Posted by: lisaurel | December 3, 2011

Alice as a Marketing Strategy

During the hype surrounding the 2010 Tim Burton film adaptation of Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland, many companies seized the opportunity to re-package already existing products or to release limited edition Alice in Wonderland themed items. I’d like to focus on 3 such endeavors–all by makeup companies targeting young to middle aged women. OPI, Urban Decay, and Paul & Joe all used the iconic Alice image in order to sell their products.

According to this quote from a WWD article on the Alice themed makeup: “Everybody wants to be somebody. If they like an actor or actress, they can associate a nail lacquer with their character, and it gets them closer,” Suzi Weiss-Fleischmann, OPI executive vice president and creative director said. “These collaborations draw the consumer more and more to a movie and a [nail lacquer] color.”

While the use of a popular trend or fad to appeal to large fan bases is nothing new in the world of marketing, what interests me is why these makeup companies decided to use the image of a little girl from a children’s story to sell beauty products (associated with sexuality) to adult women. If we take the aforementioned quote at face value–I’d like to ask what do modern women see (or read) in Alice that makes them want to be closer to the character? What does Alice embody that makes women connect with her and want to buy products stamped with her image?

Is it a nostalgia for childhood? Is it because consumers are simply huge fans of Alice in Wonderland? Perhaps it’s the cutesy, vintage-y aesthetic? Maybe women just want to attain that innocent, doe-eyed childish look?

As much as I love Alice in Wonderland and the many permutations her image has taken since John Tenniel’s illustrations and the Disney animation that made her an icon, at a second glance these products make me vaguely uncomfortable. Perhaps it’s because they remind me of Lewis Carroll’s photographs of the young girls he had relationships with. These pictures have been perceived as  Lolita-esque, making some viewers uncomfortable about the voyeuristic, possibly inappropriate, possibly sexually predatory situation that may have occurred during the creation of the photos. Carol Mavor’s analysis of sexuality in Victorian photographs in her book, Pleasures Taken, has made me wary of what at first seem to be innocent pictures. (Below is Alice Liddell posed as a beggar girl, shot by Lewis Carroll)

Perhaps I’m reading too far into the packaging on these beauty products. It should be keep in mind that the targeted audience is undeniably different and very far removed from the original Victorian recipients of the Alice in Wonderland story. After all, Tim Burton’s adaptation is based on fanfiction about a much older Alice, which greatly changes the dynamics of the narrative.

Another quote from the same WWD article: “Burton is dark and edgy, yet everything he does is really beautiful at the same time,” said Wende Zomnir, Urban Decay’s creative director and co-founder. “I felt it was a perfect match for Urban Decay to do a palette based on his vision.” 


Responses

  1. Great observations. One of my favorite aspects of “Alice in Wonderland” is Lewis Carroll’s fascination with innocence, preserving one’s childhood, and the simplicity of youth. I think beauty products are a perfect avenue to unleash these references – especially in marketing. Yes, Alice as an icon has gone through variety of make-overs since the original illustrations, but Carroll’s spirit is still there.

    Make-up can be practical and classic, but also whimsical and fantastical. If you think about it, one purpose of make-up is to transform one’s self into a new person or personality. And looking younger is always appealing to a wide audience. Feeling younger is more fun! I wish I could wear a princess dress everyday, but I am apparently too old for that to be socially acceptable. For those of us who miss that dress, there is “Alice”-themed bubblegum pink lipstick that serves as a nostalgic trip back in time.

  2. I absolutely agree that there is something vaguely perverse about the use of “Alice” as a make-up marketing tool. Like you said, it’s strange because the marketing strategy is saying that older women can look like little girls and live a fantasy. This outfit that I came across from Victoria’s Secret is in the same style, and I find it even more upsetting that “Alice” characters are being used as a sexual fantasy for mature women:

    http://www.victoriassecret.com/ss/Satellite?ProductID=1265646913300&c=Page&cid=1319075850535&pagename=vsdWrapper

    It’s weird, right?


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