Chicken and egg: what comes first – marketing or science?

Chicken and egg: what comes first – marketing or science?

If there was one over-arching theme at In-Cosmetics, Paris this week, it was that each and every supplier had a product ‘story’ to tell about their latest innovation. Once upon a time, suppliers dealt with ‘the science bit’, leaving brands to put their marketing spin on it. Now that model seems to have turned on its head. Which begs the question? What comes first, the marketing or the science?

For Dr Fred Zulli, Managing Director Biochemistry at Mibelle, there is no doubt. “Both are important, but of first importance is the marketing. When consumers approach the shelf, they are faced with hundreds of products. They need to make a choice, and they make that choice based on the product story. If that particular cream works, they’ll buy it again. Functionality is vital, of course, but it will only come into play if the consumer tries the product in the first place, and for that, you need a good story.”

Innospec’s Marketing Manager Samantha Thistleton, disagrees. “I still think science comes first. Formulators are briefed by marketing departments but functionality comes first, and that comes from ingredients. Consumers are more educated and increasingly interested in the ingredients of a given product,” she says.

Whichever side of the debate you fall on, it’s clear that the role of supplier is evolving. No longer are they simply required to supply the science. And if suppliers are taking on the role of marketer too, what are the brands doing?

If the most recent campaigns are anything to go by, for brands, it’s no longer about the product, or even about the science – but the cause. In the era of social media, be-friending your customers is key. And how do you do that? Not from ramming endless product plugs down their throats but by creating an emotional connection.

Indeed, you’d be hard-pushed to spot a product at all in some of the latest big-brand viral campaigns. This week’s launch from SK-II is a case in point – a four-minute quasi-documentary on China’s ‘leftover’ women – the brand logo discreet, not a single product mention. No it’s all about the hash-tag nowadays, from SK-II’s #ChangeDestiny to Burt’s Bees #BringBackTheBees and L’Oréal’s #BeautyForAll, brands love nothing better than a cause.

Of course, the danger of opening a conversation is that you invite a response – and consumers haven’t held back. From blasting Emma Watson for ‘promoting skin lightening’ for Lancôme to attacking Maybelline for ‘ignoring women of color’, this new marketing strategy has its pitfalls.

Of course the question remains: is all this a laudable effort on the part of the beauty giants to use their considerable resources for the greater good, or cynical marketing ploy? You decide.