July 29, 2014

Natural lines are nothing new in cosmetics and personal care products.  But with its new commercial, Neutrogena Naturals has taken the conversation to a new level.  Standing behind an array of food products, spokeswoman Kristen Bell sweetly asks, “You read the labels on the foods you eat, but do you know what’s in your skin care?”


In our food and agriculture work, we’ve seen food companies respond to consumer questions with ever more “natural” foods.  And it stands to reason that personal care companies are seeing the same trends.  But this is the first time we’ve seen such an explicit connection.  Neutrogena thinks that by attaching its Naturals brand to food trends, it can gain a competitive advantage.  Will it work?


Audience: A growing number of consumers are suspicious of anything that’s produced using “chemicals.”  These consumers strongly equate “natural” foods with “healthy” foods and will actively seek out certain brands. 


Message:  Neutrogena is telling this audience that they’re making the right decision with their food choices, so why not with their personal care products as well?  By naming scary ingredients – sulfates, parabens, and “unnecessary additives” – and telling us its products contain none of them, Neutrogena is following the food companies’ script.


Success or failure: Leaving aside just what Neutrogena means by “unnecessary additives” (are there necessary additives?), this is clearly the right marketing message in the short term.  Neutrogena is giving consumers what they want.  But in the long term, we’re not sure this is the best way to differentiate Neutrogena’s brand. 


What’s really going on here: Food companies still aren’t doing a good job of actually engaging consumers in where their food comes from, and we’ve seen the natural trend evolve to the point where many consumers are becoming skeptical of all these claims.  What’s really natural, and what’s just marketing?  And if I buy non-natural foods, does that mean I’m getting lower quality?  By using phrases such as “naturally derived” to describe its products, Neutrogena risks falling into the same trap – short term gains without long term trust.  Like food, personal care products are, well, personal.  Emphasizing your natural line may make people feel good about some of their purchases, but does it really build trust in your brand (and your non-natural product lines)?  We’re not so sure.

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