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The first crude advertisements for cosmetics appeared in European newspapers during the 17th and 18th centuries. Powder made of white lead and ground rice was sold by the pound for whitening the skin and hair. Another product advertised was the beauty patch, used primarily to cover the pockmarks left by smallpox and other diseases, as were rouge and lipstick. Early American newspapers featured similar ads, enticing colonists to imitate the latest fashions of London and Paris.

In 1846, Theron T. Pond, a chemist in New York state, developed witch hazel extract; a few years later, Mr. Pond rediscovered an early formula for cold cream. In 1859, kerosene dealer Robert Chesebrough learned of a fatty substance collecting on oil drilling rods that reputedly helped cure cuts and burns. Chesebrough's Vaseline Petroleum Jelly along with Pond's Cleansing Cream and Pond's Extract, became the first commercial American cosmetic products. (The two companies merged in 1955.) They were advertised primarily with colorful cards, product booklets and testimonials placed in apothecary shops.

Pond's became one of J. Walter Thompson Co.'s first clients in 1886, and the Pond's Girl ad campaign won first place at a national advertising convention in 1904 with the slogan "Avoid sunburn, freckles and chaps."

Gaining respectability

The early 20th century saw an increase in the advertising of cosmetic preparations, although their use was still not commonplace. The discreet use of certain cosmetics—including hair tint, cheek rouge and body powder on the arms and neckline—to cover the signs of aging was permissible.

Younger women could avail themselves of less obvious assistance. Cosmetic soaps, for example, had become an important business by the late 19th century when Pears' soap made the rather risky decision to use magazine page ads for its soap, "a speciality for improving the complexion." The ads made use of "high culture," employing paintings by popular artists and illustrators such as Frederic Remington, Maxfield Parrish, Will Bradley and John Everett Millais, accompanied by eye-catching copy: "Good morning, have you used Pears' soap?" Pears' soap was also among the first products to use endorsements by celebrities, including actress Lily Langtry and soprano Adelina Patti.

In 1891, John H. Woodbury introduced a beauty soap that was identified on package labels and in ads by a picture of his head. The first ad for Woodbury's facial soap, with the slogan, "A skin you love to touch," appeared in 1911, the work of Helen Lansdowne of JWT.

Cosmetic and beauty products, such as hair tonics, had always skirted laws designed to protect against unsafe drugs. The Pure Food & Drug Act of 1906 was intended to include cosmetics, but they were eliminated from the act because they were not considered a serious public health problem. However, a death and a blinding owing to use of an eyeliner product forced Congress to enact the Food, Drug & Cosmetic Act of 1938, dividing responsibility for the safety of cosmetics between the Food & Drug Administration and the Federal Trade Commission. In particular, advertising that made "therapeutic claims" equating cosmetics to drugs came under government scrutiny.

Arrival of mass marketing

With the advent of World War I, a combination of factors emerged that helped make mass-market cosmetics not only acceptable but also popular. The revolution was touched off in part when women began cutting their hair. By the early 1920s, the hourglass figure of the 1910s had been replaced by the flat-chested, boyish silhouette of the "flapper."

The flapper look required the use of cosmetics previously restricted solely to actresses and other not entirely respectable women. Mascara had been introduced by the former Empress Eugenie (widow of Napoleon III) around the turn of the century, but it did not become a standard cosmetics item in the U.S. until the plucked-and-penciled eyebrow of the flapper came into vogue.

Before 1917, lip rouge was sold in pots and spread by the fingertips. During World War I, however, the first lipsticks were developed by the Scovil Manufacturing Co., Waterbury, Conn., which began selling solid, extendible lip "bullets" in the early 1920s.

By 1929, a pound of face powder for every woman in the U.S. was being sold annually, and there were 1,500 face creams on the market. At the same time the concept of color harmony in makeup was introduced, and major cosmetics companies began producing integrated lines of lipsticks, fingernail lacquers and foundations.

Advertisers struggled to introduce consumers to the plethora of new cosmetic products and innovative makeup colors and styles. Some early cosmetics advertising, especially for the highly competitive beauty soaps, appealed to women's feelings of insecurity. Ads sought to remind women that beauty was directly linked to keeping a job—and a husband. A Woodbury ad in 1922 promised that "the possession of a beautiful skin" would help women face and overcome a hostile world "proudly—confidently—without fear." A 1930 ad for Procter & Gamble Co.'s Camay soap, created by Pedler & Ryan, asserted that "someone's eyes are forever searching your face, comparing you with other women."

Early cosmetics advertisers also pioneered the use of sexual references and nudity to remind women of the power of their sexuality. A popular 1928 Palmolive ad by Benton & Bowles depicted a lovely young mother adjusting her son's bow tie; it bore the caption, "His first love." In 1936, Woodbury's soap became the first product to use the image of a nude woman in national advertising; the accompanying copy read, "Science enriches Woodbury Formula with benefits of 'filtered sunshine,' nature's source of beauty for the skin!"

Products for people of color

At the same time, advertising of cosmetics for people of color was helping to foster and support African-American newspapers and magazines. Commercial hair straighteners and skin-whitening preparations, with names such as No Kink, Imperial Whitener, Mme. Turner's Mystic Face Bleach and Black Skin Remover, were well advertised in the press in the late 19th and early 20th centuries, and some remained in use into the 1950s.

Anthony Overton's Overton Hygienic Manufacturing Co., established in Kansas City, Kan., in 1898, was the first company to produce cosmetics created to accentuate black beauty. Ads for his High Brown Face Powder and other toiletry products became a staple in black newspapers, including the Chicago Defender, the first mass-circulation African-American publication, and the Chicago Bee, which Mr. Overton started in 1922.

In 1905, C.J. Breedlove Walker, who had learned advertising techniques from her newspaperman husband, revolutionized the hair and beauty culture industry by creating a treatment for hair loss, a common ailment among black and white women alike due to poor diet and harsh haircare treatments. Her Madame Walker Products Co. had 5,000 agents and was the leading advertiser in black newspapers at the time of her death in 1919.

Johnson Products, founded in Chicago in 1954 by George and Joan B. Johnson, marketed the first safe hair relaxant for men. Ads for the company's popular Ultra Sheen product line, using black advertising agencies and models, aided the growth of Essence and became a fixture on the "Soul Train" TV program.

The unrelated Johnson Publishing Co., publisher of Ebony and Jet, produced Fashion Fair Cosmetics and Supreme Beauty Products.

Beginning in the 1970s, the major cosmetics marketers began adding product lines that catered to customers of color, buying African-American-owned competitors such as Johnson Products and Soft Sheen Products and using black models in their advertising.

Marketing beauty

A growing body of market research after World War II indicated that the consumer's response to cosmetics was dictated more by the expectations and preferences of other women—what was called "other-directed" pitches—than by her own "inner-directed" goals such as age reduction or the promotion of health. One 1967 study of ads in three American women's magazines between 1913 and 1964 revealed that cosmetics were the only product among 13 categories surveyed that continued to stress an emotional, other-directed appeal.

Perhaps the most famous cosmetics campaign, labeled "the most effective ads in cosmetics history" by Business Week and named best ad of the year by Advertising Age, appeared in 1952. Revlon kicked off a promotion for a new lip and nail color called Fire & Ice with magazine spreads that featured redheaded model Dorian Leigh, the first Revlon Girl, in a sparkling silver sequined dress with a crimson cape and the tagline, "Are you ready for 'Fire & Ice'?" Nine thousand window displays were devoted to the vivid red color, and it was also advertised in newspapers and on the radio. "Fire & Ice" beauty contests were held across the country, and 22 hotels staged "Fire & Ice" preview parties. The color continued to be a Revlon staple into the 21st century.

Revlon, founded by New York cosmetics salesman Charles Revson in 1932, gained a virtual monopoly on beauty salon sales by 1940 through aggressive sales tactics such as salesmen "accidentally" destroying competitors' displays. Revlon also borrowed the concept of "planned obsolescence" from General Motors Corp. to introduce seasonal color changes; until World War II, women tended to use an entire lipstick or bottle of nail polish before purchasing a new one.

Building on the "Fire & Ice" campaign, Revlon produced and sponsored the TV quiz show "The $64,000 Question" in 1955. This popular program was such an effective ad vehicle that one shade of Revlon lipstick, modeled on b&w TV, sold out in 10 days. The program disappeared from TV in the quiz show scandal of 1958, but not before the show and the Revlon Girls had increased the company's sales by more than 100%. In fact, by this time Revlon was producing the No. 1 brand of lipstick, hair spray, nail products and foundation makeup.

Other cosmetics companies exploited the tried-and-true formula of actresses as role models. Maybelline, which started with a homemade petroleum jelly-based coloring for eyelids and lashes, was the first cosmetic brand to use radio and TV, and early on it made extensive use of celebrity tie-ins and endorsements, including Hollywood stars Hedy Lamarr and Joan Crawford.

In 1980, Maybelline hired TV actress Lynda Carter, best known for the lead role in "Wonder Woman." Ms. Carter appeared in ads for Moisture Whip skincare and cosmetics; Maybelline's sales increased by 200% during her first three years. She remained Maybelline's spokeswoman until 1991, when the brand was sold.

Max Factor, the brand sold by Sales Builders, traditionally spent less on advertising than the other major cosmetics companies because it capitalized on its historical ties with the motion picture industry. Founder Max Factor started his business in 1909 selling theatrical cosmetics and hair products, but helped develop innovative makeup for filmmakers. The company's principal agency during the 1930s and '40s was a small Los Angeles shop, Smith & Drum. Subsequently, advertising was handled by a house agency, the Ted H. Factor Agency, until Kenyon & Eckhardt became the agency of record in the 1950s.

Mr. Factor's greatest advertising achievement came during the 1930s when the introduction of color photographic film made it necessary for cosmetics companies to create makeup that could provide natural-looking skin tones. Max Factor's Pan-Cake makeup had a matte finish and more closely matched natural skin tones than had any previous makeup. Pan-Cake and the derivative Pan-Stik makeups have remained among the largest selling items in the cosmetics industry. Ultimately, Max Factor was bought by P&G and renamed Procter & Gamble Cosmetics Co.

Cover Girl built its product line on the age-old friction between the generations. Its cosmetics were based on Noxzema, which was Pond's 19th-century cold cream formula augmented with a mixture of clove, eucalyptus, menthol and camphor. In 1961, Cover Girl cosmetics were introduced in an ad campaign developed by Sullivan, Stauffer, Colwell & Bayles. Cover Girl used beautiful, young, relatively unknown models and photographed them on fake magazine covers and taking breaks between photo shoots.

Running until the 1980s, the campaign helped Cover Girl achieve an annual rate of growth in the double digits, putting it ahead of Revlon and Maybelline as the leader of the $2.6 million mass-market cosmetics segment. The brand and campaign also helped invent the so-called supermodel. Jennifer O'Neill, Carol Alt, Christie Brinkley, Cybill Shepherd and Rachel Hunter all started as models for Cover Girl, and Cheryl Tiegs reigned as a Cover Girl model for a record 19 years. The first African-American and Latino Cover Girl models appeared during the 1990s, as did the first model under the age of 18.

Smaller cosmetics companies have used less emotional, non-traditional or even old-fashioned strategies to promote their products. Estee Lauder began in the late 1940s as a product line sold exclusively in New York department stores such as Saks Fifth Avenue and launched the practice of giving gift items with purchase. The unheard-of practice puzzled retailers at first, but when it was discovered that the "free" samples actually served to demonstrate new products to consumers, other cosmetic companies also adopted it. Lauder later employed snob appeal in its advertising, even though the company's ad budget paled in comparison to those of its competitors.

Buying an image

By the end of the 20th century, the emotional image of many cosmetics overshadowed their other characteristics. Advertising and packaging had become the consumer's sole definition of a product, and each customer provided her own justification for a purchase based on confidence in a product and the attractiveness or "image" of the models using it.

A growing fear of synthetic chemicals, along with burgeoning consumer interest in the healthful qualities of products, encouraged advertisers to stress the simple and "natural" ingredients of cosmetics. Hypoallergenic cosmetics evolved from a specialty with only narrow appeal into a mass-market product, and advertising that emphasized a product's non-allergenic properties was directed at all women, including those who had no cosmetic allergies. As women became more active in sports, advertisers stressed the lasting qualities and convenience of makeup.

The aging of the baby boomer generation by the end of the 1990s encouraged manufacturers to create new anti-aging products or to promote the anti-aging properties of existing cosmetics as much as the law would allow.

The rise of professional dermatological procedures, including Botox, prompted a rash of new "cosmeceutical" products in facial skincare from both mass and prestige players that were often marketed with the help of medical professionals, who in some cases began launching their own brands. Estee Lauder Cos. signed a doctor to endorse its Prescriptives Dermapolish, its version of micro-dermabrasion; Procter & Gamble Co. positioned its high-end Olay Regenerist as an alternative to dermatologist techniques; and L'Oreal launched a Wrinkle De-Crease with "Boswelox" in addition to a Dermo-Expertise facial cleanser and moisturizer.

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