Posted by Vivian McInerny, The Oregonian February 17, 2009 12:20PMHello Kitty KoutureMakeup is meant to make a face look younger. Artificially blushed cheeks, lipsticked mouths and mascaraed lashes imitate the bloom of youth. That's been true since Cleopatra outlined her eyes in kohl for that "hubba-hubba, my Antony" look.
The latest cosmetics not only knock a few years off the face but also aim to appeal to the girl within.
The really young girl.
This month, MAC released makeup based on the Hello Kitty character, andStila launched a collection based on Barbie. Rescue Beauty Lounge named several nail polishes after the "SpongeBob SquarePants" cartoon, and Too Faced Cosmetics has a new collection coming out with a Smurfs theme.
If these products were geared toward preteens, the trend could be dismissed, admired or condemned as gateway marketing. Lure a young customer with cute, cheap, fruity-scented product; gradually introduce her to the hard stuff until she is thoroughly addicted; and by adulthood, she'll willingly drop $30 for a tube of mascara without batting an eye.
More puzzling is that these products are not specifically pitched to kids. Maybe there aren't enough children or doting adults willing to plunk down $18 on a bottle of "SquarePants" yellow nail polish or $90 for a Hello Kitty Kouture cat-shaped compact for someone not yet old enough to cross the street alone.
"We cater to people who love to play with makeup," James Gager, senior vice president and creative director of MAC Worldwide, told Women's Wear Daily about the cosmetic/cat partnership.
The vast majority of those people are women. It's tempting to rail against the machine that manufactures such makeup for infantilizing adult females. But savvy companies simply produce cosmetics they're fairly confident will sell. A better question to ponder might be why women are interested in buying lipsticks, eye shadows and blushes based on dolls and cartoon characters.
"The economy is such that people want something positive, lighter, a little more fun," says Timothy Mantz, an instructor at the Art Institute of Portland with a doctorate in marketing.
A company creates its brand personality, Mantz says, by clearly identifying the people it's targeting and the idea it's selling. For example, he says, Abercrombie & Fitch was once associated with marketing clothes to "mean girls," while cosmetics companies may sell prestige, mystique, self-esteem or, in this case, fun.
"When times are good, you can be that mean girl," Mantz says. Right now, cosmetic companies need to offer "something warm and fuzzy."
Still, don't expect Giorgio Armani to produce men's cologne bottles shaped like G.I. Joe action figures. Imagine going for the first time to a new boyfriend's home and spotting his shaving cream decorated with "Star Wars" characters. Would you think, "How adorable!" Or would you be just a tad freaked out and dash for the nearest exit?
Mantz laughs at the idea but says a better comparison might be video games and online virtual worlds, marketed more often to men who can buy vehicles or branded soft drinks for their online characters. Only a small segment of men or women buy into either the interactive games or niche cosmetics, and that is part of the appeal.
In this mass-produced world, this consumer segment is willing to spend big bucks on the novel or collect limited-edition anything. Never mind that the definition of "limited edition" or "limited time offer" covers pretty much everything this side of infinity.
"In these times," Mantz says, "everyone is trying to do anything possible to make a sell."
Vivian McInerny: 503-294-4076; email@example.com