War Paint on Broadway

The message of female empowerment then and now.IMG_2813

Recently the new musical War Paint starring Patti Lupone, and Christine Ebersol debuted at the Nederlander Theatre in New York City.

The new Broadway show is about two beauty icons and pioneers, Helena Rubenstein and Elizabeth Arden, yes, the same as in the infamous Red Door.  The play spans 4 decades and empowerment is the key message from start to finish.

Sitting in the audience I realized from the start that the perfume bottles and skin care jars surrounding the set, while beautifully packaged, are not intended to be the centerpiece of the story.  The message centers on the passion that both women shared to succeed and to be empowered in a man’s world.  The products were just a means to an end.

Immigrants from Poland (Rubenstein), and Canada (Arden) their companies became American icons in the world of beauty.  While they approached it from different angles, Rubenstein the technician, versus Arden the feminist enabler, they soon became a girl’s best friend, or in this case an aging woman’s best friend.  The two shared a similar message to women; your youthful looks are what will keep your partner from roaming.  Their secret weapon was insights into women’s insecurities living in a judgmental world, however, they too were never really accepted into the upper echelon of society notably the “Mayflower” set of women they served with unrelenting devotion.  So much so that when Helena was denied a co-op in a ritzy upper East Side building she didn’t walk away from it, she bought the entire building!

Men and male relationships took a back seat to their professional ambitions.  It was clear that they focused on helping women keep a man happy unlike themselves.  This back then wScreen Shot 2017-03-10 at 9.46.36 AMas a message of empowerment… remember a movie entitled “The Women”?  The characters in that movie were the very same customers of Arden and Rubenstein.

                                                                              (The Women 1939 …. All about keeping men!)

Despite their shared commitment to women, and beauty they remained arch rivals to the end.  The final scene in the play underscores their disdain for the other, however, reveals a split second of a veiled respect for each other having succeeded in a man’s world.  One could only wonder what would they have accomplished for women’s equality had they joined forces.

Empowerment is a key communication platform for most beauty brands today.  L’Oreal Paris established their mantra of “worth” almost 50 years ago.  The message was simply whatever you do, do it because “You’re Worth It”.  Recently more and more brands are joining in on the quest for empowerment.  From the most recent effort by J&J’s Neutrogena’s “See What’s Possible”, which debuted on this year Oscars, to the on-going P&G’s Always’ “Like a Girl” campaign, both celebrate the diversity, individuality and the strength of a woman.  Beauty and Empowerment are becoming more integrated and interchangeable than ever before.   Pantene’s message to be strong is beautiful is a clear example of this.  Dove’s message of female empowerment underscores that there is no longer a one size fits all standard in beauty.

Back when Helena and Elizabeth were an inspiration to women around the world, empowerment was achieved by conforming to the standards provided or, in some cases, imposed upon one by society.  Now, empowerment is about self-expression, courage, and unity.  I couldn’t help to notice that during the same week of previews for this Broadway show another female empowerment icon debuted in New York.  The irony was not lost.

“The Fearless Girl” arrived in the dead of night in time to celebrate International Women’s Day (March 8th).  The young girl confronting the bull represents the future and meant to raise awareness of gender diversity in the heart of the financial world, Wall Street itself.

The lesson learned from “War Paint” and Wall Street’s “The Fearless Girl” reminds us that messengers have come and gone, but the message of equality remains constant.  There could be a statue of Elizabeth Arden, who began her company in1910, standing side by side with the “The Fearless Girl”.  She like many after believed the path to equality was through self-empowerment.  However, the one thing about Elizabeth and Helena is that they would be wearing the right shade of red lip color to taunt the bull standing before them.Screen Shot 2017-03-10 at 1.45.41 PM

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CONTENT…The NEW fabric of our lives.

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Too much of a good thing?

The changing world of brand communications, or to be honest, selling products, has taken on a new format to attract buyers…it’s called content.  Content is the “new” communication tool that engages consumers to connect with brands.  It is the fuel that feeds today’s consumer insatiable appetite habit to search for information or simply to be entertained.   Brand’s today can only hope that this connection will translate into sales.  At the very least be shared to amplify the brand message.

Content in beauty can be anything from the latest runway looks and trends to how to get the perfect cat eye tutorial.  However content is expanding beyond the expected look and how to.  A Google/Millward Brown Beauty Digital Study indicates that 49% of undecided women shopping on-line begin their search with non branded questions…for example, “how do I get the perfect cat eye?”  This number is expected to grow as more and more consumers, especially in beauty and the use of mobile devices.  So the shift in content is from that which engages to content that provides answers.  I did learn in my research from Jan Godsk of BCMA (Brand Content Marketing Association), that there are two approaches to content.

The first is Branded Content Marketing Campaigns that are used to connect consumers on an emotional level, think Dove Real Beauty.  This content is primarily a brand message of empowerment with no product sell.  The second as Jan called it is Content Marketing Campaigns which provide brand/product information and a definite RTB which intent is to lead to product purchase.

All this chat about content makes me realize that it is a good thing.  The at your fingertips convenience of both information and entertainment to keep us occupied and informed. Especially when one is looking for the perfect cat eye that will empower them to act.  From desk top computers, laptops, tablets, smart watches and mobile devices that provide an always there for you service, content is indeed becoming the new fabric of our lives.

For more on beauty from the inside order a copy of MR. BEAUTY: AN AFFAIR WITH THE BEAUTY INDUSTRY.

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Who doesn’t like a good story?


There is “dish” and than there is a “story” that everyone likes to hear.

In the beauty business there are a lot of stories about female empowerment. Take, for example, Dove’s “Real Beauty” that was launched by the brand over 10 years ago.  In 2004 Dove reached out to over 3,200 women to better understand their perception on the beauty industry.  The result was that only 2% of the women in the study considered themselves to be beautiful.  This staggering statistic inspired Dove to challenge beauty standards of the day with the “Real Beauty” campaign that appeared in print and television and also leveraged the new social media channels that were emerging.  This garnered enormous public relations value for the company.  In essence, this strategic platform of female empowerment catapulted a soap brand into a beauty brand (?!) almost overnight by creating a new dialogue with women on the topic of self-acceptance.  Dove was not the first personal care product company to do this and certainly not the last.

For decades L’Oreal Paris reminded women of their value with the infamous slogan “Because You’re Worth It”.  Created in the early 70’s this proclamation of value served two purposes.  First, the exclamation of product superiority and, second, with the belief in a woman’s self esteem.  The earliest expression of this idea was deployed in the first commercial for Preference Hair Color with the on-camera statement, “Actually, I don’t mind spending more for L’Oreal… Because I’m Worth It.”  Since that time this expression of self worth has expanded to a program celebrating its 10th year, Women of Worth, that recognizes women from across the country who give of themselves helping to make a better world.

This year two beauty brands took on the female empowerment voice with the intent to create their own versions of empowerment to connect on an emotional level with women.  Pantene created the “Not Sorry” campaign, which encourages women to stop apologizing for things based on a study that revealed that women apologize more than men for things that need no apology.  The underlying insight is that women tend to excuse themselves for things that men would never consider doing, e.g., being late for a meeting, etc.

Most recently Maybelline New York replaced its decade old slogan “Maybe She’s Born With It, Maybe It’s Maybelline” with “Make IT Happen”.  While there is little explanation on why this evolution is empowering to women, the “IT” in the slogan suggests that there is a ‘go out there and do it’ Nike-like sensibility happening.  The visual expression of this sentiment is enhanced with images of women applying makeup and getting out into the world to meet challenges head on.  In essence, the insight here is not new.  It is based on a beauty principle used for decades that when you look your best you can do your best.

Empowerment stories are not new in the beauty business, however, they are becoming more important as companies are looking for new ways to connect to women.  Even more so they are vital in our new social media landscape where exchanging dialogues and building loyalty are the new currency.  They will continue, as they should, but will never replace the value of someone that knows you well telling you how strong, beautiful and wonderful you really are.   Happy Holidays!  The future holds the promise of greatness!

For more insights into how truly beautiful you are, click on the link below.

MR. BEAUTY:  AN AFFAIR WITH THE BEAUTY INDUSTRY.  All proceeds benefit Pancreatic Cancer Research in honor of Eileen McKenna.

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