Forget Hollywood superstars. In the 1960s, women around the world wanted a sense of normality when they consumed cosmetics. As the Avon company attempted to win consumers for its mass-produced goods in Latin America and Europe, it adapted its marketing materials to reflect the segmentation of local and changing global ideals of beauty.
In this episode of Stories from the Stacks, historian Emanuela Scarpellini, professor at the University of Milan, discusses how Avon planned its expansion overseas from the United States, and adapted to the context of a global marketplace. Monochromatic American ideals of beauty did not necessarily match those of other cultures, yet American goods enjoyed global cachet that added to their perceived value. Easing the tension between these push and pull factors were the Avon ladies, the sales agents that the company relied upon to retail its products, and to communicate with and cultivate consumers.
Using Hagley Library collections, including Avon Products, Inc., and the Ernest Dichter papers, Scarpellini discovered that Avon sales agents and their customers exerted influence over the direction of company promotion and self-image. Avon operations in Europe centered on Italy, where cultural stigma initially prevented women from readily consuming cosmetics. Avon ladies encouraged women to consider consumption of mass-produced cosmetics as an extension of their traditional roles. The company picked up on the message, and extended it to the entire family: men, women, and children.
To support her use of Hagley Library collections, Dr. Scarpellini received research grants from the Center for the History of Business, Technology, & Society. More information on funding opportunities for research at Hagley can be found here.
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Interview by Amrys Williams. Produced by Gregory Hargreaves.
Image: Colorario Avon, 1966, AvonItalyColor_1966, Record group I, Series 11 D, Box 91, ‘Campaign Mailings, 1966,’ Avon Products, Inc. records (Accession 2155), Manuscripts & Archives Department, Hagley Museum & Library, Wilmington, DE 19807.