Random Reflections on Hair Dye Marketing.

When I sidle up to the hair dye aisle at our local supermarket, it is more by necessity than an overwhelming desire to transform myself into Jessica Rabbit. I’m there because I’m starting to look like a sheepdog that has been put through the tumble drier, and I need functional products that cut the crap and deliver the goods. Cosmetics marketing teams seem to consider my demand to be far too modest for my own good, and I am increasingly flummoxed by their crusade to depict dyeing my hair as an elegant and sensual experience – light years from the reality of squirting a bottle full of chemicals on my head in the family bathroom.

The Food Thing

On my last visit to the hair dye shelf, I twigged that food is one of the main strategies manufacturers use to sell hair dye. My first-world problem of choosing between brown and brown was played out to the music of my stomach, noisily duetting with my neighbour’s rumbling tummy. We made our choices. For MM, “Frosted Chestnut”, finally won the battle with the outsider, “Chocolate Fudge”. My neighbour picked a shade of black called “Blackcurrant” that would probably leave her looking like Morticia Addams dipped headfirst into a vat of Ribena.

No wonder we were hungry: the majority of the colour names referred to food. Licorice, plum, cherry, chilli, paprika or hot chocolate … welcome to a world where you don’t just eat chocolate brownies, you put a liquid imitation of them in your hair and instantly become good enough to eat. The idea of food had simply woken up my happy hormones and titillated my consumer taste buds, making the most inedible of products look appetizing. I will never shop for hair dye before lunch again, because reading about hazelnuts, mango, caramel, burgundy and honey makes me want to dump my basket and run off to raid the cake display.

Gladys always had a brandy to celebrate her

Gladys always had a brandy to celebrate her “me time” before she redecorated the bathroom with hair dye. She’d let the kids out of the garden shed later.  (Source: Wikimedia commons)

Polly Pout and the Instructions Leaflet

I’m always bemused by the glossy instructions sheet. It stars Polly Pout, a sultry seductress sporting red lipstick and a sulfurous gaze. She is delicate enough to fit both hands and feet into the dwarf-sized rubber gloves, and does not have a single grey hair in her impeccably styled mane. Yep, she looks just like we all do before we dye our hair.

She is also far too young for her hair-dyeing equation to include one child staging a sit-down protest outside the bathroom door and another that has climbed on to the toilet seat and is eyeing you suspiciously, pants around his ankles, waiting for the crucial moment when your hands are covered in gunk to utter those fateful words: “Muuummy, I’ve fiiiinished”.

The marketing message here appears to be that an hour in the bathroom dying our hair is all we need to free the Polly Pout hiding deep inside us. I wouldn’t recommend it, though. Although she could star as Bruce Willis’ sidekick in a parody action thriller called “Dye Hard”, Miss Pout will never make it to James Bond girl status as she appears to be all beauty and no brain. Although the instructions clearly state that you should cover your shoulders with a towel before applying the dye, Miss Pout has not only forgotten the towel, but also her clothing. So follow the pictures without reading first at your peril, and don’t forget to lock the front door.

For those who think I'm exaggerating, here is a photo of Polly Pout illustrating points 7 and 8 my instructions leaflet.

For those who think I’m exaggerating, here is a photo I took of Polly Pout illustrating points 7 and 8 in my instructions leaflet.

Glamour and Glove Love

Uber-sexy accessories are the final touch to seduce customers. Back in the noughties, the  rustling pair of transparent gloves stuck to the back of the instructions leaflet were roomy enough to house twin udders. Then the manufacturers down-sized the gloves and put them in a plastic recipient that made your five-year-old go into instant melt-down when he concluded that mummy had stolen his Kinder egg.

Recently, some bright soul down-sized the gloves again and sealed them inside a bag that resists all attempts to be opened (just like its evil counterpart, the sachet of Bee Sweat Extract & Lotus Blossom conditioner). The sleek jet-black gloves it contains are the ideal size for a pre-schooler, and getting my paws into them was like trying to fit Muhammad Ali into Paris Hilton’s swimsuit. So please wake up and smell the peroxide, guys: hands, like other appendages, come in different sizes. I’d hate to have to stain my pristine, unused housework gloves because yours are too small.

The effort to add a bit of sensuality to the mundane experience of hair dye application is much appreciated, but the slippery combination of a satin-feel bottle and undersized, silk-feel gloves was as practical as wearing a sheath dress and high heels to climb the Mont Blanc. The bottle was harder to grasp than French politics, and slipped through my fingers like a two-year-old covered in poster paint.

Thumbs up for the 30 minute wait for the product to work its miracle, though. It gave me ample time to clean up the collateral damage of suspicious brown stains splattered across the bathroom and explain to Little My that although Mummy was swearing like a trooper, had brown ears and was bursting out of her black gloves like Popeye on steroids, with a slap of red lipstick she would be as appetizing as a bowl of frosted chestnuts just in time for Papa’s return from work. Just like Polly Pout.

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77 thoughts on “Random Reflections on Hair Dye Marketing.

  1. Hahahaa, this is hilarious! I’d never thought of the fact that hairdyes are all named after food before! The one that’s called Plum in the UK is Aubergine in Germany! We don’t get black gloves here though, it’s all about the huge clear plastic ones that stick to your fingers when you try to pull them on, usually resulting in ripped glove (or is it only me that happens to?!).

    • I didn’t click until I was hungry 🙂 There is also a huge fashion for the names of cities and towns – particularly for blonds (have a look, it’s fascinating.I suppose there’s a limit to the number of pale foods they can use. “Vanilla” is ok but “custard” and “banana” don’t really float most peoples’ boats).
      It’s true that those gloves stick to your fingers, and they are really noisy! The only fun bit is peeling them off the instructions leaflet.

      • Hahaha, imagine dying your hair “banana”! The ones I can think of here off the top of my head are aubergine, copper brown, chocolate brown, ruby red and mahogany. I think there might be copper blonde as well.

      • The one that gets me is the “Burgundy” they sell in Britain. They haven’t dared to suggest to French women that they have wine-coloured hair – it’d never work.

  2. Oh, my. What a justified rant! I’ve actually given up on doing it myself now. Why deal with the gloves, the mess, the odor, etc. when you can go sit and be pampered in a nice salon with like-minded ladies all taking time out just for them? It’s good. You should consider this! The only wee problem with it is…….lately, the processing time at the salon has been taking longer…..I’ve been hearing whispers from my stylist about “grey coverage takes longer..” At least at home, you can pamper your own vanity and not have to un-hear comments like that!

    • I can’t stand spending hours at the hairdresser’s. I’m allergic to girlie activities 🙂 I’ve sorting the grey cover dilemma :two boxes of dye for double the mess, and I still manage to miss bits.

      • I, also, am allergic to those “girlie” activities….but…….I am very much into being pampered lately, so it’s working for me! Anyway, still very much agree with your rant. I could actually do one about hairdressers too, but we’ll leave that for another day. 🙂

    • Hi, Welly girl! How are you diddling? The last few times it’s been a French brand I will call “Laurie All”. It doesn’t wash out within a couple of weeks. I tried Aldi’s stuff but got sick of the “Kinder” surprise effect (you never know what you’re going to get, but it’s never the colour on the box).

      • Haha yeah I know that one well (I’ve ended up a fetching shade of green a couple of times before now).

        I’ve never dared try Aldi….

        If I go green with the ‘good’ stuff then maybe I’ll actually go the correct shade with theirs?? xx

  3. Ha ha! Hilarious! And so true! I always end up dying more of the sink/floor/walls than I do my hair! And my ears, neck and forearms 😉 And I’m sure the back of my head is pure grey – but I can’t see that so it doesn’t matter 😉 Polly Pout is all kinds of ridiculous 🙂

  4. I once walked through my pretty Oxfordshire village with a pair of toddlers and a friend pushing a pram and she said kindly ‘honestly, it is so cold your ears are actually blue’ – that was the last of my attempts to look like Cher with my blackest of black locks … these days I stick with shades of Chocolate and generally end the sensual experience bleaching the bathroom back to its pristine snow white (rented) glory 🙂

  5. Haha! I never thought about the food references before!
    I came to Qatar armed with a year’s worth of Redken dye (boring … it uses a simple numbering reference – not a single fruit to be found) because I’d heard the Middle East wasn’t gifted in dealing with blondes; I ran out after after a year of dying it myself and simultaneously re-colouring our bathroom walls. I bought an off-the-shelf local brand of dye and proceeded to dye my hair a lovely ”jus de carotte” shade. I now book an appointment at the salon every six weeks or so 😉

  6. How funny! I hadn’t noticed all the food related names for the colours – probably because I was looking at the lighter shades which mainly seemed to be named Blonde (light, very light, light golden, dark golden, very dark golden etc you get the idea) or Ash (light, very light, dark etc etc etc). I gave up the unequal struggle to prevent my bathroom looking like a war zone, and my hair not looking like anything I was happy with, and now save up all my pennies and go to the hairdresser to have it done. I have no idea what colours she uses, but one of them is the one with the rather quaint named ‘bleach’. 🙂

  7. What do they call those red dyes that French women (well, rural French women) love so much…or are they reserved for the exclusive use of hairdressers?
    Weddings used to be interesting…colour co ordination of clothes with the brand new dyed hair not always proving a success.

    I bought a pack of hair dye here about four years ago….it is still untouched in the cupboard and after reading this lot that’s where it will be staying… I won’t even open it to check the gloves…

    • Ooh, that red is fabulous. French women carry it off with style; anyone else would look like a clown. A friend of mine had her white shirt wrecked when it rained at a wedding and she’d just been to get her hair dyed. She was furious – she must have ended up looking like she had planned to attend a zombie walk.

      • Give me leave to doubt carrying it off with style…not from what I saw of the works of local hairdressers…anything from Belisha beacons to burning thatch….

        I wonder what omens for the happy couple were read into your friend’s mishap…I can just hear the sucking of teeth and the mutterings over the coffee cups…

      • It all seems to fit with the general look – they’re confident, so it works. Not that I’d go for that colour, mind you 😉
        She probably wasn’t the only one, as wedding guests in France (and probably elsewhere too) tend to spend gazillions to look better than someone else.
        The last wedding I went to, I’d given up on make-up because I always bawl my eyes out. I did get to meet the wicked witch of the West in person though – she was just fascinating. Spitting venom at everyone with the ultimate class. What a pity that she crouched down to take a picture of the bride & groom cutting the cake just where I wanted to squeeze past her. It’s hard to keep your balance in a sheath dress and high heels when MM blows through 😀

  8. Oh thank the Lord for bald heads…. I would not be able to go through such an activity… and Linda no longer dyes her hair after it all fell out with her last chemo… I do love her grey… I did enjoy her baldness as well, felt I had company for a while… but if there was one thing that could get me out of the house it was the smell of the dye… and that smell should take your appetite away for a week… I think that is why they name them by foods….

    • Hiya, Bulldog! Boys are much classier when they don’t dye their hair, honest. I understand Linda – I think that after the chemo experience people are careful about how much crap they throw at their bodies. And rightfully so. I actually suggested to my family that I stop dying my hair and let it go grey and they all said ‘no’. At some point I’m going to stop, though – when it’s all gone grey.

  9. I realised that my expensive blonde highlights had not been a success when my boss, who I hadn’t see for a few months, announced loudly ” Oh Annie, I’m so glad you’ve decided to embrace going grey”. I think I’ll buy a packet next time.

    • That’s the weird thing about going to the hairdresser’s to make yourself feel good: you either come home and immediately try to wash out the granny blow dry, or someone knocks the wind out of your sails by telling you that the effect isn’t as successful as you thought. One Halloween I got dressed up as a witch with a friend and her husband congratulated me on the fake wart I’d drawn below my nose. It looked so natural! No kidding, sweetheart. I’ve had that mole all my life, I just colored it black for Halloween… the poor man didn’t know what to do.

  10. I take one look at the hair dye aisle and run for the hills. It’s huge! It’s a bit like the cat-food aisle. I didn’t try to dye my hair after a disastrous attempt when young that gave me a bright orange fringe on the very pale hair on my forehead.

    This post is not making me want to try again either! I’ll stick to camp but delightful Jordan at the salon who has my colour down to a tee and gives me an hour or so of Kindle reading time. 🙂

  11. How’s the color? I used to do it at home too for years but finally bit the bullet and now I have it done at a very reasonable cost locally ! The over the counter stuff dried my hairr out and now it’s more healthy as well. Nice to read you my dear !

    • Nice to see you too – I’ve been a very sporadic blogger of late. Hope you are fit, well, and above all, happy 😉 My hair is frizzy to start with so it’s difficult to evaluate what is due to the chemical onslaught and what is natural.

      • I advise a professional after I ruined mine more than once…it was U G L Y and like straw for awhile and then I cut it all off!

  12. Oh my! This post was right on the spot. The line that made me laugh out loud was “The bottle was harder to grasp than French politics…” bwahahahaha!

    I am sooooo glad I decided to let my hair go back to its natural colour (grey – who knew?!!!). I had been dying my hair for so long, I no longer knew exactly what colour it really was anymore.
    I also had a lot of naysayers when I decided to stop colouring, but both me and my hair are happier for it. It turns out I’m not as grey as I thought I was. Bonus! 🙂

  13. Lol. I would love to have ginger (food again) locks once more. Sadly those days are a distant memory. I have turned a dried pasta colour, the texture is dried pasta-ish too. Big sigh. Xx

  14. I have been jousting with hair dye too. I chose a different brand this time and was greatly amused to find that, in order to make me feel sultry and privileged, the instructions were written on glossy black paper. The black gloves came as a surprise too. I am used to the clear ones that resemble those handed out at petrol stations for filling up with diesel.

    • Isn’t that glossy black paper awful? They print in white, and it does my eyes in after a while. I hope your hands fitted into the gloves better than mine did – so much for feeling sultry, I felt like King Kong trying to fit into a bikini.

  15. It’s been many years since I have dealt with personal hair dye. I pay good money to have someone else go through all that, and sometimes I feel a little guilty for the extravagance. Thank you for reminding me WHY I know longer have a home beauty salon. 🙂 And speaking of Polly Pout I have often laughed at the television screen when some Hollywood beauty touts the benefits of one home brew over another, attempting to convince me that she does her own hair with the box she picks up at the grocery! Not a chance that they get that dark goo all over their $200 manicure. Who do they think they’re kidding, right?

    • What, you think Eva Longoria DOESN’T dye her hair in her multi-million dollar bathroom? Pfft. I’m disappointed. One day I will pay someone to dye my hair for me – when I’ve finished paying out for Bigfoot’s studies, feeding his brother and sister and all the rest.

    • I think Dye Hard is a great concept for a film. You really don’t want to see MM in hair dye action: not a pretty sight. The gloves split between the fingers so I had interesting brown stains between my fingers, my ears were brown and I was using bilingual bad language. Polly Pout’s nemesis.

  16. 😉 Bonjour King Kong! LOL of the LOL = MdR = mort(e) de rire, écroulée… 😀 long story, short: I’ve never dyed my hair even though I’ve had gray hair since the age of 30 ’cause 1st of all: it’s “self-inflicted slavery”(LOL!) and 2nd of all: my hair grows really fast and I should have dyed it twice/a month as visible gray roots aren’t classy, chic or fancy at all – especially with aged people since despite their “dark hair”, you can read their age upon their face… 😉

    • I totally agree. Seeing a grey tideline above the aubergine dye is nothing short of depressing. My mother in law has beautiful grey locks – I’ve never seen them a different colour, and I’ve known her for night on 25 years now. She’s 84, and she’s one classy bird.

      • mine is 84, too and she’s has been a very pretty auburn-haired(curly!) and green-eyed lady… she had gray hair after 55, but she didn’t care! 🙂

  17. Absolutely hysterical! I KNEW I was right to leave ALL the hair dye on the shelf and toddle off to the hairdresser and let him do it.
    My only problem, though, is that here in Sicily, dark hair is considered “anonymous” so he always wants to make it red or gold or ….oh I don’t know, one day it will be green. I just don’t care enough about hair to really pay attention to him, which is why my locks are currently rather evocative of a shredded aubergine on my head.
    I figured out how to solve Rubik’s cube while sitting about with the sludge on my head, though, so it was time well spent.

    • Green would be good – you could hide in the shrubbery at the museum and spy on them to see if they actually do any work there 😀 The aubergine colour is very popular here in France. Although it is not sorted by clever girls who know how to solve Rubik’s cubes!

  18. Oh wow, hair dye instructions as soft porn! I didn’t realise that not colouring my hair meant I was missing so much. 🙂 Many years ago, when I was still gainfully employed as a librarian, I had the occasional set of low-lights done by my hairdresser at what seemed like vast expense, but nothing since. After this post I simply wouldn’t dare…

    • Go for it, Miss P! Try out a shock of cinnamon dream, a copper catastrophe or a flash of Poppy Red just in time for Remembrance day! Hope that you have finally emerged from all your unpacking and that your new house is starting to feel like home.

  19. OK, I need to come clean here: I haven’t started dying my hair just yet. I am not ready, and I keep delaying the inevitable. And from your post it doesn’t look like it is something to look forward to. Damn it. When does getting older become easier?

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