Cosmetics firms model ads after demographic shift

As boomers age, faces of product campaigns do, too

June 04, 2006|By VALLI HERMAN | VALLI HERMAN,LOS ANGELES TIMES

This summer, 60-year-old actress Diane Keaton will be smiling back at you from an ad campaign, but not one for Geritol, life insurance or other artifacts of life beyond the sixth decade. She'll be the new face of a skin-care campaign for L'Oreal Paris, which selected the film star to portray a new view of beauty - a wrinkled one.

Keaton will appear in print and television ads for a new formula of L'Oreal anti-aging creams. She isn't the exception but, increasingly, the rule for beauty companies hoping to interest aging baby boomers in specialized cosmetics and skin-care products that promise to reduce fine lines, fade age spots, or prevent lipstick from feathering into creases. Now there are makeup brushes designed to fit under eyeglasses, eye shadows with larger package type, foundations that reflect light from wrinkles and a "face primer" that covers the uneven stuff in preparation for a flawless finish. The pitchwomen aren't the same young faces, either.

This spring, Sharon Stone, 48, began appearing in a campaign for Christian Dior's Capture Totale, a $125 serum and a $115 cream that claim to reverse such signs of aging as wrinkles, dark spots and sagging. Catherine Deneuve, 62, was chosen in January as the third "beauty icon" for MAC Cosmetics, joining Liza Minnelli, 60, and Diana Ross, 62. All three inspired cosmetics collections that became hot sellers, right down to "Minnelli" false eyelashes.

By fall, MAC will debut national ads for its Viva Glam lipstick that star "a 60-year-old woman," said John Demsey, president of the company, whose ads have previously starred RuPaul and Pamela Anderson. The golden girl of the '70s, model Christie Brinkley, 52, was brought out of retirement by CoverGirl to be the face of Advanced Radiance Age-Defying cosmetics. And Dayle Haddon, a 57-year-old one-time top model, appears in ads for L'Oreal's Age Perfect creams designed for those 50-plus. Twenty years ago, Haddon was told she was "over the hill" as a model.

"The industry just said I would never work again," Haddon says. "I felt that they were wrong, that I was just at the beginning of my life, but they said that it was over. If they were saying that about me, they were saying that about all women."

In the beauty industry, youth has long been the ideal - the only ideal - and for decades, dewy teenage faces were used to sell products, even those aimed at older women. Models with lines on their faces, gray in their hair and birth dates in the Truman administration disappeared into retirement. Now they're becoming hot properties as cosmetics companies finally face the facts: Many of their best customers are getting old.

"It's the demography, stupid!" says Matt Thornhill, borrowing on a political campaign motto. Thornhill, president of the marketing consulting and research company the Boomer Project in Richmond, Va., says that the once-coveted, 135 million-strong population of 18- to 49-year-olds isn't going to grow much in the next decade. At the same time, he says, the 50-plus population is going to grow from 89 million to 111 million - an increase of about 25 percent.

And that demographic is boosting sales of anti-aging products, a category that grew an impressive 31 percent from 2002 to 2004, according to Mintel International Group, a marketing research business.

Yet beauty companies must tread lightly if they are to talk openly about age. After all, today's 50 isn't much like the 50 of the last millennium. The women born between 1946 and 1964 tend to deny age, and they often don't own up to it in surveys, either. Even the most gorgeous are hesitant to own up. MAC was turned down by several celebrities who were approached to be "beauty icons" because it meant admitting their age. But Stone, who took the gig with Dior, is comfortable with her years.

"Nobody over 40 wanted to say, `Hey, I'm 40,'" Stone says. "I was willing to stand there ... and be willing to have people embarrass me. Hey, I'm good with this. There are tons of interesting women in this time of life."

Still, beauty companies find themselves in a tricky position: They have to call out to older consumers without reminding them of exactly how old they are. "I'm not sure that a 60-year-old has to have a 60-year-old in the ads," Demsey says. "They just want to look at someone who is not a kid."

Ten years ago, products aimed at older women were low-profile niche items, largely sold by direct mail or infomercials. Print ads were clinical shots of jars, tubes and bottles. But boomers, the companies realized, have deep pockets and the wrinkles to match.

Revlon launched this year a line of problem-solving color cosmetics, the first of its kind. Vital Radiance never explicitly mentions in ads or in packaging that it's for over-50, or mature, skin, though there is a trim, gray-streaked model carrying a surfboard. The Vital Radiance foundation brush is flatter, the better to fit under eyeglasses; the package type is larger; and the plastic blister packs are perforated to open more easily. These concessions to age aren't much mentioned, either.

"It is somewhat of a dance," says Michele Johnson, vice president of marketing for Vital Radiance.

Valli Herman writes for the Los Angeles Times.

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