Friday, February 21, 2014

"It's Toasted"

I never really "got" the famous "It's Toasted" scene from the first episode of Mad Men until I started taking haircare science more seriously.

I'm not a smoker, and nowadays we have so much more information on how and to what extent cigarettes cause those "certain fatal diseases".  Any slogan is going to seem nonsensical when smoking seems like such a fundamentally crazy thing to do.

This line, though:

"We have six identical companies making six identical products...We can say anything we want."  

That IS the beauty industry, once you cut through the comforting, marshmallowy, beglittered layers of marketing and bullshit in which it's wrapped.

Please don't misunderstand me: I am in no way comparing the toxicity of tobacco with anything you'll find in conventional cosmetic products.  Smoking demonstrably causes a nightmare-carousel of diseases, and the modern beauty industry is regulated to be broadly safe, if not perfect.  There are similarities, however, in the massive levels of consumer distrust towards certain common chemicals: sulfates, parabens, whatever the flavor of the month happens to be.

Let's re-imagine the conversation taking place between Don Draper and, say, Lush executives regarding their I Love Juicy shampoo:

"How do you make your shampoo?"
"We start with surfactants, thicken it, scent it, color it, use natural extracts and safe synthetics..."
"There you go: 'safe synthetics.'"
"But everybody else's shampoo uses the same safe synthetics."
"No, everybody else's shampoo will ruin your hair.  Yours is made with safe synthetics."

Lush drives me absolutely up the wall with the sheer amount of garbage they peddle in their marketing.  I mean, look at the first five ingredients in that shampoo: water, two sulfate surfactants, one more foaming surfactant, and propylene glycol (which has several functions).  That is a bog-standard shampoo right there, with a couple potentially-irritating fragrances tacked on.  Then they have the absolute nerve to suggest that it's the "fresh fruit juices" in the product that are doing the heavy lifting of removing oil, rather than the three surfactants at the top of the list.

Flames, ladies and gentlemen, flames on the side of my face.  It's not that the product is necessarily bad, but the advertising is so weaselly and insulting.  The Beauty Brains once said that greenwashing in particular (I would add most beauty marketing in general) is "the art of storytelling", and Lush are particular masters of it, but they are far from the only ones.

It's made with safe synthetics!
It nourishes!
It's hydralicious!
It quenches!
It's got marine extracts!

It's f*cking toasted.