Occasionally, even a retailer as savvy as Wal-Mart steps in it. That may be what’s happening with the chain’s decision to develop its own beauty line aimed at 8- to 12-year-olds — the fledgling fashionistas marketers call tweens.
GeoGirl, which debuts in February, replaces the Mary-Kate and Ashley Olsen cosmetics line. It's designed for young skin, with natural ingredients such as white willow bark and chamomile. Sold in recyclable packaging, natch, the items are named in tween-speak texting slang such as J4G (Just For Grins).
“GeoGirl is about teaching this generation about beauty care in a responsible way,” stated Carmen Bauza, Wal-Mart Stores Inc.’s vice president and divisional merchandise manager of beauty and personal care. “This [line] is a great learning experience for us to determine how to communicate with this generation.”
That may be Wal-Mart's corporate rationale for encouraging kids to wear makeup. But it didn’t take long for outraged moms and others to take shots at what seemed to them like child exploitation by Wal-Mart.
“More prosti-tot merchandise,” dismisses a commenter on the Shop Girl blog. Another snarks, “What’s the philosophy – the sooner they start wearing makeup, the sooner they can get knocked up and come back to Walmart to buy cases of diapers and baby goods?”
And yet another commenter says it's par for the course at a brand that “sold the Bratz dolls when everyone knew they were so trashy and decent people wouldn’t let their daughters buy them.” Ouch.
OK, so opinions are a dime a dozen on the internet. But in his monologue on The Tonight Show last night, even Jay Leno weighed in.
"What is an 8-year- old [doing] using anti-aging products?" Leno quipped. "Is it a hip look now trying to pass [yourself off] as a fetus? What is it — little girls put on makeup to look older, right? And then the anti-aging products to look younger? Hello! You're right back where you started!"
Leno appears to have jumped to the conclusion that the products are billed as “anti-aging” only from a headline on The Drudge Report.
But the damage may have been done nonetheless. Wal-Mart has made a point of not sinking too low in terms of the implied morality of CDs, magazines and other products it sells. And last week it scored a PR coup when Michelle Obama, who's using her platform as First Lady to get kids moving and eating healthy, helped kick off Wal-Mart's healthy food commitment.
Such considerations seem to have sneaked by them with GeoGirl.
Update: Wal-Mart's PR agency sent us the following statement —
To clarify and correct previous inaccurate reports, the geoGIRL line does not contain any anti-aging products and it is not marketed to eight-year-olds. The geoGIRL™ line was developed in partnership with Walmart customers, parents and educators to give parents a healthier, age-appropriate option for their tween girls who ask about wearing make-up and help parents teach their child healthy skin care. The decision of what age is appropriate to wear makeup rests solely with the parent. The line will be marketed to parents and targets a certain life stage as opposed to a certain age of girl so parents can make informed decisions whenever they feel it’s appropriate for their child to start wearing make-up.