it.

For our market, that means we can rarely afford producing original work, and end up doing adaptations. That is a very common problem in the Hispanic market, and a big turn-off for creatives, even if you have a celeb smiling at you.

Gender roles?

Once I saw a male copywriter struggling with an ad for mascara. “I can’t do this. I’m not a girl!” he whined.

It seems beauty advertising has been labeled as a job for girls. Which is no problem for me as I’m as girly as it comes, and happier to wear high heels than the worn-out sneakers most creatives favor. But it’s a problem for a market where a big chunk of the creative talent is male, and where more traditional gender stereotypes are still very much in vogue (i.e., all Hispanic males are supposed to like beer and soccer, and despise moisturizers).

Ironically, one of the best beauty creatives I know is my boss. He is the opposite of girly. Actually, he is so into women that he spent his teens reading every women’s magazine he could get a hold of, because wanted to understand women in order to seduce them. And that’s the key. Beauty advertising is not about being girly, it’s about seduction. And that should really interest every straight male in every culture, right?

Whatever the reasons are, creative talent specializing in beauty remains scarce in the Hispanic market. For advertising agencies, however, to start fostering this kind of talent would be a smart move. As a business, it’s very resilient to recessions and has tremendous growth opportunities. Beauty and hair care advertising spending alone in the U.S. amounted to over $1.2 billion in the first half of 2011; and $60 million in the Hispanic market alone. For that same period of time, skin care represented approximately $700 million in the U.S. and $20 million in the Hispanic market. Hair care by itself amounted to over $559 million in the U.S. and $39 million in the Hispanic market.

Quite a beautiful business.

And, in its own way, one that demands a lot of creativity.



1 comment about "It May Be Beauty, But You Still Need The Brains".
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  1. Maria-gracia Inglessis from Wing , October 20, 2011 at 6 p.m.

    beautiful and interesting story!

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