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by Caletha Crawford

How the fast growth of minority groups in the United States is coloring the future of the cosmetics industry.

Open a magazine or simply turn on the TV and the ads for cosmetics are unavoidable. That’s not anything new. Advertising has always been a war paint battleground. What has changed are the faces showcasing these products. Where these promotions used to be filled with Caucasians, today they’re just as likely to feature African-Americans, Hispanics or Asians. Though it’s unclear how much of this shift has to do with a changing standard of beauty in the U.S., one thing is apparent: the cosmetics industry has recognized women of color as a growth opportunity.

Though the slate of Black, Latino, Asian and Indian spokesmodels is long now—Rihanna for Cover Girl, Halle Berry for Revlon, Eva Longoria Parker and Aishwarya Rai for L’Oreal and Jessica White for Maybelline, to name a few—it’s important to note that the first African-American model wasn’t signed to a major brand until 1992 when Cover Girl tapped Lana Ogilvie. This means that all but the youngest of today’s adult women came of age without seeing themselves reflected in cosmetics ads or offerings.

Before these companies can capitalize on this market, many beauty brands will need to kiss and make up with communities that often felt marginalized by the industry. After all, as a recent study by market research firm Mintel revealed, black women don’t believe the majority of beauty advertisers are speaking to them. Further, only 35 percent of these women feel they are positively reflected in the media in general.

Strength In Numbers

While consumers might be hesitant to embrace this new inclusive normal, today women of color often take center stage in the marketing and R&D initiatives for many entrepreneurial brands as well as cosmetics conglomerates. According to Bob Wallner, national sales manager for Milani Cosmetics, this shift occurred for one very good reason. “As a result of the 2000 census, all of the major retailers selling cosmetics in this country focused on the browning of America,” he said. “All of them initiated a search for brands to answer that constituency—not just African-Americans but also Hispanics.”

And taking a look at the numbers, it’s easy to see what sparked merchants’ interest. According to the Census, both the African-American and Hispanic populations had a higher growth rate than the overall U.S. population from 1990 to 2000. While the U.S. expanded by 13 percent during that time, African-Americans grew by 15.6 percent to 34.7 million. And the number of Hispanics in this country jumped 61 percent to 35.2 million.

Taken as a whole, these statistics add up to big potential for brands that can address these demographics. While accurate numbers are difficult to come by for cosmetics specifically, market research publisher Packaged Facts has reported that ethnic haircare, makeup and skincare products combined constituted a $3 billion business in 2009.

These numbers are sure to skyrocket as we move toward a point—some say as early as 2042—when minorities are the majority in this country.

“Times have changed dramatically and there are many more options available for women of color than in the past,” stated Sandra Hutson, brand director for Black Opal. “The industry is finally starting to recognize that women of color really do need products that are developed especially for their them.”

Whether they’re going about it with overt messaging and products like Cover Girls’ Queen Collection, which is fronted by Queen Latifah, or through broader marketing campaigns like that of L’Oreal USA’s HIP line, which simply offers colors with higher pigmentation which work better on darker skin, it is clear marketers are taking this consumer group into account when developing new products.

Blurring the Lines

Offering the right product is only part of the solution. How companies choose to reach out to these groups will be critical to their growth. As the 2000 Census also showcased by allowing respondents to identify themselves as more than one race, our society is a melting pot. In response, Don Montuori, publisher of Packaged Facts, said many beauty companies have already started to shy away from targeting any one group. “In 2010, there is a strong trend to position beauty products multi-culturally. That is, not only to the three principal minorities consisting of Hispanics, African-Americans, and Asians, but also to Arabs, Native Americans, South Asians, and others,” he said. “A strength of using the term ‘multicultural’ is that products carrying the label can be marketed to everybody, including Caucasians.”

Flori Roberts, which launched in 1966 as the first African-American cosmetics line to sell in department stores, has since become sensitive to marketing to a wider spectrum. “Our audience is broader in that we have moved over to other ethnicities,” said Sharon Boone, president of Flori Roberts’ parent company Color Me Beautiful. “Depending on their skin tone, Latinos and Indians still have to look to brands like us to find shades that are a perfect match. Once you start going yellow, golden or olive [mainstream] brands still have a bit of old school thought mixed in when it comes to addressing skin color.”

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