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CoverGirl Enlists Issa Rae, Katy Perry, And More To Help Redefine Beauty Advertising

New brand campaign aims to inspire and embody women as multi-dimensional humans, not one-dimensional objects.

CoverGirl Enlists Issa Rae, Katy Perry, And More To Help Redefine Beauty Advertising

It’s so common we hardly ever notice it anymore. Look at almost any beauty advertising and you’ll see it: women portrayed in a soft-lit background with the focus on the product, as if the model lives in some far-flung dreamscape instead of the real world. This is the kind of advertising CoverGirl didn’t want.

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For its new campaign, CoverGirl enlisted a diverse group of brand ambassadors to help it not only reflect the diversity of its consumers, but also illustrate the diversity of what beauty is and can be. The new ad features Insecure creator and star Issa Rae, Katy Perry, Ayesha Curry, personal trainer Massy Arias; 69-year-old model and dietician Maye Musk, and professional motorcycle racer Shelina Moreda. The women aren’t on a set, but instead out in the real world, albeit a very stylized one.

CoverGirl senior vice president Ukonwa Ojo says the new brand campaign started with the insight that people no longer strive for a singular standard of beauty. “We started with her, we started with the consumer, and that allows us to continually evolve as a brand if we’re always listening,” says Ojo. “And the more we listen to her talk about her beauty, her self-identity, she’s becoming a lot more comfortable in her own skin and in her ability to create who she is. And makeup is a significant part of that self-expression.”

It’s the first major brand campaign Ojo has overseen since joining the company from Unilever last year. CoverGirl and agency Droga5 hinted at where they were headed with a one-off project back in June called #ProjectPDA that aimed to challenge the stigma of women putting on makeup in public. That project, along with many of the insights utilized here, came out of a study for CoverGirl conducted by Ipsos that found 52% of women who felt judged for their makeup look said they’d also felt judged at work; 74% of women expressed that they feel they need to wear makeup in social settings; and 75% of women noted that they wear makeup for themselves and not for anyone else.

It’s the sentiment in that last statistic that CoverGirl’s new slogan and campaign “I Am What I Make Up” largely revolves around. Droga5  group strategy director Katy Alonzo says the brief addressed the fact that the market and consumer had completely changed. “Traditionally in the category, it had always been women being transformed for very superficial, vain reasons,” says Alonzo. “In a lot of ways, it was because the category had been stuck in a male gaze. So we wanted to rewrite a lot of those conventions.”

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A big part of that was changing the way in which women were portrayed in the ads themselves. “Another aspect is the issue of context, which the beauty industry has largely lacked,” says Alonzo. “She’s presented as an object. What we wanted to do, through the talent we chose to work with, is honor who they are, their stories, and the context that beauty plays within their lives.”

Droga5 executive creative director Alexander Nowak points to Moto GP racer Shelina Moreda. “She puts on makeup almost as a preparation for her race,” says Nowak. “She’s not wearing it for the audience, she’s wearing it for herself. It’s under the helmet, but she does it for herself. There is no right or wrong–it’s about showing that wearing makeup can be however and whenever you want it to be.”

About the author

Jeff Beer is a staff editor at Fast Company, covering advertising, marketing, and brand creativity. He lives in Toronto.

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