Inside BETC's Powerful New Skincare Ad, and How It Was Made
It isn't often we see real skin in advertising—the things that plague us, that we hide and keep secret, under makeup or long sleeves, even as our fingernails pierce and pinch through the fabric, seeking what stings, burns, itches or peels.
This is what's so compelling about "Skin Is More Than Skin," the latest work by BETC Paris for dermatology brand La Roche-Posay.
It almost feels like a call to arms, somehow more truthful than the beaming influencers who earn all those likes by revealing they have cellulite, acne or belly rolls. While all that's great, the reality of skin is so much more than that. "Skin Is More Than Skin" conveys textures in a raw way, and the discomfort one can feel when living in skin at war with itself, and with you. Yet it's also warm and powerful.
We sat down with BETC art director Lauren Haberfield and copywriter Donya Bouzarjomehri to talk more about the nuances of this work.
Muse: What's the origin story behind "Skin Is More Than Skin"?
Lauren Haberfield: Somewhere along the way, the skincare category lost its purpose and became an extension of the beauty industry, resulting in the alienation of people who need it most. Our ambition was to break out of these beauty codes and redirect the conversation back to what is really important—people, and the health of their skin.
Donya Bouzarjomehri: When we say health, we don't just mean the physical symptoms. We wanted to bring to light that behind every skin issue are people suffering from feelings of isolation, self-doubt and anxiety. These are all products of living with a skin issue, and it's relevant for all genders, not just women.
We don't really see the true texture of skin very often. Where did your insight come from?
Lauren: From the mirror. :) We've become so used to seeing retouched skin that we don't even question the difference between the images we see in advertising and reality. For us, the first step to combatting the isolation people feel was to include them—to champion real people as they are, and showcase that fighting skin issues is way deeper than we've acknowledged so far.
What was the original brief?
Donya: La Roche-Posay has always been committed to skin health. They're a brand that's been partnering with dermatologists all over the world to better understand skin needs, and they habitually conduct clinical studies on the most sensitive of skin to ensure their products' efficacy. The catch was, they had never felt the need to communicate their commitment at a brand level before, until they saw that the category had become so saturated by beauty. This is when the conversation around skin health, and the impact on people's lives, was being forgotten. The original brief was to reveal the beliefs and commitments of the brand to put the conversation back on track.
How did the clients react to your work?
Lauren: They were very moved. They knew this was an important message, and it was time for the brand to take a stand and tell the world what they believe in. There was fear, of course, that a campaign as raw as this would be seen negatively within the category. But they were brave enough to take that risk and are very proud of the work.
What made you nervous about it?
Donya: We never wanted the people we featured to be viewed as victims or for people to feel sorry for them. We were very aware there is a big difference between hearing their stories and their courage first-hand, then trying to capture that in a 45-second film and portrait series. There is a fine line between sharing pain and suffering, and exploiting it. We made it our priority to feature the bravery and fight that inspired this campaign in the first place.
Was there anything you learned while making the work that you didn't know before?
Lauren: For me, it was to what depth skin issues impact people's lives. It really runs deeper than a vanity issue or self-esteem. It's one thing to read about it in research papers and online forums, but another thing completely to watch these stories being shared during the casting process. It was very emotional at times to hear about these hardships, but equally inspiring to see the determination and resilience that comes out of them.
Tell us a production story.
Lauren: Our director Lucy Luscombe had an incredible directing process. She worked tirelessly to create a space where members of our cast felt comfortable to share such intimate stories and emotions with us. From the second each person came on set, it was just them and Lucy. She shared her own experiences, fixed their hair or clothing herself, screamed with them to help them vent their frustrations, and danced with them to help them feel powerful and joyful.
I wondered, upon watching it, whether positioning La Roche-Posay as a solution negates the narrative that the reality of skin is messy and diffuse, and on some level that should be OK. Where do you sit with that? How do you hope people will take this work?
Donya: A lot of what we discussed from the beginning of the project derived from the importance of skin positivity—of people not feeling alone or othered because of their skin issues, but instead feeling confident and comfortable. And a massive part of that conversation led back to skin health, reframing what healthy, real skin looks like, and showing how the brand is there to fight by people's sides to achieve this.
Lauren: The purpose wasn't to negate anyone's experience or the messiness of skin issues, but instead to highlight it and showcase the reality of the bravery and empowerment of these real people. We hope that people can watch this and connect with it—whether from past experiences or present ones—and feel a little more courageous and empowered to face any obstacles because they know they're not fighting alone.
Do you think Covid has impacted the way you/your team work at all, and did that manifest in your approach here?
Donya: Of course navigating this project during Covid had its ups and downs, as we're sure most projects did. But in terms of the message we were determined to get across, it didn't change much from the original ideation.
However, Covid has potentially broadened our target audience as it's impacted people's relationships with their own skin. Since the requirement of masks, many people have become more attentive to specific skin reactions, or how their skin is changing due to this new behavior. What's been interesting is to hear how La Roche-Posay's message has also resonated amongst this new audience.
Is there anything we didn't ask that you would like to share?
Donya: The most inspiring part of this entire process was the people we worked with. Alongside the pain they suffered, you could see the perseverance, strength and determination of these people who now felt empowered and willing to share their experiences to help others. It was amazing because during the shoot, they were so thankful to us for bringing them into this project and telling their stories, but for me, we were the lucky ones to be able to have them onboard with us.
Lauren: We hope this campaign is just the beginning, and that it shakes some things up in the skincare category, so that in the future we see more real representation and stories of people with skin issues.
Director: Lucy Luscombe
DP: Benoit Soler
Production: Caviar Paris
Producer: Florence Jacob
ECD: Antoinette Beatson
Copywriter: Donya Bouzarjomehri
Art Director: Lauren Haberfield
Assistant AD: Margaux Gutmann
Stylist: Joana Dacheville
Chief decorator: Oian Arteta
Sound production: Gum