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Question: Is beauty becoming homogenized?

Geoffrey Jones: I think most of the 20th Century saw a huge wave of this homogenization, but I think it’s also important to remember that this wave of homogenization was never complete. And this proved to be really difficult for companies as they sought to globalize the industry. To give some examples... So as companies pushed out their brands and went to different markets, they discovered, often to their surprise that different cultures, different societies continued to have some very distinct preferences that were very hard to shift. 

So, the United States was a huge consumer of makeup. Europeans and East Asians spend much greater on skin care. East Asians hardly spent on perfume and whatever companies did, they have so far failed to raise that. The French had disproportionate spending on perfumes. So for all the homogenization going on in how we meant to be beautiful, persistent national differences were still noticeable. And my argument is that globalization in the last 20 years has started to work in the opposite direction from how it worked previously. I think globalization is spreading diversity now rather than constricting it. And there's a number of reasons why this is happening. One is that in the major western nations, the United States or France, populations are ethnically very diverse now, so there was simply a lot of different marketing opportunities that companies wish to take advantage of. 

But also the rise of power and wealth of countries like China, India, and Russia, is suddenly making their beauty ideals aspirational, perhaps. Certainly impossible to ignore. So the major players in the industry now are very interested in supplying those markets, for sure. But also experimenting with taking their beauty ideals and brands derived from those ideals back to western countries as consumers now increasingly seek greater diversity in what it means to be beautiful.

Recorded on April 21, 2010

More from the Big Idea for Monday, June 07 2010


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