Skin up. Has E45 made a mistake in treating customers like addicts?

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Skincare advertising isn't renowned for pushing the bounds of creativity. Indeed, the industry's campaigns tend to be as formulaic as the various unctions they peddle. Occasionally these ads drift into the realms of the ridiculous - I've mentioned before how ridiculous I find the notion of skin having 'rights' and the spot showing flesh made up of thousands of naked people strikes me as something you'd see in a David Cronenberg movie. But on the whole, skin care ads stick pretty rigidly to the 'Mum in a white bath robe and dabbing the baby's nose' style - inoffensive, gentle and slightly twee.

Which is why I was rather surprised to see the new E45 Lotion campaign on the telly. For anyone who's missed it, the clip very closely spoofs the familiar documentary trick of putting a confessional witness in half-light to protect their anonymity.  Our contributor here is a young lady admitting, quite shamefacedly, to be hopelessly addicted. At this stage, there is no hint of the brand, so it's easy to imagine we're watching a charity appeal for substance abusers or even a government information film, warning us against the evils of miaow miaow. Such is the realism of the scenario.
Then comes the reveal. Everything is okay, after all. The young lady is merely describing nothing more pernicious than her daily dose of E45 Lotion, bless her. The secretive lighting is lifted and the pack shot sweeps into view, just in time for us to be told the cream is so damn good, we'll be hooked. Blimey.

On the positive side, at least E45 has taken a risk here. There's little point in me bemoaning the lack of adventurous campaigns, only to get all huffy when a brand which is usually quite conventional, plays against type. So, y'know, bravo for that. However, admiring an advertisement's courage doesn't mean it isn't problematic - and in this instance, I do think there are problems aplenty.
If skincare is about anything, it's about health.  We've all heard the scripts and read the copy: 'Healthier looking skin in just two days', 'For the health and wellbeing of your skin' - the marketing of skincare is usually shot through with this sort of language. Essentially, skincare products are pseudo-medicines for your dermis.

Now, you might say drug addiction has the opposite reputation - in that it is perceived to be very bad for you. 'Unhealthy' would certainly be a word you'd associate with dependency on heavy substances. Therefore, I'd suggest the idea of being 'hooked', used in such a blatant way is, at the very least, a curious way to sell a 'healthy' product.  I understand the ad is being mischievous, but  still feel it is creating unhelpful parallels in the minds of the audience.

Then there's the whole issue of appropriateness. The social, physical and criminal implications of involvement in illegal drugs are incredibly serious matters. Matters our society has manifestly failed to grasp over successive generations. I wouldn't go as far as to say there is no room for thorny topics in modern advertising, but I really cannot help but wonder whether this campaign isn't trivialising the harsh realities of addiction.

Even on a commercial level, there's the distinct feeling E45 is tripping itself up. Can it really be a good idea to suggest your product is addictive? Particularly when it isn't. If this were my work, I'd be very concerned the consumer would avoid the lotion 'just in case'. It's one thing for Pringles to state 'Once you pop, you can't stop' (true, incidentally). It's quite another to use the word 'hooked' and even describe the use of E45 Lotion as a 'fix' - which the manufacturer does on their website.

So a very different approach to skincare marketing? Undoubtedly. But a healthy marketing message? Almost certainly not.    


Magnus Shaw is a copywriter, blogger and consultant



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