The Grayson Report

Consumers May Finally Grow Old Gracefully

By Bob & Suzanne Grayson , Grayson Associates | April 27, 2007

But the market is split between pro-age and anti-age proponents.

The battle lines are drawn. Are you “anti-aging” or “pro-age?” Fighting to stay younger looking, or growing old gracefully? Now you can have help no matter where you stand. Following its successful “real beauty” campaign for body care, with real (i.e. not-too-bad) bodies, Unilever’s Dove brand has extended its high awareness, anti-establishment campaign into the anti-aging battlefield. Dove’s message…be pro-age and accept aging gracefully. Don’t fight it. It’s inevitable. Do it with a positive attitude and, of course, with Dove Pro-Age products.
You can be very certain that Dove has the positive results of its “real beauty” campaign, along with tons of research to support the Pro-Age strategy. We believe that the successful “real bodies” campaign worked because Dove tapped into the running consumer tape that she is not satisfied with her body. We have been exponents of the “running tape” concept for eons. Basically, it purports that all consumers have a variety of running tapes, that is, attitudes/beliefs ongoing in their minds. The tapes contain the sum of all their emotional attachments to ideas on any given subject. The successful marketer merely needs to tap into a specific running tape and get carried along by the consumer’s own energy.
Is this the new look of beauty? Dove is pro-age, not ant-age.
For example, most women, we are told, are not satisfied with their bodies. Just tap into that and you can have a successful campaign. Those bodies weren’t too bad, but significantly, they were not the unattainable glorious bodies generally shown in body care advertising. And importantly, there was a sense of humor about it to give you permission to accept the strategy.

Does the Pro-Age strategy translate in the same way? Are they right? Is that concept running on women’s tape now? That is, “I don’t want to fight to stay younger looking,” or the reverse, “I don’t care if I look my age or older.” Will the baby boomers, who can drive this category to new heights, give in? Or will they fight to the end? We believe they will fight-till-they-drop. Here’s why. Let’s look at some consumer core beliefs—the tape.

In the late 1960s, there was a piece of research, “Forget about your chronological age, how old do you feel now?” which revealed that most people felt 15 years younger than their age. In the intervening years, consumers have become highly health and well-being driven – and, importantly, more free and more confident. Fifty-year-old women of today are still wearing bikinis (shuddering at the thought, aren’t you?). They are not like their mothers! Why? They want to live longer, better and healthier lives. They want to fight aging “en toto”—they simply want to prolong life. We can even say it better.

They want to, and are— denying death. They will go down swinging. The mantra is if you look, feel and act younger than you are, you will die later rather than sooner. You will deny death. If you are anti-age, you will live longer. If you are pro-age, you accept the alternative. No way, we say.

Permission from Marketers

In the last column (March 2007, p. 48), we wrote about “permission to believe” and “permission to buy.” While “permission to believe” generally refers to claim support, there is a powerful psychological perception in anti-aging products and messages. That is, if you buy an anti-aging product you have permission to believe that you are participating in the fight, and in control. Not just to look younger, but of survival. Conversely, you think if you give up, you deserve what you get.

We first learned of the “death” undercurrent in the early 1980s when we studied semiotics at The New School in New York. We invited our professor to give a lecture on the prevailing treatment ads of the day. He thought the ads were very powerful in semiotic terms. Underneath the youthful claims-rhetoric, he said the ads were really talking about “death”—and that the underlying (and unspoken) emotional message was to urge the active denial of death. We found this to be an epiphany.

Pro-Age Proponents

Back to the present, we believe that the Pro-Age strategy will resonate with some women. Here is our profile of this consumer: minimalist users of beauty products, (prime candidates are ex-hippies – you know what they look like, even today); soap and water users for most of their lives; women who have given up (in real terms or psychologically); women to whom the Pro-Age women are aspirational; those natural types who use the “love-me-for-who-I-am” mantra to excuse their lack of interest in appearance; those who are looking for approval of their belief that you really can’t do much to prevent looking older; and the cop-out of all time – “I don’t have the time,” a euphemism for “I’m too important to bother with this stuff. At the core of the Pro-Age positioning is the preaching of “acceptance” (a negative tape) as compared to the “aspirational” modality of a hopeful and positive tape, which is the basis of most effective advertising and enhanced brand imagery.

While this analysis may seem a bit harsh, time will tell whether Dove Pro-Age keeps to its strategy after the shock value and resulting PR bonanza has worn off.

On top of all this psychological/ concept stuff, remember, “consumers do not buy concepts, they buy products and product benefits.” Dove has made the classic marketing mistake – no star product. Here’s another line of products with the same functions as all of the other products in the category. No single “real” benefit to latch on to. We close with a Grayson mantra, “every successful line has been built around a star product.”

Wish We had Done Both

We have often maintained that the measure of a great ad is that the strategy is instantly knowable. Here are two wonderful examples from Almay and Avon. Both promote new lipsticks.
A winner from Almay.
 Almay’s new hydration sensation lipstick is all about moisture, “so that your lips feel as beautiful as they look.” The dripping wet lipsticks visually support the product claim “100x more water than regular lipsticks” (it’s a good thing consumers don’t know that almost all lipsticks do not contain water– picky, picky).

Meanwhile, Avon’s new Ultra Color Rich is all about terrific color, “Ravishing today.” There are no cute models, no borrowed interest, just right on strategy.

En passant, Avon has a new subhead too called, “Hello Tomorrow” which we don’t understand. But they must, because it’s now an Avon trademark. Don’t copy it!

Avon's got the right message.

About the Authors
Suzanne and Bob Grayson are respected, professional marketers, having spent their careers with the leading companies in the beauty industry before staring their successful consulting business in the early 1970s.

Their consulting clients have included Avon, Bristol-Myers, Estée Lauder, Procter & Gamble, Revlon and Cover Girl, among others. They reside in San Juan Capistrano, CA and maintain an office in New York City. For more information, they can be reached at or