Carole Harib

Carole Harib

CMO Sky Consulting


Carole Harib, CMO Sky Consulting and speaker at Serviceplan International Roadshow France (8 June 2016 – 2 pm // House of Communication in Munich) gives as a guest author an insight into her daily consulting practice with a topic that is close to her heart.

Naturalness or a return to a brand’s roots

As the sun sets on hyperconsumption in a world characterized by a fast pace of life and urbanisation, the need to reconnect with nature is becoming increasingly pressing and a major societal issue. The attitude displayed today by consumers with regard to beauty and cosmetics brands systematically addresses the question of naturalness.

Consumers are drawn to naturalness for several reasons: a desire to avoid aggressive ingredients, a quest for harmlessness (Defence), nutrients, a focus on the driving force of life (Health), and the urge to reveal and enhance this driving force of life via the effectiveness of natural products (Beauty).

Two types of arguments emerge as a result:

  • A first principle which consists in seeking out the driving force of life at its very source (Mother Nature): incorporating and enabling the virtues of the ingredient pass into the body (i.e. I am what I eat, my skin is what I give to it), the end result being beauty and health (consequence of the principle and satisfaction arising from respecting it)
  • A second principle based on the quest for beauty first and foremost (e. I am what I look like, only the result counts): action, repair, remedying a deficiency, and an attitude which implies that health is inherent to results which can be seen (confidence more than health)

These two different registers reveal two paradigms, each revolving around a coherent system of beliefs and representations.:

  • The paradigm of natural nature or complete naturalness (Mother Nature) encompasses everything that is universal and natural as well as essence itself. A “dogmatic” paradigm stemming from faith in a holistic belief, possibly with an underlying hint of guilt, and the concept of having been led astray, and not respecting the dogma.
  • The paradigm of cultural nature and efficiency which encompasses the desired effect, specificity, the “for oneself” factor, beauty, proof, and even science. A “pragmatic” paradigm stemming from faith in a belief that is confirmed, certified, proven, although tinged with the risk of potential disappointment and fallibility.

The complete naturalness paradigm is firmly rooted in a “I Must” stance and efficient naturalness in a “I Need” stance. If the first paradigm, consumer attitudes reveal a level of moral involvement which is more psychological than behavioural, whereas the second is more closely intertwined with the notions of justification and motivation. However, both work together to establish a conviction which combines image of the self and benefit for the self.

Individuals are multifaceted, and even more so today in a context of financial downturn, stress and intense competition. Cosmetics brands thus need to provide reassurance (naturalness) and be convincing (efficiency / proof). It is possible to consider a purchase based on conviction without reassurance, but the opposite seems much more difficult (reassurance without conviction?).

Beyond these broad principles, the promise of naturalness in cosmetics embraces a wide range of territories exploited by brands striving to claim and play this card: harmlessness/safety (nothing nasty, green ingredients…), origins, “sourcing”, selection of ingredients (correlated with an authentic and rare aspect), bio-ethics (affirmation of a societal commitment), biomimetics (combination of science and nature, synergy and symbiosis of active principles with the skin), pharmacopeia, herbalism (therapeutic cosmetics via plants), inspiration sought from ancestral beauty rituals (discovery and benefits in terms of harmony and wellbeing), sensorial nature (experiential benefit of nature), and minimalist nature (simplicity, soberness…) …

Cosmetic brands display five main approaches to nature:

  • “Botanical” approach: respect for the integrity of the ingredient (paradigm of complete naturalness/Mother Nature, mythological approach revolving around the power of nature)
  • Ethical approach: absence of harmful ingredients or a focus on ancestral traditions
  • Technical approach: technological nature enriched with distillates obtained by refining
  • Ethnic approach: nature associated with traditions inherent to other cultures
  • Health approach: therapeutic powers of nature

Although mass market brands or brands with a longstanding commitment to naturalness have been able to lay claim to the fact that naturalness is an integral part of their DNA or have succeeded in incorporating this claim, luxury brands have not yet undergone a “natural” revolution. For the first time, luxury brands have shown signs of a decline on the cosmetics market relative to more “natural oriented” brands, triggering a wave of purchases of natural brands by luxury groups well aware of the potential of naturalness.

This is a real challenge for luxury brands…

How can a luxury brand simultaneously claim the benefits of pleasure, a belief in abundance (no limits) and the benefits of naturalness and/or responsibility without risking accusations of lacking legitimacy and credibility, or even of manipulative temptation?

How can the equation be solved when two worlds are steeped in antagonistic semantics?

In view of the fact that societal, economic, political, and environmental crises have put in question certain values which once structured the purchase of luxury products (ostentation, possession, impulsiveness, costliness…), the trend towards naturalness and sustainable development could be an opportunity for luxury brands to promote what makes the essence of luxury itself.

But how should they embrace naturalness? Which angle should they adopt? Is there a naturalness specific to luxury? Will they take their commitment one step further than the relationship to products or consumers so as to adopt a strong societal approach?

Naturalness is well on the way to becoming one of the main trends in the years to come. Will it be a must for luxury brands too?