Inspiration has been a core love of authors, filmmakers, strategists, lovers, swindlers and everyone alike. We get inspired by different things in life to do many other different things in life. Yet, over the past several years, a peculiar type of inspiration seems to indicate that one day, I will need to keep my dresser in very close proximity of my fridge and my pantry. I have already spoken of how complex a shopping trip has gotten, mainly due to evolving consumer behavior in changing times. But here comes a dilemma from a more multi-sensory perspective: the inedible yet inviting face of body care products.
The Forbidden (Inedible) Fruit
Shopping has indeed become a complex trip. For instance, in the fragrance section, I see DKNY Be Delicious. Delicious for sure, shaped like an apple, and even placed amidst apples, giving it a green glow. My addiction to the sour crunch of a green apple and the consequential explosion of flavor in my mouth makes me want to spray the stuff into my mouth. Obviously I am able to detangle the urge from the visual cue, as my sensibility kick in, but not before I am wondering what a great idea this is (pity the men’s version is in a murky brown package, like an apple that has been sitting out too long). The key here is not the actual product, but the packaging, store design, clever storyboarding inspired by the forbidden fruit scenario and upgraded into Manhattan, notwithstanding the promotional shoot, set in a street-side apple vendor space, no less.
Gourmand is the showbiz term for this. The alarming trend of fragrances inspired by certain foods has taken on a variety of new forms that punch you in the face, literally, with immense multi-senosry appeal. With the combination of clever advertising, they trick the senses into consumption mode. For example, anyone viewing the following clip will think it is for a Willy Wonka store, or a yuppy kids candy store that has opened up in the neighborhood by an enthusiastic mom and pop duo (yes, the white shadow logo on the counter and accessories does give it away, but who is looking at these when you have delectable candy flying into your face!). Ironically, it turns out to be DKNY’s extension of the Be Delicious line, scented as caramel, raspberry and berry candy apples, with the packaging complete with a gooey candy apple effect and a lolly stick embossed with DKNY. Too bad these are not edible, since I got ravenously hungry watching the video, only to end with an anticlimax and an empty stomach.
Similarly, when in a body care store, I feel that I am in a grocery store. Iconic products that I like from the Body Shop and Bath and Body Works, amongst others, have long been known to infuse fruity extracts into their soaps and lotions. But now, things have taken a deeper plunge, as grapefruit and pomegranate inspired scents infiltrate the air, and the soap that I am using to cleanse my hands physically looks like fruity sludge and smells so heavenly that I want to pour it into a glass and freeze it with a stick in it, so that I can eventually lick it like a popsicle! To imitate the scent is one thing, but to actually make the product resemble something that it clearly is not (consumable, in this case) makes my stomach twist in cravings. Thankfully my mind (and a bit of experience) tells me that what looks, smells and feels like fruit, actually tastes like soap.
I still recall using a 100% pure pomegranate body scrub, and simply opening the lid punched me in the face with a strong scent of fresh pomegranate, and the sugary slush (more like sugar, red pigment, and oil) looked so much like a smoothie that I had the temptation to scoop it into my mouth, tricked into thinking it was a quickly melting sorbet that I needed to gobble before it became an unfortunate waste. I understand that the goal here is not necessarily to make me hungry (unless there’s a cross licensing agreement with fruit vendors that I am oblivious to), but to enlighten me about how close to nature these products are. Well, hunger invariably takes over the other senses based on such obvious sensory cues.
Mommy, can I bathe in ice cream? Daddy, is chocolate a soap?
With my penchant for desserts and all things sweet, it is no surprise that I discovered an extremely exciting but remarkably confusing product. Picture this.
(Photo courtesy: Me! Bath)
While is looks like, smells like and even obtains the irregular just-churned texture of ice cream, it is in fact a bathing product. Me! Bath has capitalized on the trend of one’s love for ice cream, and has converted it into a home-spa luxury experience. With umpteen flavors varying encompassing chocolate, coconut, pomegranate, clementine, milk and honey, and many others, the brand goes one step further to create a four course dessert meal equivalent of a spa experience. It follows the regimen of a ‘bath ice cream’ bomb (bathtub sizzlers that release oils and minerals), a ‘shower sherbet’ (scrub, cleanser and exfoliator all in one), an optional use of an ‘ice cream sandwich’ (pumice stone scrub) and ‘body icing’ lotion! The products even tread on semi-sensual paths by calling body lotion ‘body icing’, conjuring images of food related bedroom antics seen so frequently in movies, television, and valentines inspired advertisements (which conveniently ignore the mess that is left right after). I find that Me! Bath is one of the few lines that has actually successfully defined the food-inspired body care business, with strong experiential positioning, its adequate distribution into luxury spas and hotels for market penetration, a value proposition allowing an in-home spa experience, and a fundamentally amazing sequence of inter-related products (with a fascinating claim that the ‘bath ice cream’ takes three days to make!), exemplified by the following educational video.
I found Max Brenner’s foray into body care strange, with velvety cocoa butter lotion and a chocolate scrub with cocoa nibs, which sounded paradoxically both arousing as well as revolting, evoking the images of a semi sensual but overall dirty body that would leave a disastrous mess in the bathtub or be a thriving insect parlor. The clever PR statement was along the lines of the fact that ‘the body butter melts on your skin just the way chocolate does in your mouth’; interesting, yes, enticing, not for me, but definitely for a lot of folks that I was standing when we heard it, who whisked over to the Max Brenner store immediately. See, on smelling, seeing and feeling something so close to chocolate, wouldn’t a natural temptation be to simply eat it? Pouring it all over myself would make me even more ravenous for a chocolate craving, which while a great co-branding technique, puts the consumer into a salivating dilemma!
And then, I came across a brand that capitalized the very notion of bathing in desserts by calling the entire line The Body Bakery, complete with ‘whipped butter’ body lotion, a best-selling whipped cream product, and other bakery inspired, packaged, texturized and scented products, enough to convince yuppies caught in a drunken stupor to consume them in a moment of high forgetfulness. I find it comical that the extension into bakery smelling fragrances for our canine friends was approved, given that dogs are attracted to but must be kept away from chocolate anyway, adding to the ridicule of the legendary term hot dog. And foraying out of body care into home care, there is a cookie scented spray (hilariously titled ‘cookie sheets’) to spray onto beds and towels. While sensual for some, it gives me the notion of having oil spray on your sheets, resulting in a heavy, dreary mess. Yet, with aromatherapy as its core value proposition, you cannot deny that with closed eyes, you would fall in love with the scents around you. Perhaps that is why even the world-adored hand-made cosmetics brand Lush, with its bricks of soap adorning all walls, has now taken following from fruity inspirations to more decadent ones, like chocolate and honey toffee soap with a brown sugar cube on it!
I have always believed that the function and purpose of shampoo is to remove buildup, just like soap is to clean, and lotion is to moisturize and prevent dryness. These classical definitions are clearly languishing, with their squeaky clean and bubbly images virtually tarnished by images of bodies emerging from melting chocolate, claiming to be clean and rejuvenated! It is indeed a new way of thought. These aforementioned businesses thus have an interesting proposition, to invite lovers of one industry (chocolate, ice cream, etc.) to share their core passion of the flavors and scents with another. But are the acts of bathing or applying lotion sensorially similar to indulging in your favorite dessert? Perhaps for some, which explains why these businesses are thriving, and many have whipped out lists of favorite products by varieties of brands on the topic, encompassing Chocolate Truffle Spray Moisturizer, Chocolate Silk Shake Bath and Handmade Truffle Soap! Touted as calorie free desserts for the body, it is no wonder that such products have such a large fan following, buckets of hype and buzz, and consequential surges in sales. There is an inevitable and perhaps intentional consequence of the multi-sensory appeal, which definitely makes one hungrier and crave the calories that these inedible products lack, particularly if one is a child (or a child at heart), making the issue equivalently comical and serious. The joys of marketing!
Honey, want a Beer (Bath)?
Perhaps what I will say will make you regret washing your hair with boring shampoo after a beer bar brawl that soaked your scalp. It may have felt gross, but your hair was probably super shiny. Beer has been incorporated into soaps and shampoos for its caring and pampering properties, making it a hot sell for men in particular; finally a men’s skin line without female origins! (Not being sexist, just realistic).
(Photo courtesy: Etsy)
Strangely enough, it seems that Bristol Myers Squibb was actually one of the first developers of the line, with a shampoo called Body on Tap, which was sadly withdrawn from the market! The commercial for the volumizing shampoo even has the voluminous haired model looking rather puzzled admitting to the fact that her curls are due to beer, which makes up most of whats in her shampoo bottle. She then momentarily pauses, only to widen her eyes to make contact with her ogling viewers and smilingly suggests that you do not drink it! The point being, even this lovely blond lady eventually understood the risk of having a food (or in this case, beverage) inspired item as a body care item.
I think even guys could do without their sudsy brands called Dogfish! Heineken or Coors shampoo would suffice nicely, although if packaged and placed into a six pack, there is absolutely no doubt that some dude will drink it. On the other hand, it would be a relief for sore eyes to see a beer bottle (albeit with shampoo in it), or a Heineken bar soap, sitting in the bathtub on a tiring workday morning, or visibly in the bathing arena when stepping in for a post-workout shower. The Heineken inspired soap actually does exist, however creatives have been painfully unadventurous with its packaging, for it simply does not appeal. Nevertheless, perhaps such product placements in such ways will entice users to actually purchase it, though with an inevitable consequence of consuming too much beer, given the presence of its aroma and lookalikes in the unlikeliest of places. I wonder if the formulation of a body firming serum to get rid of the beer-belly consequence is in the works; the concept would capture tremendous buzz: drink beer to get a belly, use this beer serum to lose it. No pun intended. Laughs aside, the benefit of this business development is the fact that beer actually has properties to elevate hair shine, and is not simply a fragranced add-on (despite claims that fruity extracts help the skin, however not at the ‘extract’ level for sure!).
You are what you Eat Taste like
And to bring things one step closer to tasting, there are food inspired lip balms. Lip balms started as protectants, with medicinal and moisturizing cures for chapped lips, a category virtually founded by Chapstick. To date, Chapstick positions its lip balms as medicated, moisturizing, or flavored, and has found deep rooted success. The singular solid fruit inspired flavors came into the market when the infusion of extracts was on a rise. The strawberries and cherries mastered by Chapstick made fruits the acceptable norm, with brands like Kiehl’s foraying into mango and coconut, and even these are considered exotic. But now, there are inspirations from wholly packaged foods. Cheetos lip balm, Pepsi lip balm, Skittles lip balm, … the list goes on. Lotta Luv seems to have started the trend, appealing to a unisex crowd, heightened by many other food producers. The business proposition clearly has shown success, given the variety of co-branding tactics that have surged sales for them. Several other brands have caught on the trend too; Bath and Body works launches seasonal lip glosses like triple hot chocolate for winter.
(Photo courtesy: Betty Crocker)
Every inspired lip balm seems to come with its share of huge drawbacks. Image misconceptions rise when Betty Crocker’s lip balms use artwork identical to her cookie and fudge mixes, calling them ‘fudge brownie’ lip balm too! The reason is naturally to associate the goodness of her cookies with the taste of the lip balm. Is this even a viable extension category for such a treasured and culturally rich brand? Not to mention, when dairy inspired lip balms sit in the heat of your pocket, your car and your bag, I can only imagine the warming and almost rotting scent of dairy products that have been left out too long… And yet the trend continues to grow. My favorite ice cream concept store, Coldstone Creamery, launched their lip balms in signature ice cream flavors in miniature ice cream cups, taking the packaging and marketing story a step further than predecessors! These were possibly targeted at middle and high school cheeky kids with parents who complained about their rotting teeth. Oh the deception.
These package inspired flavored lip balms claim that they make one less likely to consume the very food they are inspired from, given that you are ‘tasting’ them by applying it! Although an interesting twist on providing a solution to the world’s rising weight problem, is it a sustainable solution? Not if the taste actually makes you crave the food even more! It seems more like a momentary fad, but one that is really living for a long time.
Frankly, I do not think I would be too pleased about tasting Pepsi on my lips all day long, since what I enjoy about the few carbonated beverages I drink is the bubbly feeling, which is naturally missing in the lips balms. What seems to be left behind is the taste of a flat fizzy drink on my lips. If this is the case, it would probably turn me off of Pepsi, something that my body would love but Pepsi would not. Being vegetarian, I would cringe at the very thought of J&D’s Bacon flavored lip balm. Wearing Cheetos lip balm on a date does not sound good either, I can only imagine how the kissing phase would turn out, particularly if one of the kissers is allergic to cheese…
(Photo courtesy: Pepsi USA)
So, here’s the tip of the iceberg on food inspired body care. The trend of infusing natural extracts into body care products is not new, but the newer trend, seemingly another clever marketing tactic of merging two unrelated industries and having the food inspiration for body care go beyond simple extracts, is truly saturating the market. The metaphor of having your skin being thirsty and hungry, just like your mouth, is one that clearly resonates with the market. So, the whirlwind trend involves creative packaging, realistic textures, powerful aromatherapy, evocative stories, enticing promotions, and almost surreal illusions of having a mirage of food in front of you that is used for anything but eating. I have often wondered why how this explosive trend came about, and the types of people that it targets with both the traditional and the more bizarre creations, and whether these really are just fads, or true lovemarks, as per my favorite framework for marketing.
Given that people enjoy speculating about economy-related bubbles, is this another bubble that may burst soon?
Or will I continue to look at my dresser and think I am peeking into my pantry?
My thoughts and findings enabled me to create a framework to understand the scenario better, which have been divulged in a subsequent analysis.