Cosmetics, the Industry of the Future

hope in a bottle
Cosmetics - the Industry of the Future

Recently I have been reading a lot of Japanese cosmetics advertisements. They are the perfect thing to read while I am at Starbucks slurping down an iced coffee before a run around Town Lake.

I run an 8.7 mile (14km) course around Town Lake in Austin three times per week. Because of the heat, I run at the end of the day. Generally I finish up most of my work around 3:30 PM and start driving south towards Town Lake. If at all possible, I need to get past the intersection of 35th Avenue and the Mopac freeway before 3:45 PM or so. After this time, a flood of early shift workers starts pouring onto the freeway, turning it into a snarled parking lot.

I would like to say that I have infinite discipline and undivided goal focus…but that would not be true. A more accurate description is that I have a miniature legislature inside my head that is running my body. Like some larger legislatures, this one has various factions and there is one faction that absolutely despises exercise, especially exercise that involves long runs in the hot Texas sun. As we start driving south towards the Town Lake YMCA, this faction tends to go berserk and engage every parliamentary stalling maneuver at their disposal. Quick! Let’s propose an amendment requiring a stop at Waterloo Ice House for a pitcher of beer! No? How about a time-wasting expedition to buy a new pair of shoes? That didn’t work either? At this point, the resistance faction deploys its ultimate weapon, their filibuster so to speak: the faction unleashes a sudden overwhelming wave of sleepiness.

Some days I can ignore this wave of defensive sleepiness and the resistance faction will simply give up after grumbling for 10 minutes or so. Other days, the faction will continue to scream and complain for the entire two hour run, making for an entirely miserable workout. On such days, I may pull my car into one of my strategic nap locations and take a 20 minute preventative snooze. Regardless of whether I take a quick nap or not, I always grab a quick cup of coffee at Starbucks or one of my favorite independent coffee shops.

These quick coffee-drinking sessions usually last only 20 minutes or so. This amount of time is generally not sufficient to setup a laptop computer and do anything useful. Instead, I use these little bits of time to practice my Japanese reading. Recently, I have been reading a copy of a May 2007 copy of a Japanese women’s magazine called “ORANGE PAGE” that apparently was passed endlessly around the community of Japanese women in Austin before somehow landing in our living room some time earlier this year. The cosmetics advertisements are wonderful. Japanese political or editorial pieces can be extremely difficult to read. Very quickly you find yourself wandering around in a dense Japanese fog in which it is very difficult to figure out who did what to whom or even to ascertain whether the author thought whatever happened was a positive or negative phenomenon. In Japanese political and editorial pieces, you almost never find any clear and concrete statements or specific recommendations.

On the other hand, Japanese cosmetics advertisements are wonderfully clear and explicit. The magazine contained a two-page spread that was sponsored by Kao Group and contained all kinds of useful information about how to best make use of makeup foundation. The article described three common maladies that legions of Japanese women seem to suffer from:

  1. Blood Color Showing Through – Don’t you hate it when this happens? The magazine helpfully recommends a “Pink Peach” foundation to mask this problem.
  2. The Dreaded Yellow Color – Apparently a terrifying prospect for Japanese women. The magazine recommends lavender colored foundation to combat this problem.
  3. Reddish Tint – which is apparently different from Blood Color Showing Through. Reddish Tint might be something more like a sunburn while Blood Color Showing Through probably implies some level of speckling. In any case, Reddish Tint definitely calls for a green-yellow foundation.
Before Applying Foundation

The article finished off with a very helpful “Before” and “After” photo comparison to show the miraculous effects of using Kao’s “Raycious Smooth Coat Base” product.

The “Before” picture is shown to the left. The poor dear was clearly suffering from an appalling case of lack-of-adequate-makeup-foundation. It is a wonder that the young woman could allow herself to be seen in public. I was beginning to wonder whether we needed to spin up  a special charity for her. Perhaps we could call it something like “International Friendship Association to Alleviate the Pain of Lack-of-Adequate-Makeup-Foundation Sufferers” or something. I was imagining how much money we might be able to raise. The sum would clearly be quite large – much larger than my  salary when I was still working for IBM. I was visualizing my travels in Japan helping poor young women suffering from a lack of adequate makeup foundation when I came to my senses and remembered that I was supposed to be reading the Japanese magazine.

After Applying Foundation

Turning my attention back to the article, I next examined the “After” picture. The results of the life-saving application of makeup foundation are shown in the picture to the right.  See the difference?

Neither did I.

I looked back at the “Before” picture and saw a pretty young Japanese woman. I looked again at the “After” picture and saw another picture of the same pretty young Japanese woman. In fact, the pictures were so identical, I was pretty sure that they were the same picture.

Only after I went back and reviewed the text of the article carefully, did I understand that this young woman suffers from the dreaded “excessively pink nostril folds” syndrome. If you go back and compare the pictures carefully, you will notice that you can actually see the edges of her nostrils in the “Before” picture.

Raycious Smooth Coat Base withdrawn from production

This young woman’s marvelous transformation was achieved with the help of Kao’s “Raycious” product – basically mayonnaise mixed with a little talcum powder – that was selling for 3,360 yen for a 25 gram tube, about $49/ounce at today’s exchange rate. Let’s see, that is about $790/pound ($1737/kg).

That seems like a pretty good business to me, but apparently Kao has withdrawn this product from marketing. I guess that they must have newer, better products that they are promoting currently.

Cosmetics are wonderful products and if I had any talent for inventing such stuff, I definitely would want to enter this business. I had a telling experience in May 2009 that underscored this point. I was visiting Tokyo on business and went out to dinner with the Chinese husband of one of my IBM China colleagues. This young man was very smart and had a PhD in law from a major Japanese university. As a Chinese citizen, he could not actually practice law in Japan. His professor helped him get a job at the Tokyo Stock Exchange. He was in a department that was half lawyers and half accountants. When a new company applied to list on the Tokyo Stock Exchange, this department was in charge of going over all of their books and contracts with a magnifying glass.

Very interesting. Very sensible. However, this was May 2009 and the world economy was going down the tubes. Large rocks were falling from the sky in the United States and Europe. Japan was entering the 14th or 15th year of its “Lost Decade”. I was curious and asked him how business was going. He answered that it had been a bit slow recently, but that they still definitely did have companies applying. I was amazed that any sort of company could be in good enough financial shape in the middle of such a world economic catastrophe to apply for such a listing. I asked him what sort of companies were currently applying for new listings. His answer:

“Oh, we have a lot of new cosmetic companies coming in…”

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