Forget Generation Y. Marketers are on to an even more valuable group: Generation Z. Eight to twelve year old girls represent a $2 billion market that is totes untapped. In the great American spirit of seizing every opportunity because it’s there, a company named Pacific World Brand has partnered with Walmart to bring us a new cosmetics line for tweens called Geo Girl, launching in March. This isn’t bubblegum flavored lip balm. This is mascara, blush, lipstick, the works. The product line’s 69 offerings even include anti-aging products like antioxidant-loaded exfoliants for extra smooth and healthy skin, which is impressive because I don’t even use anti-aging products.
The big sell is that Geo Girl is an eco-friendly and therefore healthy brand for children who just happen to wear makeup. Unlike other real makeup that may irritate babyfat with regular use, Geo Girl is real makeup that won’t irritate anything except people with a moral compass. Market research shows that Generation Z girls are very ecologically attuned, and to that end, the products contain no sulfates, pthalates or parabens, and packaging is recyclable. Given the Geo Girl market potential which I had no idea existed until now, they’ll want to consider viable brand extension possibilities early: a bioplastic faux Botox syringe or perhaps diet yogurt calcium chews. If there’s one thing, okay two, the modern woman needs, it’s botulism and milk food.
The initial reactions are largely negative. Bloggers are decrying the wholesale commercial theft of that once-wholesome pastime known as playing with Mommy’s lipstick, offended by a brand that would so blithely encourage little girls to think about their outsides rather than their insides, namely, their hearts and minds. A few green publications, most notably the highly respected Triple Pundit (“Walmart’s Geo Girl: Eco-friendly Cosmetics for 8- to 12-year-olds”), have criticized the brand and pending launch as inappropriate.
The executive vice president behind the company, Joel Carden, believes that these eco-friendly products are perfect for grooming a “new beauty consumer.” Or to put it in textual tween terms favored by Geo Girl branding, BFF 4VR! Carden explains the cosmetics are ideal for young children who use makeup but want a natural option. Oh, of course.
Though the thought of second grade girls twirling mascara wands together to look their very best for story time may be disturbing, I’m not so sure a prepubescent dusting of blush automatically means we’re consigning a generation of nymphets. After all, we encourage little girls to play with baby dolls that cry and coo. We give them Easy Bake ovens by Hasbro. The number one girl’s toy is still the impossibly curvaceous Barbie doll, which Mattel has considered appropriate these many decades for children as young as five despite being based upon a German sex toy and also not having the capacity for internal organs were she real.
Really, what’s the big deal with a little lip gloss? The colorways are very sheer, the company tells us.
The conventional female consumer so desired by American marketers is the product of a society that teaches its girls from a very impressionable age to be thin, pretty, and eternally youthful. The modern Stepford must not only be fashionable and friendly, she should think about the planet once in a while, too. She should have at least one child, maintain a beautiful home, land herself a handsome husband with whom to procreate by 35 and, though it nearly goes without saying, achieve financial success. The ideal woman looks good, acts good, lives good and gives good. In other words, she’s perfect, and you know what they say about that: It takes practice.
So you might say Geo Girl is doing girls a favor by starting them young. For the nine-year-old role-playing mommy to her plastic infant, or whipping up a whole-grain pasta primavera in the Fisher-Price kitchen for her imagined hungry hubby, she may as well learn how to stay young while she’s still young by getting into the exfoliating habit today.
But what does Geo Girl think? After skimming the outraged reactions on a few blogs, I called Carden to make sure he really did say what’s being attributed to him. I argued with the assistant – Just five minutes! Just a few questions! – who at first insisted on passing me off to the public relations agency, then placed me on hold, and even asked me if I would call Walmart instead. Finally, after another bout on hold, she said she had been given permission to let me access his voicemail.
I left a message indicating that given how quickly an online echo chamber can develop around a story, I wanted to provide a fair opportunity for the man behind the product to speak about the issue. Executives usually avoid speaking directly to the press, of course (it can be disastrous). I’m not holding my breath.
Steering youngsters in the direction of eco-friendly personal care is commendable; for the average 13-year-old encountering the dreaded first pimple, parents should know there are healthy, organic options available these days. But makeup for a girl of eight? That’s a whole other can of hairspray.
My questions for Carden, by the way:
1. Why develop such a line? As executive vice president of marketing and sales for Geo Girl, what was your specific role in this?
2. Since Geo Girl products are expanding single use products into a new target demographic, how are they defensibly green? Are there significant non-eco-friendly competitors in your market?
3. How concerned are you about the feedback so far in the media?
4. Is there clinical evidence to suggest that eight-year-old skin benefits from regular exfoliation?
5. What kind of relevance does children wearing cosmetics have to the frequent cultural complaint that children, especially girls, are being sexualized at far too young an age?
Joel, I invite you to respond. Between us, I really wish you’d just give a girl a call.