Shampoo's main function as a product may be to clean hair, but when it comes to advertising, no form of marketing succeeds more potently to sell this cleansing product to women than the marketing of feminine sex appeal. 'Buy the product, and be a sexy woman/girl.' This may not always come across as good clean fun in the eyes of the consumer, but, even if us not strictly dirty advertising, the need to sell sex as part of the image to the typical female consumer of shampoo cannot be underestimated. What else will distinguish what is otherwise a fairly indistinguishable product, other than the promise of sensuality via the right kind of soaping and suds?
While much of Chapter 7 of Reading Culture by Diana George and John Trimbur makes much of how the female body has been used as an image to 'sell' different objects throughout advertising history to men, shampoo advertising of even such mid-market shampoos such as Pantene, Herbal Essences, and Garnier are notable in the ways that the female image and body is used to sell a product designed for women, to women, by encouraging the consumer to think of herself as becoming increasingly sexy via the use of the product, albeit sexy in different ways.
Pantene is marketed to an older demographic, and makes use of a more European and International marketing strategy, filled with scientific jargon. Herbal Essences is targeted to younger women, who wish to be natural and healthy, and not shellacked with products, yet Herbal women still apparently want come across as sexy and fun like the product's celebrity endorser, the hip-hop star Ashanti. Lastly, Garnier Fructis has the most downscale and 'down with it' teenybopper image, but amidst the cute quizzes and lingo, the promise of sexiness through shampoo is never far from the reader or web surfer's eye.
True, Pantene's actual advertising text on its website, as well as in its television, magazine, and newspaper advertisements purely stresses the health benefits of the Pantene product, not overt sensuality unlike Pantene's youth-oriented competitor products. But the subliminal messages behind the Pantene ads are clear. The pure white of the blank surface of the ads, the near-white text of the advertisements all sets off the mirrored, shiny surfaces of the hair of its models and validates the Pantene European model's appeals, rather than purely the health of their shiny, long hair. After all, hair is essentially dead -- and Pantene is not a medical shampoo that performs a function like the removal of dandruff or lice or some other non-sexy functions. The reason that a consumer might chose Pantene over a rival product is sexuality, pure and simple.
'99% stronger hair in just one week." One of the funniest aspects of the Pantene ads is the way that they make use of medicinal claims in their advertisements, like toothpaste ads that proclaim the carefully measured preference of dentists for one brand over another. The hair of the models seems impossibly long, questioning to some extent the ethical veracity of some of these ad claims, while not being strictly unethical in a technical sense, except perhaps to obfuscate the issue of who was doing the measuring of strength and length. The image one is greeted with when one accesses the site is that of a beautiful, near naked women with shimmering rivers of hair splayed out into blank, fantasy wall of apparently imaginary purity and whiteness. Not only might the savvy consumer wish ask, what does 99% stronger for these impossibly pampered models mean and how does one test this upon ordinary people, but what woman today really wears her hair like this, in long and shimmering ripples?
Pantene seems to appeal to a customer seeking to embody Pre-Raphaelite ideals in her own body and hairstyle, rather than the cutting edge of trends. Even though she may also, on the surface, seek to improve her physical health, and also seek a relative bargain in her shopping, given that Pantene is not a high-priced product and advertises its low price with coupons as well as with inflated claims, the subliminal urge the ad plays on is a desire for sexuality, combined with an overt stress upon health and intellectual, articulated desire for strength and scientific validation of advertising claims. Urges for pampering, such as "find out what is right for you," are always supported with authoritarian claims about mysterious amino acids that protect Pantene-saturated hair from damage and color from fading, are fused into one.
Clairol's Herbal Essences, another Proctor and Gamble product, also stresses the composition of its product, but with a far more natural and 'healthy' image, as opposed to a purely chemically-based textual pitch such as Pantene. Pantene stresses its more international clientele than does Clairol, making available even to the casual surfer a number of language options on its website. Thus Herbal Essence's 'crunchy' naturalness may be more appealing to an American ideal of health and beauty, as well as to a younger consumer. Although language options are accessible, for Herbal Essences consumers on its website, the main image one is greeted with for Herbal Essences on the site is a dark-skinned young woman, in contrast to the panoply of Pantene's vaguely different images of ethnicity and female forms -- different, yet all with a kind of pale sameness of underlying skin tone as well as silkiness of hair -- on a background of white, unlike Herbal Essence's rich and verdant grassy greens and floral tones of pink, yellow, and orange, colors not common to Pantene's purity of images or text.
Clairol's Herbal Essences website and advertisements show many pinks and greens, throughout even the clothes choices of the model. The locations of the models further stress the supposedly plant-based nature of the product, and the models are younger and dressed in more casual clothing than the naked or evening gown clad forms on Pantene's site. "Hair care and Hair Color that Will ROCK your senses!" cries the Herbal Essences website banner in large bold letters, in contrast to the slimmer scientific textual font of Pantene.
The stress of the beauty of the plants rather than the science of Herbal Essences underlines that herbs, rather than being something complicated to comprehend like 'Pro V' and 'amino acids to protect strength,' or perhaps something potentially unnatural and cooked up in a laboratory, are naturally occurring beauty substances that enhance one's freedom and sensuality. Clairol stresses that herbs are something simple and rejuvenating, full of color, life and light.
Some of the website's most blatant sex appeals involves the use of the popular R& B. star Ashanti, whose lovely eyes and considerable cleavage, as well as her shining hair indicates to the viewer that this shampoo will sell one's own style and sensuality in a youth-forward fashion. The website also shows the product's crossover appeal to a African-American audience, despite shampoo and beauty product's usual positioning as fairly ethnically homogeneous. The word discovery is stressed on the site, rather than the dispensing of information. Discover yourself; discover your natural sexuality is the message.
The younger demographic of Herbal Essences may also be reflected in the fact that that price is less prominent in the product's advertising -- although none of these shampoos are expensive products, but mid-priced in their appeal and marketing, the price of a beauty supply might be of less concern to a younger, more appearance conscious consumer than a typical, older Pantene consumer, who must balance her purchase of a mid-market shampoo with other beauty products on a family rather than an individual budget. Even the layout of Herbal Essences' site requires more interaction with the website and the clicking mouse, indicating the interactive appeal for younger users of this website…