15 July 2014

Creating New Needs

Source: tumblr

Following the post on Body Care, I have been asked if I could write about beauty products, from a marketing point of view. After examining my own routine, Sephora's shelves, and a bit of research, I have decided to present you the concept of creating new needs, "opening a new market", which seems to be one of the techniques used in the beauty industry.


A Brief History

Here is a bit of context to understand where the reasoning comes from. When mass market products started being sold, the business model was simple: you produce the same item en masse, thanks to the mechanisation of fabrication and factory workers who did the same task over and over again. You produce a lot, the cost per item is therefore very low, and it becomes accessible for purchase to most households. The flagship example of this model is the Ford T.

For a while, businesses were very successful as nobody was equipped yet so sales were high. Until a point when corporations started being afraid of overproduction, as sales started to decrease because people were equipped: once you bought a car, you had no reason to buy another. This is when makerting had to become creative to get people to keep buying beyond their needs. You can watch the documentary the Century of the Self for more details on that.

One of these techniques to get people to keep buying stuff was planned obsolescence - or creating less sturdy items to make consumers replace them more often. Another one is to create a new need to open a new market. You already have a car? But Madame doesn't? Here is a smaller car made especially for women!


Creating New Needs: How Does it Work

Here is the example of high tech: at first, there were the family PCs, used by all family members. Then, laptops came: your own, transportable computer. For a family of 4, suddenly the market widened to 4 laptops where there was only one PC. Do you see the concept?

In order to keep creating new needs for new markets, marketers have to be increasingly ingenious in finding very specific situations in which you may need their new products. To switch from home PC to laptops, the new "need" was rather easy to find: your own device that you can use whenever you want without sharing time with the rest of the family, small and compact to take with you on travel.

But the latest innovations are much more subtle than that: take tablets for example.The situation becomes much more specific and the tool more "specialized": you use your iPad during travels, but when your laptop battery is depleted or if you want to travel light, or at home when you want to check something quickly without booting the laptop... These fabricated needs are much more specific, often limited to certain situations that may not occur that often. And that's when we should question the actual utility of the product over what we already own.


The Case Of Beauty Products

In the market of beauty products, we have a lot of very specialized "needs". As I was watching beauty videos from specialized bloggers (who use more products than average, I guess), I actually discovered new products I'd never used, nor needed in my adult life, which target a very specific body area or problem.

Let me take the example of face products, do you realize that, only to clean and prepare the skin for make-up, you already have face scrubs, masks, serums, oils, tonic lotions, floral water, make-up remover, washing brushes (e.g. Clarisonic), peeling stuff, eye contour creams, anti-wrinkles cream, sunscreen creams, anti-pollution creams, light hydrating creams for summer, heavier ones for winter, anti-blemish or spots creams...

Think about it, some centuries ago, and even now in some parts of the world, people have one soap with which they clean their body and face and that's it. Between this extreme and using 15 products every morning, might there be a good balance to keep our skin healthy without emptying our bank accounts and cluttering our bathroom shelves?


As Consumers: What Should We Do?

The upside of these "new needs" and "new markets" is that they also come with scientific advancements that improve and simplify our lives, so of course we shouldn't reject it all, in the same way that we shouldn't automatically reject laptops and tablets in my example above.

What I would recommend though, it to go from your actual needs, based on your daily life and habits, and look for adequate products from there, instead of going from the range of products available and automatically assume you need one of each. Some of you may travel a lot, and a tablet/e-reader would really make your life easier, but others would simply let the tablet collect dust in their living room.

More concretely, when you consider buying a new product, consider the questions below:

  • What will I use it for? What need does it fill exactly?
  • Is there any other object, that I already own, that could do the job instead?
  • How often would I use it? Weekly? Monthly? A couple of times a year?
  • How do I manage with that need now? Would the item really simplify my life and habits or is my current solution already adequate?

More often than not, the answers to these questions may lead to reconsider the actual necessity of the purchase. I also find myself asking these questions when considering the replacement of an item that just broke, and even while editing my current collection of items. It can lead me to decide either to keep using it until it breaks (but not replace it), or to set it free right now.

For example, I have decided to apply this to my current collection of body care products: I'm currently using my stock, but each time a product is used up, I don't buy a replacement (apart from the basics - shampoo, shower gel, toothpaste...) and see what happens to my skin. Chances are, many of the products I'm using don't actually make much of a difference so I'll just stop buying them altogether.


As A Conclusion...

To wrap this up, I'll mention one of the techniques marketers use to implement this new "need" in consumers' minds. Among other advertising techniques, they are creating the idea that, in order to be a proper adult/woman/employee/mother, you need to have this item.

They try to create a social norm and to make you feel inadequate or irresponsible if you don't use that object. This might be worth thinking about, next time you buy an object because "you are supposed to own this". I can develop this idea in a separate post if you are interested.

31 comments:

  1. I really appreciate your blog. I've been interested in both minimalism and fashion, seemingly opposite things, for a long time. As a former merchandiser, I also find your writing on consumerism, marketing, and shopping fascinating. And I smiled when I saw the picture you used to head up this entry: it's exactly the kind of room that would make me stop and study it--and want to buy something in it! Being self-aware doesn't always protect us, eh?

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    1. Thanks for this kind comment! I'm guessing you have quite a behind the scenes vision of things too, as a former merchandiser. I totally agree that being self-aware doesn't protect us. I think for a moment it might even make us more vulnerable, because we think knowing about it make us immune. I guess it's about learning how our own mind works and cultivate habits that keep us away from potential temptation.

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  2. Very thoughtful as always! I am a marketing student myself and I can't tell you how many times I went through the whole "do I actually like/need anything I buy or am I just a product of mass marketing". It really makes you question what you really like vs need. I always wonder if I would pick any of the things I own today if marketing wasn't in the picture. Either way I really enjoyed this post and since last year have really tried to narrow down my facial products to the bare minimum. I only use what I need and the same goes for makeup products (although I have never been a makeup junkie so that was already pretty bare).

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    1. I've been asking myself this type of question actually. That's also why I wrote that post about inspiration a few days back: marketing is making us believe that our identity depends on the type, brand, aesthetic of objects we buy. "That's so me!" You see what I mean? Sometimes I wonder to what extent my identity, or the perception of my identity, is biased by that, and who I would be if there hadn't been any marketing to "guide" my choices. (That being said, we have social norms etc. and even without marketing we'd probably imitate the social/cultural group we want to belong with anyway).

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  3. When I reduced the number of skin care and makeup products that I use, I noticed that my skin actually improved! I had been buying all of these specialized products that were actually making my skin break out and look irritated and puffy, when all I seem to actually need is a cheap bar of moisturizing soap and a fragrance-free body lotion. It makes me wonder what other areas of my life am I overdoing it with, like house cleaning products.

    (I really appreciate your thoughtful writing. Even though I was predisposed to be interested in the subject of minimal consumerism before I discovered your blog, your tangible examples/stories have really challenged me personally to be a more thoughtful consumer. I am very much looking forward to seeing more on your shopping ban as time goes on.)

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    1. That's interesting, thanks for sharing! I actually read a very interesting article on the subject of hurting the skin by doing too much to it (in French unfortunately), which said that using too many products, with many chemicals that may interact with each other, may actually create more skin problems than it solves. The writer, from Turkey, said her dermatologist said people from villages, who used very few products, actually had a way better looking skin than the people from Istanbul who were using a lot of modern and complicated products on their skin. that's a practical proof that too many fabricated needs can even be bad for us.

      I've actually also decided to simplify my house cleaning routine/products, after assisting to a workshop dedicated to interior pollution and just how many chemicals we are exposed to inside our homes. It was quite scary actually.

      Thanks for the kind word, I'll make sure to write regular updates on the shopping fast as I make interesting learnings or trail of thoughts...

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    2. Could you write about how you simplified your cleaning products? Maybe you have already...

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    3. I could definitely write about my simplified home cleaning routine! I'm still replacing the regular products little by little, but I'll write something once I'm done with the experiments and find what works best :)

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  4. I've spent a lot of time on beauty forums thinking my make-up bag and skincare routine were woefully inadequate. I bought profusely and ended up with a lighter bank balance and spots!

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    1. Exactly, it makes us feel inadequate, doesn't it? When I watched these make-up videos as I was researching natural products, and saw how many products these bloggers were using I first wondered if I was doing something wrong by using so few. Thankfully my mother never used many products and her skin looks great at 56 so I always end up thinking, if she didn't use it and looks that awesome, I don't "need to" use it.

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  5. Great post Kali, as always. Stopping to think about my actual needs has saved me a lot of money over the last few years - I find that as an adult with disposable income it was very difficult to let go of the "oh my god, I can buy ALL THE THINGS" mindset, especially when I was fresh out of uni. Thankfully it has gotten a lot easier, 5 years down the road :)

    I think the pitfall with especially cosmetics and skincare is that it can be quite difficult to find the products that will work for you. What works wonders for your mom or sister or friend might be disastrous on you, depending on skin type, coloring and so on. I have no problems imagining how one could end up with full shelves and empty pockets in the quest to find a handful of products that simply work. Of course, one can always do research beforehand to save oneself from the obvious missteps, but I imagine most people wouldn't even know where to find this kind of information, or know out which sources are reliable. And even if you go to a specialist store or get help from a counter you are in no way guaranteed that the person helping you will understand (pr even care) about your individual needs. I've personally had salespeople rub things on me (without asking) that REEKED of lavender, even after I told them I'm very allergic and sensitive to things like perfume. "Oh don't worry, it's completely natural". As if that would make a difference!

    Still though, it is easy to get suckered in, even when you do have enough products that work for you. There will always be a new lip color of the season, or a new serum, or a brand new product category altogether. Eyelash lengthening potions - where the hell did those come from?

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    1. haha I remember that feeling! When I was a student I worked on week-ends and I saw that income as pure "fun spending" income, I had no notion of saving money. It gets easier as we get older, also I don't know about you but I don't feel the need to buy all I want as much as when I was younger. It was a kind of token of freedom at the time, now I value my free time more than I value my material items :)

      And yes, rule number one in marketing: salespersons are NOT on your side. NEVER. They have sales objectives, bonuses if they sell you this item or that brand, they don't care about your own needs and preferences, they just care about filling their objectives. And, having been a salesperson as a student, I don't hold it against them, it's how it works: pressure from management + money incentive when objectives are met, how else can they work? We just need to be careful about it as consumers.

      Now I always make my research first, then go into the shop when I know exactly what I want. I know it can be daunting to find the right product (as it necessitates to test it in the case of skin care), but we have a lot of sources to look into these days, with all these youtubers making reviews and all. It just takes time. But hopefully once you find the right products you never need to change again (unless it's discontinued)...

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    2. A note about YouTubers though - the more popular they get, they usually become more and more full of shit. I subscribe to a lot of them, and a die a little bit inside every time every. single. one. of them accidentally start recommending the very same products within a few days of each other. One example being the GlamGlow face masks, which they all seem to LOVE, but that all have a "poor" rating on paulaschoice.com, or Kiehl's Midnight Recovery Consentrate which is full of fragrant oils. I put my trust into the YouTuber's who don't have YouTube as their main source of income :)

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    3. Oh tell me about it! We work with Youtubers in the video game business too. I see how much we pay them and I see the result on their coverage. Of course a lot of them (including bloggers who live off advertisements and gifts from brands too) are not objective anymore. Which is sad. My solution is to get information from a variety of sources to get the most accurate idea possible, and to focus on bloggers who don't live off their blog.

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  6. I would very much like to see a follow-up post on what we are 'supposed' to own.
    I agree that it is of the utmost importance to question whether some new need will fit a hole in your own life versus just becoming extra (expensive) clutter. Unfortunately even with research, we cannot always know this in advance. For example, a couple of years ago I would never have thought I 'needed' a tablet computer. But eventually I bought one (and a month later, my husband got one for free :p) and we both use our own tablet daily, a lot! The downside is that our laptop (we haven't owned a pc for years) has gotten considerably less use, but it still has important functions (easier to use for things involving a lot of typing, when we have to print something, for gaming ...). But I can feel the way marketing works when I start wondering if I should also get a fancier smartphone, an e-reader, a mini-tablet (!) which are basically things that would serve the same function but only more specialized.
    In the beauty department I can fully attest to the influence of marketing and also of beauty bloggers! I am starting to simplify, like you, because I just couldn't deal with over 10 facial care products any more, and having to decide each morning whether your skin needs the light cream, the mattifying one, and maybe you have time for a serum or anti-redness solution? I was into beauty for years, and I have to say I got some great discoveries from that period (eyeshadow base does make my life more pleasant ;)) but I also ended up with a lot of clutter (foundation primer & finishing spray, anyone?). So I guess sometimes the only way to learn is by doing - which is unfortunately not the ideal solution from a sustainability point of view ...

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    1. That's a good point about using the tablet more and the computer less. When we fragment uses with many specialised products, we end up using other products less than before. Just like when you have 4 pants instead of 3, you wear the 3 other ones less. It's true that it's difficult to anticipate what need we will have as consumers of each product, unless we actually try. What I do is ask myself the questions I have listed in the blog post, even if it doesn't predict with exactitude whether the item will indeed fill a hole in your life or not, but it may help.
      For beauty products, I agree that the best way to learn is to try. That's why I love airport purchases, as well as special packages in a nice little bag with little versions of many products (usually from the same line) meant as presents. Since these are smaller versions of products, it helps testing them without spending too much money, and without ending up with a big bottle on your hands if the product doesn't work out. I also actually use the samples salespeople give you in shops :)

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    2. Funny, I always keep those samples because I really intend to use them, but most of the time they just become clutter because I can't find an occasion to try them out (eg I've got way too many samples to use for travel). Or probably because they don't fit in my routine. That being said, I agree that purposefully buying small or sample sizes can spare you many beauty mistakes.

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    3. I have quite a stock too to be honest. I'm making myself use them these days, by pulling them out one by one and putting them on the bathroom shelf in front of my nose until it is used. It works :)

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  7. well written and insightful, as usual! :) i find the beauty industry to be particularly aggressive and effective at seeding 'needs' on the part of consumers. i've always been a product minimalist for this reason. not to mention, the deceptively huge cumulative cost of buying endless beauty products year after year...

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    1. I agree, the beauty industry is particularly strong on that part, especially as it concerns very "sensitive" subjects around self esteem, like ageing, weight, beauty... I've never used much either, but between gift baskets, airport purchases and samples, my bathroom has been quite cluttered lately.

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    2. It's interesting to also think about 'gender specific need creating'. That might be one of the reasons I don't want to use and buy make up so much anymore, because I feel that it's unfair how women are expected to use so much money on beauty products and men can look natural but also age naturally. I too want to look natural and look like me + age naturally. Then I can use the money on something I truly enjoy, instead of using it to try to match this image of the 'ideal woman' and only then using whatever is left on things I truly want.

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    3. I guess that's exactly the same debate as the one around fashion - why should we own so many clothes when men can go through most life events with a suit? I was thinking this when my fiancé just digs out his suit for a wedding we're invited at, while I have to think about a dress, shoes, accessories... It is unfair indeed. That being said, brands are developing beauty products for men these days too. Soon they will spend just as much as we do...

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    4. There has certainly been a rise in beauty product adverts aimed at men. And it's funny to look at how differently they are advertised, even though the product is exactly the same, f.e. a moisturiser. The adverts for men create this image of the man getting dozens of beautiful and sexy women if he uses that product and the adverts for women certainly don't create an image of the woman getting dozens of gorgeous and sexy men if she uses the product!

      I hadn't even thought about this thing with men and their suits. It seems like women always buy a new dress (plus matching accessories) for a big party, wedding etc. and the man can always wear the same suit. Plus I've heard many women say that they like to shop for men's clothes (sweaters, t-shirts) as they are of much higher quality than the clothes made for women under the same labels.

      Obviously, as a woman, I have no idea if there are certain products that men feel "forced" to buy to conform to a certain masculine image, but it would be interesting to know.

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  8. You're right, you're so right! I stopped washing my face somewhere along the line and now hear from my mother how much better my skin looks. I think that beauty products especially are a marketing trap. They play on our insecurities and essentially try to convince us that their products are a need, not a want. Thanks for the thoughtful post!

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    1. Thanks for sharing, that's so interesting! On the other hand, the few bloggers I've read lately to get info on natural products all mentioned allergies or rashes on their skin at some point... It is also my mother who has been an example for me: she always used only a few products, never put foundation on, and her skin looks so good :)

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  9. Last year, I threw away all my soaps and shampoos. Yes, even organic products need some strong chemicals, else they have no shelf life. I wash my face with a scrub made of oatmeal and sunflower seeds or almonds.

    I use shea butter mixed with lavender oil as a face and body cream. (There are youtube videos on making whipped body butter with shea butter). I massage my scalp with almond oil once a week and wash it with liquid castille soap. Other days, I use water and baking soda with an apple cider vinegar rinse.

    Dr. Bronner's Liquid castille soap, baking soda and vinegar for most of the cleaning needs in my home.

    I use a toothpowder made with baking soda, salt and arrowroot powder. I learnt that commercial toothpastes demineralize your teeth and kill the good bacteria along with the bad. It takes about 40 days to restore that balance once you stop using toothpaste. My hair, skin, teeth and breath are better than they have been.

    I make my own laundry detergent. I still use commercial dishwasher detergent, though. The homemade doesn't work very well.

    I was hoodwinked by mass marketing. Now, I don't have to read labels on products and I don't have to pay a bundle for cleaning and beauty products. I am never going back.

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    1. That's so interesting, thanks for sharing! I've been researching that type of product too. The "Aroma box" I received warns that the products we make only last for 3 months indeed. I guess that's a good sign.

      I have also been resarching more natural products to use like oils (argan, or yuzu maybe?) floral waters like rosewater, Rhassul for the hair, Alep or Black soap for the body, white vinegar to make my own house cleaning products... I have decided to empty my current beauty products first, because that would feel like a waste to throw them out, but I'm hoping I'll finish enough products by the beginning of 2015 to be able to try some of these natural alternatives. I'm noting down the products you are using, if you have any links to youtube tutorials or anything I'm taking :)

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    2. African black soap is fabulous as a body wash. I highly recommend it, followed by a shea butter cream.

      Here's how you make the shea butter cream.
      https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=q0mkatyC74c

      You don't need a big appliance - a hand-held or electric beater would do fine.

      In most seasons, I use 4 oz UNREFINED ivory shea butter, 1.5 oz coconut oil and a few drops of lavender oil.

      In very hot weather, to keep it from melting to a puddle, I use 3 oz shea butter, 1 oz coconut oil and 1.5 oz cocoa butter with lavender oil.

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  10. I really appreciate your point if view and the way you write! In my personal experience, I see the baby industry as the most efficient in terms of creating new needs and give you that feeling of being plain wrong if you don’t own it all. Through my life, I succumbed to pointless buys (beauty, clothes, home décor), but luckily, time was always a good counsellor and I never got too carried away. In the end, this pointless buys just reinforced my idea that owning/using things has little to do with having a good life.
    But when I had a baby, I literally felt I entered a whole new world of needs, and I had to make a tremendous effort in order not to buy insanely… it really, really, really wasn't easy.
    There are just too many variables involved, topped with the natural fear of being a good mother... It would be nice to read a thoughtful and researched in sign on this particularly topic :)

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    1. Oh I think the last point, about creating a need and making us feel guilty by saying "you must own this in order to be a proper adult" works particularly well on baby products. Don't we all want to be good parents? There seems to be a lot of shaming, both by the ads, but by other mothers too, from what I heard. It's quite difficult indeed to make the difference between what IS good for the baby, and what is a marketing trick. Maybe our own mothers are good advisors on that? I admit that I am not a mother yet so this is a bit foreign to me still.

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