In the world of advertising and marketing – and until not so long ago (the data for the early 2000s was still overwhelmingly bad) – it was men who dominated advertising agencies. They were their agencies, they were their teams and it was they who made the creatives and defined how to reach the market.
As Jane Cunnigham and Philippa Roberts explain in Brandsplainnig, this led to the male gaze dominating. Products were sold just as the men making these creatives believed women would be interested in, but also how those products would work in the relationship between men and women.
That is, in cosmetic products – which is one of the clearest examples to understand this – the women who starred in them were not only a bit like decorative elements within the advertisements, but the sales claim was positioned on how those products would affect how the woman wearing them would be seen.
“They explained how what was good looked like, they told women what was missing or what they needed and did the casting with empty beings ready and willing to be told things,” write the two experts. Advertisements for cosmetic products made you look prettier so that others would see you and to meet their expectations.
In fact, one of the great success stories of those years in dye ads was the Clairol ads in America. Its point of sale, developed in the 50s, was based on the fact that everything was so natural that no one would be able to separate a natural hair from a dyed one.
It was in this context that the mythical L’Oreal slogan was born, which the brand continues to use to this day. “Because I’m worth it” with adaptations like “Because you’re worth it” or its more feminist version “We are worth it.”
The slogan works, as its presence shows 50 years later, and it does so because it completely broke with all that context. It does not appeal to the male gaze and, directly, it matters very little, which also makes it work very well with the concerns of the 21st century. The product is for the consumer, who buys it because she wants it.
Where does this slogan come from? From a feminist advertising creative, Ilon Spetch, who was fed up with all those messages that appealed to women by talking about how others saw them and not so much about what they were interested or wanted. As explained in Brandsplaining, Spetch was fed up and it was from her anger that her proposal came out.
What generates a moment of anger
The genesis and birth of this slogan was recovered by Bustle in an article a couple of years ago, for which they spoke with Ilon Specht herself. Her conclusions are clear: the slogan has feminist origins and was born out of the frustration of women.
Spetch was, when she created it, a junior creative at an agency in New York. She was 23 years old, she worked surrounded by men twice her age who made absurd proposals about creatives designed to reach women (who always had to be called a girl) and she was in the middle of the feminist revolution of the early 70s in the United States. .
“The men in the office treated you like a little girl, because that’s how they liked you to act,” Spetch explained to Bustle then. (Basically, today we would say directly that it was a toxic and sexist work environment). Spetch reached a moment of maximum saturation and exhaustion and decided to create a completely different proposal of creativity, which broke with everything that was being done.
Why the campaign worked
L’Oreal also needed a completely different campaign than the one Clairol was doing (which was still in the dyed or not) if it wanted to break into a market that this competitor dominated.
The men on her team wanted to make an ad in which the woman did not speak and in which she was seen in a window. “You know, one of those fake places with huge glamorous curtains,” he pointed out to the American media Spetch. “They didn’t understand it,” she sentences.
She “in a moment of anger” created a new idea. “I thought, it’s not about the men, it’s about us. I’m not fixing my hair to make you like it,” she sentenced. Her ad focused on the woman and got her to explain why she was using the most expensive dye on the market. Her monologue ended with a “because I’m worth it.” What in Castilian we have heard so many times as a “because I’m worth it.”
The campaign was revolutionary at its core and highly feminist. For L’Oreal it was a success: its products connected with women and with audiences that the company did not expect to reach. Many shoppers debuted by dyeing their hair with L’Oreal, and many were middle-aged women in the middle of a divorce. L’Oreal was, unexpectedly, a path to self-empowerment.