Estee Lauder’s ad for its Advanced Night Repair product touts that “women can’t live without” it while intertwining it with rather dubious, scientific persuasion; however, historically speaking, this wouldn’t be a first. The use of science to peddle beauty products is an old tactic, dating as far back as the advent of modern advertising in the late 19th century with its origins in the medicine-show peddler. As Jackson Lears describes in his book, Fables of Abundance, “The desire for a magical transfiguration of the self was a key element in the continuing vitality of the carnivalesque advertising tradition…Itinerant peddlers sold everything…but their most profitable item…was the magic elixir” (43); with phrases such as ‘revolutionary formula’ and ‘high-performance serum,’ it’s apparent that the Estee Lauder company is continuing this old advertising standard into the 21st century. Lears also notes that “as patent medicines came increasingly from well-lighted laboratories rather than dark forests…science was reified and venerated as an autonomous force…in advertising’s evocation of technological miracles and white-coated wizards” (120). After examining the Advanced Night Repair ad, it becomes increasingly apparent that Estee Lauder is a contemporary peddler, selling its ‘patent medicine’ through the guise of the scientific method.
As Lears suggests, the use of science in advertising dually serves as factual and fantastical with the roles of scientists performing the dual function of torchbearers of truth and modern-day shamen. Just a superficial once-over of the imagery embodied in the Estee Lauder ad and this truth/enchantment duality becomes quite obvious…that is, if you know what you’re looking for. The major signifier of such a duality in this particular magazine advertisement can be found in the almost apparitional appearance of a DNA double-helix crystallizing into a spiral staircase to the heavens—lavished with starry points of light emanating from behind this otherworldly and titanic DNA strand—suggesting the cosmetic’s cosmic transcendence into the constellatory realms of space; ultimately, making the Lauder ad paradigmatic of Lears’s explanation. Of course, this recognizable symbol of science also magically materializes from the glowing radiance of Advanced Night Repair’s bottles and compte-gouttes like some phantasmal genie released from its imprisoning lamp.
This duality can also be found in the advertisement’s structure; for starters, it’s two-pager. Those Estee Lauder ad execs worked overtime to make sure Advanced Night Repair embodied both the richesse of opulent fantasy on page one—partially resembling some cosmic Austrian-crystal chandelier—and the cold hard ‘scientific facts’ of its “comprehensive anti-aging” cold-cream formula on page two; in so doing, the ad manages to capture both essences of factual and fictitious by physically juxtaposing the preternatural ethereality of the product’s allure next to the scientific vagaries used to support its claims. In fact the only thing really separating the fiction from the facts is the crease caused by the magazine’s spine. With that in mind let’s take a look at these supposed facts.
According to the ad, “25 years of groundbreaking DNA research” from “Estee Lauder scientists” has culminated into the lustrous golden drops of Advanced Night Repair’s formula, which seems to resemble caramel syrup more so than a scientific serum. Perhaps, the heavenly nectar of the gods is the skin-rejuvenating cream for we mere mortals here on Earth. Whatever the case may be, Advanced Night Repair is bestowed with “age-defying power of our [Estee Lauder’s] exclusive Chronolux Technology.” Jackson Lears touches on this very subject by stating that advertising agencies played and continue to play “a major role in making science mysterious and promoting a superstitious reverence for technology…the promise of magical transformation preserved the carnivalesque tradition for a technological age” (194). With this in mind, the trademarked word ‘Chronolux’ sounds a bit mysterious to someone unfamiliar with its Latin root words, and the fact that it’s proceeded by the ever-galvanizing word ‘technology’, intimates that Advanced Night Repair’s formula is worthy of its expensive price and guaranteed to remove those unwanted “fine lines, dark circles, dryness, puffiness, and uneven skintone.” Of course, these are Estee Lauder’s facts with absolutely no documented proof contained anywhere in the ad’s two whole pages to support such claims. So, let’s look elsewhere outside the gift-wrapped box.
In a 2009 article titled “DNA Repair is the New Anti-Aging Frontier” from Entrepreneur magazine, Navin Garia notes, “U.S. anti-aging skin care product sales rose 13% to $1.6 billion between 2006 and 2008…This trend is expected to remain on track even as the economy struggles” (par. 1). He further states that “many academic and cosmetic industry researchers remain skeptical that a topical product can repair DNA. They insist that true DNA repair is difficult to achieve with gimmicky delivery systems using typical cosmetic ingredients, whose end benefits remain unproven” (par. 13). One such skeptic is MIT biologist and genetics researcher, Leonard Guarente Ph.D who states in the article that "No known substance can cause genes to repair themselves. There are a lot of things going wrong at the same time in cells. You could repair one thing, but something else could be just as bad" (par. 10).
With all of this in mind, the one undeniable fact is that this Estee Lauder advert embraces science in a purely vain attempt to validate its Advanced Night Repair product thereby playing on the fears of customer vanity that permeates our contemporary culture enamored with the illusion of youth. Rampant with technical terms and trademarked names, Estee Lauder makes it sound like they know what they’re talking about; consequently, commanding a false sense of authority over crow’s feet and a mastery over time’s ticking clock. Nevertheless, as “more multinational consumer health care companies are becoming DNA obsessed” (Garia, par. 14), Estee Lauder has poised itself to be at the forefront of this latest fad with over “20 Patents Worldwide;” this, of course, really means nothing at all, but, boy-oh-boy, it sure sounds good! Doesn’t it? It’s impossible to refute that Advanced Night Repair certainly reads like it’s a scientific fountain of youth, but whether it is or not is quite debatable. Since this trendy ‘new’ product’s facts—or, rather, the lack thereof—are disputable without, at the very least, some shred of documented scientific evidence to support its assertions, Advanced Night Repair comes across as nothing more than a jumped-up snake oil for the 21st century …tsk-tsk, Estee Lauder.
Estee Lauder. “Advanced Night Repair.” Glamour magazine. Ed. Cynthia Leive. New York: Conde Nast. July, 2010.
Garia, Navin M. “DNA Repair is the New Anti-Aging Frontier.” Entrepreneur.com, June 2009, http://www.entrepreneur.com/tradejournals/article/print/202253483.html.
Lears, Jackson. Fables of Abundance. New York: Basic Books. 1994.