July 28, 2009

Telltale Lipstick

In her article, Branding Beauty In An Ugly Economy, Ana Paula Palombo Terzi writes that this time round, customers are confounding the Lipstick Index which has traditionally linked an increase in the purchase of lipstick with a plunging economy. Instead, she reports that Austerity Chic, where women go to greater lengths to look good for less, is leading the way instead.

Of course, this public frugality isn't confined to the buyers of beauty products. We're also seeing a shared horror of any show of wealth or foolish spending in marked contrast to the buying habits of the boom time. Whilst a certain tightening of the purse-strings is a good thing, particularly in areas where a kind of shopping madness had waltzed in, there's also a danger in our going too far with the austerity drive. At times, it reminds me of the popular Monty Python sketch where the successful Yorkshiremen vie for the most sensational rags to riches story:

First Man: 'I was happier then and I had nothin'. We used to live in this tiny old house with great big holes in the roof.'
Second Man: 'House! You were lucky to live in a house! We used to live in one room, all twenty six of us, no furniture, 'alf the floor was missing and we were all 'uddled together in one corner for fear of falling.'
Third Man: 'Eh, you were lucky to have a room! We used to live in t'corridor!'

The guilt complex that has crept into society just doesn't add up, this popular insinuation that we were all complicit in the wrong-doings of those who hung out in the corridors of high finance and power. The notion that we've been deluding ourselves for the past fifteen years is unhelpful, particularly when you consider the numbers of people who worked diligently throughout that time to build businesses and contribute to the economy. Hardworking baby is in real danger of getting thrown out with perfumed bubble bath-water. Yet many of us are going about shamefaced, as though some immense pride rather than healthy self-confidence and ambition has seen us take this particular fall.

Whilst it makes sense to be both tactful and discreet about success in an economy where people are in real difficulty, we're unlikely to dig ourselves out of the hole we're in by demonstrating how we can all do so much more with so much less. A reality check is one thing, but unless someone is able to frame a new world order in which something other than money makes the world go round, small businesses in particular will struggle to make ends meet so long as customers show a reluctance to spend.

I'm not suggesting that we slap on the lipstick but we do need to get back out into the marketplace to buy from those who offer quality goods and services at a fair price.

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