Ethnic Perception Towards Cosmetics Cultural Studies Essay


A study of the French-North African women and the choice of hair-care products.

Cosmetic products play an essential role in everyones life: they range from make-up, skincare and perfumes, to personal hygiene such as shampoos and soaps. The cosmetic market is driven by innovation as they constantly add new features to their existing products and it is a highly competitive market where more choice, greater efficacy and better results are expected by customers. According to Weber and Capitant de villeborne(), the cosmetic industry represented 166.2 billion dollars in 2000 and western Europe was the major market with a total of 49.6 billion dollars.

In the current globalised world where the demographics of Western countries change, ethnic groups are gaining an increasing recognition in the marketing and business scene and responding to their needs and wants appear to be the key factor to success. (Holland and Gentry,1999). It is particularly true in the cosmetic industry. For example, the world's greatest company, L'Oreal has effectively chosen its spokespeople who are "women and men of all ages, looks and origins, sources of inspiration for our generation" (L'Oreal Paris). Indeed, their celebrities are French, English, American, German, Spanish, Mexican, Indian, African American, Japanese and Arabic. They are all well-known and have a great influence on the customers as they embodied the symbols of beauty in their respective ethnical belonging. What is more, L'Oreal has acquired Softsheen-Carson, a brand reserved for African-Caribbean ethnics or Yue sai, a skincare brand that responds to the specificities of the Chinese skin. However, the cosmetic scene is not only represented by International groups such as L'Oreal or Procter and Gamble, but also sees the emergence of smaller brands that specifically target the ethnic consumer. This particular practice to target a particular group of customers that have been segmented by racial, cultural, linguistic or religion criteria is known as ethnic marketing. This method originates from the United States and has been successfully implemented in countries that possess a high cultural diversity such as Great Britain, Germany or the Netherlands. (Ammy.c )

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France has one of the highest immigration figures in Europe, estimated to represent 8.1% (4.9 million) of the total inhabitants. (INSEE 2004-2005). It is estimated by the same source that in 2008, 3,1 million of French-born aged between 18 and 50 have at least one immigrant parent. North Africans represent the major part of the ethnic population in France and they are estimated to be approximately more than a million (INSEE). Indeed after World War II and its aftermath on economy, French had no other choice than hiring workers from former colonies in North Africa (Meng and Meurs, 2009). Statistics based on race or origins are prohibited by the French law and INSEE is the only authorised organisation that provides simple demographic figures. It is, therefore, difficult to give an accurate percentage of each ethnic group as well at depicting ethnic people from the third or fourth generations. The main reason for the restriction is that such practices may appear to be at the edge of racism and in total denial of the main principle of the French republic which is that all citizens are equally treated without distinction of origin, race or religion (The Economist). The French president, Nicolas Sarkosy, suggested the idea of introducing ethnic statistics in 2009 and had been hurt by public discontent. 100,000 signatures had been collected on line by the anti-racism organisation, "SOS racism", in their campaign against this type of data recording (The Economist). Thus, it appears that being recognised and segmented by ethnicity in France is hurt by obstacles and barriers on one hand due to the government and on the other, due to the population unhappiness when the attempt to distinguish ethnic groups has been made).As a result, it may appear that French North African want to be considered as entirely part of the French culture and do not want to be classified as a particular ethnic group. However, the actuality also shows the opposite, where the Algerian ethnic population demonstrated higher festivities for the qualification of Algeria in the World Cup than for the French team (The Independent, 2009). It may reveal that their feeling of belonging to an ethnic group is stronger.

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Purpose: The aim of the dissertation is to study the strength of ethnic identity among French North-African and distinguish their perceptions of the cosmetic market and influences during the buying process of hair care products.


To gain a general understanding of the main factors which influence the consumer behaviour.

To identify the motivations towards the consumptions of cosmetics.

To study how the ethnic women perceive themselves in terms of cosmetics consumption.

Research questions:

Do French-North African women see themselves as part of a particular group when consuming products?

Do they tend to consume ethnic product only, which are supposed to best suit their needs? And why/why not?

Do they tend to a particular cosmetic brand?

Proposed literature search

Brief outline of the research methods chosen

The implementation of a qualitative method is preferred to conduct this research. Indeed, it appears that questionnaires, observation and focus group may respond effectively to the research questions mentioned above. There is no better way of studying consumer behaviour than observing and asking customers in person. For example, observation may give a good view of the influencing factors of a product/brand choice during the buying process.

In order to obtain a better outlook, mail questionnaires will be sent to 500 French-North African. Moreover, cosmetic rays in various shops in Marseille, best known town for its high concentration of North African, will be observed.

Literature review:

In order to start an in-depth analysis of the perceptions and attitudes of the French-North African towards the cosmetic market, it is primordial to obtain a better comprehension of the key areas involved in this research. The aim of this section is thus, to review the various studies that have been made previously. This literature review will provide, first an overview of the principal reasons which push individuals to consume cosmetics, analysing the influence of the self concept on the consumer behaviour and the impact of the images conveyed by the industry. Secondly, the notion of ethnicity will be identified thoroughly giving main definitions and highlighting its complexity when present in a multicultural environment.

. Cosmetic industry and the psychological images conveyed

self-concept and social comparison

The tendency to focus on image hinges on a concept called "self-concept". The Self concept is a common approach aiming at investigates the relationship between consumers' perceptions of themselves and their behaviours in the purchase process (Loudon and Della Bitta,2002:309). Onkvisit and Shaw (1987) acknowledged self-concept as "the individual as perceived by that individual in a socially determined frame of reference". In other words, consumers' physical insecurities shape their consumption habits. According to the same source, the self image of a consumer influences dramatically the purchase of an object. Therefore, women tend to buy cosmetics to highlight or hide some aspect of their "selves "in order to reach the expectations driven by society. Cash and Cash, mentioned in Guthrie et al (2007),underline that self confidence and assurance among women increase when they are wearing make-up which create a sort of daily dependence on cosmetics.

The self-concept alludes to the impression a consumer has of her/himself. According to Amanda Austen, journalist for BBC, more than three in four women are insecure about their physical appearances and one in three women feel overweighed when looking at cosmetics advertisements (2006). Salomon et al (2002) mentioned that a study among female students has underlined the tendency to compare themselves with models and to show low self-esteem after seeing advertisements. This idea of low self-esteem is also acknowledged by Pentina et al (2009) . Indeed, they mentioned that low-self esteem and insecurities are caused by "ideal" bodies or faces advertised in media. They add that the beauty industry commonly represent the human body as an "object" that may be modified and improved in order to appear presentable in the society. They endeavour to show images representing the most beautiful and perfect models and promise consumers to reach this perfection thanks to its products. This type of communication may have a significant impact on consumers' self-esteem as they tend to compare themselves to the ideal image depicted in the advertisements. This type of comparison is known as social comparison and as Pentina et al (2009) pertinently suggest, social comparison is influential in the woman's desire to change her appearance. Onkvisit.S.and Shaw (1987) add that the self-image of a person is created from a relation between her inner self-perception and her own estimation of people's judgments. Moreover, Phau and Lo (2004) complete the theme of social comparison by claiming that people possess more than one and unique self-concept as it is created from the interaction with society and external elements and obviously, people are lean to change their societal milieu throughout their lives.

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Hence, the principal strategies of the cosmetic industry is to play with the consumer's predisposition to misrepresent their body image by showing hints of insecurities in their advertising, creating a gap between the real and the ideal physical self. Therefore, consumers feel the desire to purchase cosmetic products to narrow that gap because as underlined by Pentina et al (2009), the discrepancy between actual and ideal self generally leads to "dissatisfaction, disappointment or shame".

self and product congruence

As the self concept is formed by the reflected self, in other words how people perceive themselves and how they presume other see them , external appearance plays a major role. For instance, a new makeup technique or a better hair style may be easier to be noticed. Therefore, it implies that not only people contribute to determine the perceived self but also products. Runyan (1988) cited in Phau and Lo (2004) states that consumers may be influenced to buy products that are highly visible to public as a way to demonstrate and manifest their selves to others. In that situation, these external products act as symbols to reinforce or create an identity, forming "the extended self". (Salomon et al. 2002:194; Phau and Lo 2004)

Products not only enable the consumer to mould his self-identity but seem to be acquired because they correspond to his/her "self". This is identified as the Image Congruence concept (Graeff, 1996). The notion of congruence between the use of a specific product and the self identity tends to be accurate. A research stated in Salomon and Della Bitta (2002:195) reveals that car owners had the tendency to believe that their cars are associated with their personalities:" a driver of a sporty Pontiac model saw themselves as more active and flashier than did Volkswagen drivers ". More focused on the cosmetic theme, Craik (1993) cited in Ghuthrie et al (2007) stated that "buying cosmetics is a process of matching the attributes of products with the ideal self".

This idea of congruence is also present between the self and a specific brand, phenomenon also known as brand personality. Brand personality is "the attributes, perspectives and views consumers hold towards a brand" (Onkvisit and shaw, 1987). According to the same source, marketers strive to effectively advertised a possible correlation between the brand and precise images that would touch the consumer' self. Undeniably, Consumers are believed to prefer a brand which is thought to be similar and in harmony with their self-concepts. (Onkvisit and shaw (1987) ; Malhotra( 1981, 1988); Sirgy (1982) cited in Kim,2000; Guthrie et al 2007).As Loudon and Della Bitta( )underlined, "The greater the brand/self-image congruence, the more a brand will be preferred". Congruence is, thus, determinant for the purchase. What is interesting is that the success of a product or brand is commonly due to the images they carry rather than their actual proprieties and performance. (Aaker (1991); Pettijohn et al (1992); Triplett (1994) all cited in Graeff, 1996)

Ethnicity and perceptions


Defining ethnicity appears to be complex. Indeed, authors tend to give diverse definitions of this term.

Firstly, it is commonly acknowledged that ethnic identity relies on mutual and shared values such as culture, race, language, past history, religion or practices but also collective names, solidarity and linkage with a homeland. (Riggings (1992) cited in Holland and Gentry 1999; Forney (1981) cited in Chattaraman and Lennon 2007; Jamal 2001; Bouchet (1995) cited in Usunier and Lee,2009).

However, others consider ethnicity as artificial in other words as a concept which has been built and created. This idea is known as "bricolage" (Bouchet (1995) cited in Jamal, 2001) or "invention of ethnicity" (Conzen et al (1992) cited in Holland and Gentry, 1999). Thus, in this definition, ethnicity is, according to the latter, a creation "which incorporates, adapts and amplifies pre-existing communal solidarities, cultural attributes and historical memories".

This second definition leads to a third definition which is that ethnic identity is rather inscribed in a process of "self identification". It means that ethnicity mainly depends on the individual's self-concept and on the strength of recognition in belonging to a certain group. (Ching and Fisher (1999); Deshpande et al (1986) ;Donthu and Cherian (1994) ;Forney and Rabolt (1985); Hirschman (1981); Kim and Arthur (2003); Laroche et al. (1998) ; Phinney (1992) ; Webster (1992) ; Xu et al.(2004) all cited in Chattaraman and Lennon,2007 ). Therefore, in this case, the notion of ethnicity is more a psychological concept created in the individual's mind based on his own perceptions, knowledge and emotions (Cuellar et al. (1997); Tajfel, (1981) than a biological or genetic identity as Aaker(1999) tended to demonstrated. (All cited in Jamal (2001). According to the same source, ethnicity becomes an identity that may be easily chosen and adopted and acts like a distinctive label or a piece of clothing (Barth (1969);Rossita and Chan (1998);Tajfel(1981); Oswald(1999) as cited in Jamal, 2001) .Their ethnic identity become ,hence, a label or a garment aiming at expressing themselves to the public (Bonne et al ,2007).

Ethnicity and SELF-IDENTITY IN host countries

Immigration has allowed various ethnics to live into the same country. The aim of this paper is not to provide an in depth analysis of immigration. What is at the heart of this research is to understand whether the ethnic identity of an individual may or may not vary when living in host countries.

The concept of ethnicity may be affected by living in host countries. According to Holland and Gentry (1999), immigrants as well as the third and fourth generation descendants are yet, in quest for ethnicity and cultural traditions, however, they are adjusting their values to the ideals of the main stream culture. This process is known as cultural assimilation. Gordon (1978:169) defined this as a "Change of cultural patterns to those of the host society". Consequently, it seems that these individuals are adapting to their mainstream culture, thus, renouncing partly at certain past values. This idea is strengthened by Usunier and Lee (2009:82) who mentioned that the process of assimilation is well rooted in the values of the third or fourth generation of immigrants and they may share more similarities with the host culture rather than with their ethnic culture.

Berry and colleagues' 1987 acculturation model cited in Usunier and Lee (2009:81) demonstrated that ethnic group may have fourth reactions in the host country. First is the Assimilation process as just explained, however their definition of assimilation differ from the previous ones. Indeed they assume that assimilation is an adaptation of the main culture but they believe that it involves a total rupture with their home culture. Second is Integration which involves gaining the principles of the host culture while keeping their culture at the same time. A third reaction would be a complete Separation from the host culture and the preservation of their culture and lastly, a process of Marginalisation which implies a refusal of both host and home culture. Despite one positive factor which is the integration process, one may predict that ethnic identity may be dramatically weakened by living in a host country.

Nevertheless, Jamal (2001) highlights that people may have various and cohabitating identities. He also mentioned a very interesting study made by Oswald (1999), which reveals that the pronoun "I "may have different meaning and directions, including ethnic identification, race, class or nationality. Here, the notion of multiple selves in one individual is reinforced and individuals living in host countries may feel being part of their ethnic groups while being part of their main stream groups at the same time. This sense of belonging to the host culture may tend to be amplified when travelling in another country. This idea reinforces the process of Integration in the Berry and colleagues' acculturation model.

Ethnicity and perception in a marketing perspective

One may consider that the perceptions of minority groups (ethnic groups) are different than those of the main culture as values are poles apart. Therefore, divergence of values has a consequent impact on the perceptions of products. For example, Pankhania et al (2007) show that advertising, pricing, distribution, product features are the areas in which ethnic cultures and host culture are more likely to demonstrate divergence if they are not compatible with their own values such as nudity or sexual connotations in advertisements or product features which are too ostentatious. Marketers need to be aware when elaborating these strategies as it may lead to a wrong positioning of the product and thus, an economical failure.

Moreover, marketers need to discover whether they perceive themselves as part of an ethnic group or as part of the main stream culture. It is a determinant process as it guarantees the success or failure of their products' position. Indeed, as Chattaraman and Lennon (2007) claim, that ethnic identification has tremendous influences on consumption and brand loyalty. They add that if the ethnic identification is strong, individuals are likely to consume ethnic-related products, apparels and entertainment and tend to show loyalty to brands used and recommended by their relatives. As a matter of fact, one may suppose that the strongest ethnic identity is, the more the individual uses ethnic products and oppositely, the weaker ethnic identity is, the more the individual uses products which are not exclusively targeted to his ethnic group.

Nevertheless, as mentioned in the part above, ethnics living in host countries may have the tendency to develop multiple selves due to the biculturalism environment they are part of. Therefore, individuals are likely to act differently according to various situations or the persons they are with (Aaker (1999), Markus and Kunda (1986); Markus and Nurius (1986) all cited in Jamal, 2001). As a Consequence, biculturalism is a real challenge for marketers because they do not know if and at what point ethnic people form different perceptions than people from the main stream culture (Pankhania et al, 2007). The same source, interestingly points out that values and perceptions of products are different between the ethnic group and the host country and are also different between their countries of origins and them. It leads to the hypotheses that French North African group may have different perceptions and values than the French Caucasian people and also, will be different from the culture in North Africa. This idea well underlines the impact of biculturalism and assimilation on ethnic identity.

To conclude, the literature review has recognised that self-concept has a major influence on the perceptions of people in terms of how they perceive themselves and how they perceive a brand, a product and a market. Self-concept is influenced by social comparison which commonly triggers low self esteem. Therefore, cosmetics are bought as a way to enhance the individual's self-concept and reach an ideal self. Moreover, brands and products are consumed to manifest the individuals' selves publicly and act as symbols that create or reinforce an identity.

In this respect, self-concept plays an important role in the construction of ethnicity. Indeed, ethnicity has been acknowledged as being innate but the literature has shown that ethnicity is also and majorly built on someone's self identification. A person belongs (or not) to an ethnic group as long as he claims so. The set of literature has drawn the attention on the complexity of defining the concept of ethnicity in individuals when living in host countries. Certainly, the strength of belonging to a particular group may be weakened by the acculturation process. As shown previously, individuals may totally or partially reject their home culture or create a new "culture" mixed of host and home culture elements. However, as individuals tend to build their selves on societal environment, it is highly possible that they have developed multiple selves adapting to the main stream culture and their ethnic group when needed as they live in a bicultural society.

As self-concept is influential on consumption and forges the ethnic identity, it is clear that the strength of ethnic belonging also impacts on perceptions and thus on products choice. The challenge here is to discern whether French North-African consider themselves as part of an ethnic group or as part as the main stream culture when buying cosmetics. This answer will be determinant then, to identify their influences during the buying process of cosmetics and their choices towards a particular product and brand.