Beauty is skin Deep: Targeting Women with Anti-aging creams

Women are a desirable demographic because they hold the majority of the total purchasing power in the marketplace. One product category that is sold nearly exclusively to, and marketed entirely for is anti-aging creams. Anti-aging creams when first marketed were originally targeted at middle aged to mature woman who were interested in reversing the signs of aging. These products were touted as being the miracle cure to wrinkles, crow’s feet, and dull skin. The appeal of these products is based off the prevailing cultural norm that a youthful appearance, which is characterized by smooth, firm, wrinkle free skin, is more beautiful then an aged appearance typical in the middle ages of life.

The audience that wrinkle creams are now targeted at is woman as young as their twenties extending past middle age. These creams are promoted as not only reversing the signs of aging but preventing characteristics of aging before they are designated to biologically and naturally take place. These anti- aging products play on the cultural norm held in the United States, and in many countries around the world of youth as beautiful. They also attempt to promote sales though exploiting females overall insecurities with their appearance.

This Garnier ad for their Anti-Aging BB Cream opens with a person lighting candles on a birthday cake, which is then presented to a woman accompanied by the tag line “there is no age limit for instant BB perfection”. The woman is a mother to a young child, and is very clearly, happy, bubbly and glowing. The product is “formulated to help you look younger for longer, so you can forget about your age”. While the ad is simple, in that the concept and purpose are straightforward and easily understood, it is actually quite complex in terms of representational strategies and layered meaning. The ad is demonstrative of the transformational function of advertising explained by William Leiss, which is the concept of using ads to create people who want to buy your product by inciting their desire. The ad has a narrative, which is essentially a story of who uses the product. In this case it is a younger middle-aged woman who is getting, older and therefore closer to the physical aspects of aging. There is also a subtle yet clear psychological approach in this ad. The ad targets the fear women have of growing older and losing the youthful physical appearance that they once had. This also feeds in to the paradigm that youth is more favorable and attractive in society. Finally, the ad presents reasons why to buy the product, which are: ease of use, transformational ingredients, and a unique value perspective because of the dual use of the product as anti-aging and makeup.


This next ad, which is for another company, Neutrogena, is selling a “Rapid Wrinkle Repair Formula”. The ad features a celebrity, Diane Lane talking about the effectiveness of this product in quickly fading wrinkles. Again, the ad relies on a psychological approach, which exploits insecurities of the audience. The fear of losing ones looks is emphasized, as is the fear that aging has already taken place and will continue to at a rapid pace. Neutrogena claims that this is the fastest working product, so therefore the product will be able to quickly remedy the fears the ad exploited in the targeted consumer. Additionally, Diane Lane, who is a mature actress with a beautiful and youthful appearance, endorses the product, which is another reason to purchase Neutrogena’s “Rapid Wrinkle Repair Formula”.

The final ad, for L’Oreal’s “Revitalift Deep-Set Wrinkle Repair” features another celebrity, actress Andie MacDowel. Similarly as with the previous ads, the notion that beauty is skin deep, and youth is more beautiful then age is reiterated. While the other ads did mention proven scientific results and scientific approaches to aging this ad goes beyond that and educates the consumer as to how wrinkles occur. The ad also claims that the product reduces the appearance of wrinkles, while also reversing the processing by which the wrinkles were created.

Though all three anti-aging product ads took a different approach to advertising the product, there were many similarities amongst the ads. The ad’s all utilizes key words and phrases such as: firming, plumps, age defying, hydrating, protects, evens, and reduces. These words all have positive connotations and imply direct results. These words also relate to Robert Goldman and Stephen Papason’s concept of “the age of accelerated meaning”. Essentially since people are seeing more ads, and are spending less time on each ad they see, ideas need to be conveyed quickly. By using bold, powerful wording, the concept is conveyed to the audience more effectively and quickly. Another concept that the ads all rely on is semiotics. Semiotics, as explained in Roland Barthes’ “The Rhetoric of the Image” is the science of signs. Each individual sign, known as the signifier, in each ad conveys a meaning, which is which is the signified. For example, in the Garnier ad the candles on the cake (signifier) that the woman blows are automatically relit. This relighting of the candles signifies that the Garnier BB cream effectively turns back the clock on aging by reversing the effects.

Goldman and Papson believe that there are four ideological functions of ads, which are all demonstrated in each of the anti-aging ads. All three ads disguise and suppress inequalities, injustices, irrationalities and contradictions in our society. These ads all suppress the contradiction that happiness is associated with appearance and in turn youth. This is because they socially and culturally construct a world where beauty is paramount in all social relations, and beauty is derived from the appearance of youth. This emphasis on beauty and youth as primary desires of woman in society is reflective of normative vision of our world and relationships. Finally, the ads reflect the logic of capitol because they imply that the only way to stay pretty is to prevent the natural process aging, which cannot be done without the use of consumer goods.

While anti-aging products are in high demand, and a product many women would seek out regardless of advertisements, these ads are harmful and borderline unethical. They manipulate woman with fear tactics and by exploiting their insecurities, all while perpetuating impossible standards of beauty that their products cannot even provide. I believe that these ads should be exposed for what they truly are through the concept of culture jamming. Vince Carducci describes, “culture jamming” as an “organized, social activist effort that aims to counter the bombardment of consumption-oriented messages in mass media”. I believe a spoof ad Similar to Sarah Haskin’s “Target Women” series would serve to highlight the flaws in these kinds of ads. In my spoof video I would feature men of all ages from adolescents to their 80’s talk about their wrinkles. This ad would be patterned nearly identically visually to the real anti-aging ads however they would include heavily over exaggerated descriptions as to how wrinkles affect their lives, how they were much happier before they had wrinkles and unbelievable “scientific “claims as to the time in which the product works i.e. overnight all wrinkles disappear with a disclaimer saying Photoshop was used in the production of this scientific evidence. I think this spoof will expose many of the flaws in the current type of advertising. It will highlight he double standards in beauty for men and woman, reveal the notion that youth is beautiful, and make evident the reality that the standards of beauty woman in many parts of the world are held to are truly unnatural and unattainable through natural measures.


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