Behind the Mask

Pearlfisher’s ‘Head of Words,’ Sylvie Saunders, takes a look at the semantics of beauty.

by Sylvie Saunders

From “protecting” to “purifying”—we learned the lingo long ago. We decode and decipher beauty words on a daily basis – probably subliminally now that they have become so familiar to us. We know – and have known for a long time – that they are superficial and aspirational to match what has largely been seen as an industry with an overall superficial proposition. But this spin is no longer cutting it – or keeping pace with the evolution of the industry and the consumer. And, as words start to be in danger of turning us off rather than on, it’s time to unravel the semantics of beauty and the new direction it needs to take.

In 10 years, we have moved from a clinical to a friendly and chatty voice, back of pack became front of pack copy and, with online shopping, copy has become one of the sole drivers of purchase. But ironically, just as the power of words seems to be increasing, so are we moving towards a paring down and more literal expression.

And this is a natural reflection of what is happening in the wider world. This industry has become more focused on brand honesty and transparency (largely due to the surge of the new organics and their influence on the mainstream). And with many celebs ditching makeup and daring to bare for the media, this has once again upped the ante for truth and simplicity. The second factor is the form our preferred communication takes. While all social media interaction is governed by maybe presenting an idealized picture, we are becoming less verbose and more straightforward with devices such as Twitter being favored over Facebook and making us think about how succinctly we say something.

Hair care is maybe one of the most contentious sectors of the industry when it comes to masking through language. “Straight,” “sleek,” “volumize”…we’re not arguing that these are all qualities that we look for from our hair brands, but this sector has tended to thrive on the superficial rather than any real nourishing benefit. Michael van Clarke has successfully challenged the premium salon sector—and the industry as a whole—with his life extending hair care range “3 More Inches.” The logo design is confident, simple and modern and works with the typography of the brand name.

The aspirational element is still evident but it’s about being far more literal. And the new tummy toning gel from the Bliss’ Fat Girl range - FatGirlSixPack – shows that being literal does not have to mean being dry and humorless with a design that squeezes the words together just as crunches squeeze those abs!

We are not talking about fostering a new generation of copycat, propositional brands but just to look at the language and tone of voice we use to speak more directly and openly to our consumers about the true product benefit. And it’s not just about focusing on words but how creative we are with the words we’ve got. Design can make words look very different – and convey a very different meaning.

About the author:
Sylvie Saunders is Head of Words at Pearlfisher –