15: L’Oréal (1971) – Because I’m Worth It

Ilon Specht, McCann Erickson

Certain slogans sum up particular eras. For the decade of rampant consumerism that took place before the epic financial crash of 2008, the tagline of choice could be L’Oréal’s ‘Because You’re Worth It’. Cunningly manipulative, the line reflects the self-absorption of those times, when it appeared that all we needed to do to be happy was buy more stuff.

It is surprising then to discover that the tagline is actually 40 years old, having first been coined in the early 1970s, though in a subtly different form. When a young New York copywriter, Ilon Specht, first created the phrase it ran as ‘Because I’m Worth It’, and was intended to reflect the women’s rights movement of the period. While some of us today may balk at the idea of a cosmetics company representing feminism, the resulting L’Oréal ads were apparently revolutionary at the time for featuring a woman speaking for herself (the Clairol ads of the early 70s, for example, featured silent women with a male voiceover).

The grammatical shift to ‘you’re’ came into common usage in the 1990s, though can be seen in print ads stretching back to the 1970s. And recently L’Oréal has changed the line again, this time to the softer-sounding ‘Because We’re Worth it’, perhaps in recognition of the need for brands to appear more inclusive, and less greedy, in these straitened times. Whether this iteration will resonate as much for today’s world as the ‘you’re’ version does for the 2000s however, only time will tell.

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