Case Study: The Emotional Pull of Beauty Brands
We recently wrote about how beauty brands seduce you with emotional design. It was great fun to look at different beauty brands, identify emotional concepts on their websites and make assumptions on how they draw us in. To back up our findings, we invited people to participate in a test case. Now the results are in and it’s even more fun to see how they underpin our hypothesis. Feedback from about 100 participants shows that beauty brands really do appeal to our emotions – but not only to seduce us, also to build their brand and make us trust them.
For clarity, let’s quickly recall the brands that were included in the test: Nivea, Olay, Dove, L’Oréal Paris, Clinique, Garnier and Axe. We gave people the following three tasks for each website:
- “Click on the elements that you think ‘build’ the brand.”;
- “Click on the elements that make you trust this brand.” and
- “Mark the elements that appeal to you and let us know how you feel about them.”
What appeals to people?
Given that this was the main underlying assumption for this case study, let’s start off with some results that show how beauty brands seduce us with emotional design. Actually, almost all of the brands somehow used the same or at least similar concepts to draw their customers in and seduce them.
A very prominent strategy are the effects of the main product or product group. Even though each brand offers a wide range of products, they all focus on a very specific effect. For example, Nivea promotes soft, smooth, and kissable skin. Olay calls out skin improvement and anti-aging effects, while Clinique puts the bulk of their focus on fragrance and allergy-free products. Dove is clean, fresh and for young people, while L’Oréal Paris is perceived as very sophisticated, elegant, and for women who want to look their best at any age.
Garnier focuses on their hair products that promise strong and shiny hair, and Axe really sticks to basic products for men. In any case, all brands direct our attention to the effects their products will have on us. And it works because we all want soft skin; we all want allergy-tested products, and we all love strong and shiny hair – at least the majority of women do. The described effects resonate at an emotional level, which makes the beauty products highly desirable.
Beauty brands all have a very distinct color scheme. These colors appeal to us because we associate them with some kind of emotion. Besides, colors are very recognizable. A lot of our test participants pointed out that, when looking for a brand in a department store, they look for a certain color combination rather than the logo or brand name. Here is what participants associated with the different brand colors. Nivea blue was associated with tradition, quality, harmony and trust. Dove blue in combination with a lot of white was perceived as clean, fresh, natural and youthful.
Garnier is very colorful and their intense green conveyed participants of their youthful, natural and healthy products. Olay and L’Oréal Paris both use rather dark colors with bright and shiny contrasts. They look glamorous, elegant and exquisite. Axe also chose a dark background with strong contrasts. Still, their site was not perceived as harmonic. Last but not least, Clinique dismissed all colors, which reflects the pure and fragrance-free ingredients of their products in their design. Our research shows how colors clearly appeal to our emotions and affect our perception of the brand.
Things participants said about colors:
- “The color blue, when in the beauty aisle, always alerts me to Nivea products.”
- “The colors are usually the first thing that stands out for Olay.”
- “The colors or L’Oréal Paris are dark, mysterious, and fashionable.”
- “I like the colors because they are very calming and make it easy to find the brand in the drug store.” [Garnier]
- “White. Sterile. Clean.” [Clinique]
Tips and consultations
Tutorials, step-by-step instructions and personal consultations were very appealing to our test participants. Body and skin care are very personal topics and our test participants appreciated it when a brand recognizes that. Personal consultations make us believe that the brands actually cares about us as an individual.
For example, on the site of L’Oréal Paris, an expert makeup artist offers to help you find your own unique look. Dove and Clinique have own content categories that cover “Tips, Topics, & Tools” or “My Skin Diagnostic”. Garnier offers a whole set of expert tips and step-by-step instructions for their products as well as a personal beauty profile. Olay awaits their visitors with a big “Olay for You” button that promises a personal skincare consultation. Nivea simply tells their customers to use their products for soft skin, and Axe wraps the different effects of their products in rather indirect messages like “Unleash the chaos” in their attempt to appeal to men.
What participants said about beauty tips and consultations:
- “Personal skin care consultation makes me trust the brand, as if I’m able to talk with someone or go through a process to find out more about what’s right for me and how to take care of my skin better.” [Olay]
- “All of these how to videos and expert advice really make me feel like they know what they are doing and value me enough to share.” [Garnier]
- “I love hearing about tips and new ideas from pros.” [Clinique]
It seems obvious that all beauty brands use concepts that somehow relate to either inner and outer beauty. Of course, that’s the reason why we purchase and consume beauty products in the first place, right? We want to feel comfortable in our skin, attractive, self-confident and beautiful. Our participants identified beauty concepts the brands use to appeal to us.
On the Nivea website, they named concepts like love, happiness, attractiveness, calmness, softness, and cleanliness as those that appeal to us. On Dove’s website, participants identified concepts like satisfaction, contentment, natural beauty, freshness, youth, simplicity, and self-esteem. Olay’s site focuses on elegance, exclusivity, quality, perfection, and glamor, while the L’Oréal Paris website uses concepts like plain beauty, sophistication, mystery, magic, warmth, and richness. Clinique’s site appeals through cleanness, modernness, naturalness, and simplicity. The Garnier site uses concepts like individualism, youth, natural beauty, attractiveness, peacefulness and self-esteem, and on Axe’s website, participants identified concepts such as excitement, sex, attraction, fun, coolness, and humor.
How do beauty brands inspire people to trust them?
Now we know that beauty brands use emotions to appeal to us. But what else? There are many others aspects that are important on the Web, such as trust. Let’s have a look at how beauty brands also use emotions to gain our trust.
Expertise is a big trust factor for beauty brands. Our body is something very personal and we need to be able to trust what we apply to our skin and hair. Knowing that our brand of choice is run by professionals, and that all products have been developed by experts tremendously increases our trust towards that brand.
Participants pointed out that they trust Nivea because of the company’s 100 years of existence and the experience that comes with that amount of time. Brands like Dove, Garnier, Clinique, and Olay offer their expertise to their clients in the form of expert tips and consumer education. Services like this indicate that these brands really know their craft. L’Oréal Paris on the other hand uses experts as a reference who use the brand themselves. Axe is the only brand that does not show any sign of expertise on their site. Elements that indicate expertise appeal to emotions that we associate with trust.
Things participants said about expertise:
- “Step by step instructions that make one confident to use the products at home” [Garnier]
- “I like that experts in the field use the brand.” [L’Oréal Paris]
- “I like their desire to help and educate” [Dove]
As simple as it seems, contact information builds trust. The fact to know ‘who’ is behind a brand and the possibility to get in touch with these people is a huge plus in creating a foundation of trust with consumers. On all websites, participants marked the contact page or any other contact information as a trust-building element. The fact that we can obtain support and therefore get recognized as individual customer with questions and interests is very appealing and builds trust in a personable way.
Participants left comments like:
- “I like that I have the opportunity to speak to someone and get answers to any questions I may have.” [Clinique]
- “The contact page makes me trust them.” [Nivea]
Professional look and feel
The appearance of the brand itself can build trust. The professional design, look and feel of a website in line with the general image of the brand is a strong influential factor for the perceived level of trust. The brand logo also adds to the perception of a brand’s trustworthiness. For almost all brands, participants agreed that a professional and characteristic website and a familiar logo are very appealing and trust building. Participants cared primarily for a clear structure and menu of the website. Professional looking pictures also increased the perceived level of trust. So did the brand logo, especially when participants associated it with a positive brand experience.
What participants thought about a professional look and feel:
- “Easy to navigate web page and clean lines represent a simple, straightforward product” [Nivea]
- “Nicely displayed graphics show professionalism” [Nivea]
- “Great graphic and display keep the site simple and non-cluttered” [Clinique]
- “Graphics are all very clear and clean looking, something that’s attractive in personal care products.” [Dove]
Another aspect that participants really looked into as a trust factor was social responsibility. It was appreciated if a beauty brand takes social responsibility. Participants also appreciated that Clinique for example does not test their products on animals. Even if there is no proof if a brand is actually environmentally aware, the impression of being so is already enough to convince some customers. Taking social responsibility makes a brand likable and gives us the impression they do not only care about their profit. This image appeals to us.
What participants thought about social responsibility:
- “Social mission means they strive to do something good” [Dove]
- “I like Clinique because they don’t perform animal tests on their products”
- “Their use of natural additives, such as bamboo, makes me think they are committed to using natural resources.” [Garnier]
How do emotions build brands?
Beauty brands, like other brands, appeal to our emotions in a unique way that we only associate with this one brand. They use emotions in several ways to build their brand. Let’s have a look at how they do that.
Unique brand associations
Beauty brands all have that one special thing that makes them stand out. Participants clearly identified the different characteristics that they associated with the different brand websites we tested. Nivea is associated with tradition and high quality. For Dove, it is high self-esteem and the assurance that you are beautiful the way you are. Clinique stands for allergy tested and fragrance-free products, while Olay is known for skin improvement. L’Oréal Paris is a sophisticated and exquisite beauty brand, and Garnier stands out for great, strong, and shiny hair. Axe is associated with sex and attractiveness. All these associations somehow trigger emotions such as desire, self-esteem, and feeling beautiful or attractive.
Pictures can have a very strong semantics and therefore underline a brand’s image. Participants identified imagery characteristics for all brands that they believed helped to build the brand. Nivea shows professional looking pictures of a happy and attractive face. Dove matches its imagery with their overall image and uses models that look like the “girl next door”. Clinique on the other hand rarely uses any models in their images at all, rather they focus on their products and abstract illustrations. Olay does something similar, but they replace the model with their products and put their products in the spotlight. L’Oréal Paris and Garnier mostly shows strong and beautiful women in their images, while Axe is known for more playful, surreal images.
What our participants said:
- “Typical for Garnier are images of young and attractive women with impossible hair.”
- “Nivea shows lots of skin contact in their pictures, which indicates soft skin.”
- “They show regular women, like my best friend, or another mom picking her kids up from school.” [Dove]
- “Camera flares are very Olay.”
- “Axe uses great graphics that are interesting and fun.”
Focus on customer
Last but not least, beauty brands give us the feeling of being special. Almost all brands offer some kind of personal skin or style consultation, expert tips, instructions, or even the option to save a personal beauty profile. We appreciate it that they care about us and that they help us find the best products for our skin or the best makeup for our face. Eventually, we associate a great customer experience with the brand and quite possibly, we even build a relationship with the brand. Aside from creating great brand awareness, beauty brands also want to build brand loyalty, of course.
Beauty brands are very emotional and as expected, our case study showed that they appeal to our emotions to seduce us. On top of that however, they use emotions to trick us into trusting them and to build their brand. Emotions are a very unconscious phenomenon and it either takes us a lot of practice or extraordinary self-discipline to control them. By using different concepts in their marketing campaign that trigger our emotions, beauty brands can easily seduce and captivate us. They can get our attention, our interest, awaken our desire to buy their products and eventually even make us purchase them.