Unilever Finds Skin Takes On Deep Meaning Among Black Women

All women may be somewhat vain about their skin, but a new Unilever survey finds that for African-Americans, skin takes on a deeper meaning.

In a poll with Essence magazine, the company asked more than 1,400 African-American women ages 18 to 64 to describe their skin, and the most common response was "beautiful" (59%.) Another 30% described their skin as "strong." And 30% say their skin is a source of their heritage, one-fourth say it's a source of pride, and "almost half of African American women say their skin tells a story of who they are and identifies them," the company says.

The survey is part of Unilever's Skinvoice campaign, supporting its Vaseline Intensive Care's Cocoa Butter rich hydrating lotion. In addition to magazine ads featuring "Law & Order" actress S. Epatha Merkerson and musician Kelly Rowland, the company has invited women to talk about their skin at skinvoice.com, where users elaborate on what they love about their skin, with comments like "My skin is my life's historian," and "My skin represents the blending of my parents, an outward expression of their love."



The survey also found that African American women rank skin as "most important to them" (49%) above their hair, figure, make-up and clothes. More than three quarters of the women surveyed (77%) report they are happy with the color of their skin and never wished they could change it.

While Unilever launched the product last September, the renewed marketing support plays into a key trend, with ethnic shoppers galloping back to mass brands, after spending recent years dabbling in more prestige products.

A recent report on ethnic beauty products from Packaged Facts, the publishing division of MarketResearch.com, says that after a few years of so-so growth, these mass skincare products aimed at the ethnic market are poised for takeoff. And marketers are becoming increasingly adept at both developing ethnic-specific products, as well as marketing mainstream brands to ethnic audiences.

Nothing identifies the Vaseline Intensive Care product as ethnic, for example, and cocoa butter is healing for all skin types. But among African-American users, it is considered especially good for minimizing keloid scarring and other pigment problems. In fact, E.T. Browne, which makes Palmer's Cocoa Butter Formula, says it is the best-selling cocoa butter brand in the world, according to Packaged Facts.

Nor is Unilever the first to target a general product for specific ethnic use: Procter & Gamble has Pantene formulations for both African-American and Hispanic hair types. And Johnson & Johnson skillfully markets its Neutrogena and Aveeno consumer brands to ethnic audiences. L'Oreal, Unilever's Caress line, Dial Corporation's Tone body washes; and Procter & Gamble's Noxzema products and Secret line are all heavily advertised in ethnic magazines.

Overall, Packaged Facts says the ethnic-specific health and beauty care category accounted for $1.9 billion in 2006. But ethnic use of non-specific ethnic health and beauty care products--like Vaseline Intensive Care--is far bigger: $6.5 billion in 2006, for a total of $8.4 billion at retail in 2006. And while skincare is still the smallest category (after hair care and make-up) Packaged Facts expects it to increase 54.5% by 2012.

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