· Cosmetic · · T. Joana Rebelo · P. Rights Reserved

Cosmetics and the limits of stereotypes

Cosmetics, advertising and stereotypes

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In the recent past, Avon wrote in one of its cellulite cream ads: «All bodies are beautiful», adding that «(...) dimples are nice on your face, not on your thighs». This advertising content received stark criticism, from prominent public figures even. A small slip-up was enough for the brand, until then trusted by consumers, to fall into stereotypical expressions and lose some credibility. The reality is that female consumers are bombarded on a daily basis by the belief that ageing and weight gain must be fought at full throttle. A process that should be considered biological and natural ends up becoming a painful passage, which many find difficult to accept. Conventional beauty standards point to eternal youth, which hides wrinkles and marks that indicate the passage of time or the physiognomic changes of the body. But aren’t these the most twisted stereotypes of all? Sometimes advertising begs to differ, using these arguments as a way of making a profit. 

Conventional standards of beauty point to eternal youth
In order to obtain a more thorough overview on the subject of stereotypes in the world of cosmetics and advertising, we invited Portuguese cosmetics brand Phillippe by Almada, educational psychologist Íris Oliveira and, also, Luísa Magalhães, author of the children’s advertising book Brinquedos no Intervalo, for a conversation rich in perspectives and experience.
Sometimes, without realising it, consumers are more demanding today, which makes the advertising creation process more challenging. A more informed public reveals little tolerance for possible mistakes in communication and, according to Phillippe by Almada, with the amount of «noise surrounding» the cosmetics market, it is vital to adopt a different approach, in terms of the accuracy of the expressions used too, without slipping into stereotypes and misinformation. But, what kind of stereotypes are common in Portuguese cosmetics advertising actually? «Stereotypes that refer to beauty, age and old age and gender may take precedence in the context of advertising,» answers psychologist Íris Oliveira. Stereotypes may vary between cultures, countries and historical moments. Therefore, it is you always have to take into account the context when evaluating them. 
Luísa Magalhães considers that the use of stereotypical expressions is inevitable in advertising production, «to the extent that it is a consequence of the cultural environment which is reflected in the brands available,» explaining that they appear less in text and are less verbalised than a few decades ago, although they are reproduced in images and in the aesthetic configuration of the advertising space in which they are found. She also explains that in the creative process there is, on the one hand, the entire cultural condition of the creator and, on the other, the awareness of the public to be reached. But is everything so «black and white»?

Consumers are more demanding today
Íris Oliveira
Íris Oliveira explains that, sometimes, stereotypes, as beliefs or preconceived ideas, may evolve into forms of prejudice or discrimination. The consequences reproduced in the consumer, she says, have to do with «the representations that each person constructs about her or himself, with an impact on self-concept and self-esteem, and interactions with others, with an impact on the social groups in which they are involved and on the susceptibility to persuasion and conformism.»
In conclusion, Luísa explains that the interpretation of any text is «always the responsibility of its recipient,» although she believes sociological and psychographic research on the public is fundamental, before responding to the brands briefing. 

Stereotypes (...) may evolve into forms of prejudice or discrimination
For Íris, the limits of advertising include respect for individual freedom of choice, properly informing the consumer about the real characteristics of the product, along with the potential to socially challenge stereotypes. The Phillippe by Almada brand reveals that when bad expressions are used in advertising, years of investment in establishing the brand may be lost: «It won’t be easy to fix the mistake, but we think the best thing is to compensate the consumer in some way, or even change brands.»
A subject that could go on for more lines, given the relevance that stubbornly persists, but which we will leave, now, for you to reflect upon.
Joana Rebelo
T. Joana Rebelo
P. Rights Reserved
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