Insecurity is Big Business

When Reckitt Benckiser Group (RB/) brought its Veet hair-removal cream to China in 2005, sales were sluggish. Its prices were considered too high and its product sizes too large. But the biggest problem: Most Chinese women don’t have much body hair, and those who do didn’t worry about it. So the company embraced a new marketing plan. Reckitt Benckiser rolled out ads equating hair-free skin with health, confidence, and “shining glory.” In the process, the company has helped make many Chinese women more conscious of every stray follicle. “It’s not how much hair you have, it’s how much you think you have,” says Aditya Sehgal, the company’s China chief. “If your concern level is high enough, even one hair is too much”

Despite such plays on women’s fears of embarrassment, Reckitt Benckiser’s Sehgal says that Chinese women are too “independent-minded” to be coaxed into using a product they don’t really need. Others aren’t so sure. Veet’s Chinese marketing “plays a role that is very similar to that of the apple in the Bible,” says Benjamin Voyer, a social psychologist and assistant professor of marketing at ESCP Europe business school. “It creates an awareness, which subsequently creates a feeling of shame and need.”

One thing I learned from management consulting training is that business is a lot like special relativity.  It follows a clear line of reasoning, but the logic can seem completely counter intuitive to most non-experts.  Such is the case of selling hair removal cream to the most hairless portion of our population (well, almost).

A big clap on the back to the boys and girls down in marketing, responsible for constructing the very reality of the world we live in and honing our every perception.  Among other things, in a world where millions of people starve to death from lack of access to food, what amazing power it must be to convince women to do it for no good reason.  And to convince women that this fits into this.  Good job, marketeers.

Convincing Women in China They’re Too Hairy

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