Alberto-Culver Ties Hair Relaxer To Self-Esteem

Add Alberto-Culver to the list of companies using self-esteem as a marketing hook.

But A-C is using the approach in a new campaign for a product that seems to contradict the message--a hair softener for children with "hair texture" issues. It's targeted to white mothers who don't know how to care for the hair of their multiracial children.

The product, Soft & Beautiful Just For Me Texture Softener, is intended as an alternative to hair pressing or relaxing. It launched last spring as an extension of A-C's larger Soft & Beautiful brand of relaxers and related products for children from 4 to 11 years old.

The self-esteem portion of the campaign, dubbed "Love Yourself. Love Your Hair," includes a Web site,, which offers "conversation starters" to help parents find ways to talk to their daughters about self image.

Packaging on the newest shipments of the product flags the site, which went live yesterday. An overall print campaign, via Uniworld, New York, broke last year in publications such as Nick Jr., Essence, Jet, and Scholastic.



Just For Me Texture Softener, in this initial marketing phase, is going after parents of girls from multiethnic or biracial backgrounds--specifically, "white moms who have black daughters, blood related or adopted--which is an underserved market," said a public relations rep for Soft & Beautiful at A-C's agency M Strategies, Dallas, Texas.

Like last decade's marketing buzzword "empowerment," female self-esteem suddenly looks like the new trend in advertising, with more brands jumping on that bandwagon since Unilever's acclaimed "Campaign for Real Beauty" for the Dove brand.

"I think people realize they have to connect emotionally...but a lot of marketers will probably now try to emulate Dove's advertising," said Marc Gobé, founder of the branding firm desgrippes gobé group.

The positioning worked for Dove because "it was truly felt, consistent with the brand, and made an impact with women by telling them they are beautiful as they are," said Gobé, who is well known in the marketing community for his 2001 book, "Emotional Branding."

The danger for marketers is "if the message is insincere, or if it's just a tagline," said Gobé. "Brandjam," his new book from Allworth Press about emotional product design, is set to be in stores by next week.

"There's confusion about emotion," and which ones to evoke, said Gobé. "Marketers need to understand that detergent will get your shirt white, but it won't raise self-esteem ... working for the Peace Corps will."

So does that mean Soft & Beautiful, on the face of it, is making a marketing mistake, using the wrong message by trying to link female self-esteem to a product that tames hair?

In general, Gobé doesn't think that a self-esteem message makes sense with things like hair care products or cosmetics. "Beauty, hair care, shoes...they could bring joy, be uplifting, experiential, but that has nothing to do with esteem."

If A-C has it right, perhaps Just For Me Texture Softener is an exception. "It doesn't change your hair, it only makes it softer and easier to manage," said the pr rep for Soft & Beautiful. "If your mom is struggling to comb your hair--which is even more likely if she doesn't have the same hair and doesn't know how to deal with it--that imparts a negative feeling for the child and the mom also needs a boost of confidence," she said.

Latinos are the next Just For Me target.

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