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50 Shades of Beige. How woke is the beauty industry?

50 Shades of Beige. How woke is the beauty industry?


According to a study done by the U.S. Census Bureau, Millennials, or people born between 1982-2000, make up just over one fourth of the United States population and are more racially diverse than ever before. Census data reports that about 44% of the group identify as being part of a minority race or ethnic group, in contrast to 22% of Americans in the “baby-boomer” segment.

If one were to look at women alone, the numbers are equally notable. According to Ricardo Quintero, Senior Vice President, Global General Manager and Market Development at Clinique, “By 2020, we are going to have 23.8 million Hispanic women in this country…there will be 10.3 million in the 15-34 age range and 9.4 million in the 35-to-39 bracket, and these are the most important groups in terms of consumption. Any company who wants to grow needs to look at the numbers” (Fine, 2012). These facts prove to be extremely promising for the cosmetic industry, which could receive a large boom in sales if corporations effectively position their brands to be attractive to the U.S. ethnic and racial minority market.

So brands are starting to listen, but who’s getting it wrong and who’s getting it right? Companies such as Clinique and Bare Minerals have tried their hand at Ethnic marketing. Some of these attempts have been met with celebration, others with backlash. Let’s take a look.

BareMinerals has seen great success in their cosmetic bases, including their mineral powders which reached cult status.  Recently, the brand ventured into liquid foundation bases featuring a serum foundation and their “Complexion Rescue” tinted gel cream. During its initial launch period, the brand debuted 10 different shades in 2015. Recently, the brand bought out 6 more shades in an attempt to diversify the line and cater to a broader spectrum of skin tones.

While this came with great intentions, the attempt flopped. In the post above, featured on cosmetic retailer Sephora’s Instagram page, the different shades are shown on 3 different skin tones. And while there are a lot of swatches to choose from they were all remarkably….beige. The post faced a great deal of backlash on social media, claiming that the “50 shades of beige” were a haphazard attempt of addressing the racially diverse market.

Clinique (owned by The Estee Lauder Group).

Clinique manufactures the “Even Better” line, which is a skincare and foundation line geared towards evening out the skin tone and reducing signs of aging on the face. M2M Marketing Group handled the marketing of the “Even Better” line, and an advertisement featured in Vanity Fair launched the line’s roaring success. In the copy of the ad, the text read, “Our new skin tone corrector gently creates – for all ethnicities—a notably more even complexion with a brightness and clarity you thought long gone”. The best part? The foundation line comes in a whopping 33 different shades.

Clinique demonstrated forward thinking in this advertising campaign and consequently,the “Even Better” Clinical Serum was the number one best selling stock keeping unit in the United States in May/June 2010 (M2M, 2010). Large portions of the pleased consumers were U.S. Hispanic women.

The good news is that attempts have been made to make the cosmetic market more inclusive of racial and ethnic minorities. But, there’s a long way to go. Tweet us your thoughts about the cosmetic industry’s marketing attempts and lame B.S. at @LiveNoBS.  To take care of your gorgeous complexion, visit our store.

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