Oligopolies: Selling Hair Color

by Elaine Schwartz    •    Jul 28, 2013    •    1193 Views

Miss Clairol was launched in 1956.

For the first time, in just one step, women could change their hair color quickly and easily at home. But the new product needed a message that Foote, Cone & Belding’s copywriter, Shirley Polykoff, created:

  • “Does she or doesn’t she? Only her hairdresser knows for sure.”
  • “Is it true blondes have more fun?”
  • “If I’ve only one life, let me live it as a blonde.”

Ms. Polykoff revolutionized hair care. From the 1950s to the 70s, the number of women who colored their hair was up 6 fold, from 7% to 40%.

Fast forward to 1973. Taking market share from Clairol to her client, L’Oréal, ad woman Ilon Specht at McCann-Erickson told women,”I use the most expensive hair color in the world. Preference, by L’Oréal. It’s not that I care about money. It’s that I care about my hair…Because I’m worth it.”

Typical oligopolies, L’Oréal and Clairol care very much about product differentiation. In oligopolistic markets, very few large firms dominate sales. Coke wants us to know that they are different from Pepsi and Kellogg’s identity is separate from General Mills. Similarly, in 1999, representatives from Clairol and L’Oréal described how they were different:

  • L’Oréal: “…The L’Oréal user always exhibits a greater air of confidence…always has spent a little more time…styling her hair.”
  • Clairol: “The Clairol woman would represent more the American beauty icon, more naturalness…”

Sources and resources: As always, Malcolm Gladwell provides fascinating insight from an unexpected topic in his New Yorker article, “True Colors.” This paper then offered more of an academic perspective on the significance of the goods that we buy.


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