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· Beauty Notes: Biting the Hand that Feeds You

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Beauty Notes: Biting the Hand that Feeds You
by Li Wen


Urban Decay has decided to make its products available in China. With just one press statement, which attempts to reconcile this business decision and its brand image, Urban Decay has managed to both anger its existing customer base (those opposed to animal testing) and insult the Chinese market that it is trying to court.

You can read the full statement at Temptalia, but here are some choice bits (emphases mine):
"[W]e believe that change cannot and will not happen by outside pressure alone in a closed market. Change can only happen from within. When we enter the Chinese market, we will do our part to help make those changes.
"When we were considering expanding into China, a group of marketing consultants told us to remove the section of our company history that describes our crusade against animal testing. "It doesn't mean anything to the Chinese beauty customer," they said. Of course, we refused. Our “no animal testing” policy is part of who we are, and has been since day one. The news that animal issues don't even register with the average Chinese consumer was one of the biggest factors in our decision to go there. During Urban Decay's infancy, we worked hard to inform consumers about animal rights in the United States and Europe. The battleground for animal rights is now in China, and we want to be there to encourage dialogue and provoke change.
"We also hope to shed some light on women's rights issues in China. As a company that caters to a female customer, this is extremely important to us. For one thing, going into China is a way for us to advance women into important professional positions. We will help grow the cosmetics industry, which primarily employs and creates career paths for women. Although workers' employment rights are a relatively new concept there, progress has been made partially because of pressure from businesses, consumers, and advocacy groups from other countries. Based on this, our belief is that both an outside force and inside pressure for change can result in helping transform both the importance of women and animal testing policies in China. And more importantly, we hope to influence the perspective of the citizens on both of these issues.
"If we don't go to China, other companies without our beliefs will, and the culture will never change."
When you strip it down, their argument basically is this:
1. Chinese consumers are living in a moral vacuum and need to be educated re. enlightened values like animal/women's/workers'/[insert your own cause] rights by a socially responsible company (which we are, really) operating within the country's own boundaries. So actually, we're doing this for the Chinese people's own good.
2. Of course, we're also in it to make money. We hope to convince you of the rightness of our decision, but if you don't like it, then you can take your business elsewhere.
When China goes to Africa to make money, it doesn't (try to) dress it up as being "for Africa's own good", like they're in it for humanitarian purposes. And it's worth noting that most cosmetic brands do not normally feel compelled to make a press statement like this one from Urban Decay.

China's market in cosmetics is huge and growing; according to the Li & Fung Research Centre, in 2011 it was valued at more than $17.3 billion in retail sales, a 18.7% increase on the previous year's. I think I prefer a company that is honest about its profit motivations, rather than one that tries to have its cake (shiny, youthful, "nontraditional" brand image) and eat it too.

Update (June 8): Since that press release was made, Urban Decay has lost its Leaping Bunny certification and been removed from PETA's list of cruelty-free companies.

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6/06/2012 [12]




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