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Consumer Research


OMD Sense. Changing Faces.

OMD Sense. Changing Faces.

Latest from OMD Sense 

An increasing number of people from all sections of society are prepared to go under the knife to change the way they look.

In the last five years, the annual spend on cosmetic surgery in the UK has increased by 500% from £143m to £906m. In the same time, the annual number of procedures has likewise increased from 68,000 to 577,000 – 750%. We’re calling this trend Changing Faces.

The potential for equally staggering future growth is clear, with 44% of the population saying they would consider cosmetic surgery, but only a further 5% having done so to date. With this in mind, annual consumer spending is predicted to grow to £2.48bn by 2012, almost triple the size it is now.

Nothing New

The first written evidence of cosmetic surgery dates from 6th century BC! Sushruta Samhita is a Sanskrit surgical text written by Sushruta, a renowned Ancient Indian surgeon.

He developed and perfected many techniques, including rhinoplasty (nose surgery), which is still in use today. Skipping a few millennia, to the 1980s and ’90s, consider how superstars like Michael Jackson, Cher, and erm, Jordan, made cosmetic surgery infamous.

Today however, it’s different. As the market statistics show, your office colleague and the person serving you a pint are just as likely to indulge in a little appearance enhancement.

Cosmetic Enhancement

Cosmetic surgery can be defined as surgery, with either temporary or permanent effects, undertaken to enhance outward appearance. The most popular forms in the UK are facial, breast and body reshaping. However, many techniques that fall under the umbrella of cosmetic surgery, are in fact non-surgical.

These include: teeth whitening and straightening; hair removal; liposculpture, and the biggest sub-sector, botox. Muddying the issue further are ‘cosmoceuticals’. These provide an alternative to surgery, in the form of cream, lotions and so on.

Non-surgical represents one-third of the market value, but 8 in 10 of the procedures done. So perhaps an umbrella term of cosmetic enhancement is more appropriate.

Everybody’s doing it

The growth in desire for cosmetic treatments can be attributed to a few different factors, some of which are discussed in other Sense pieces on the rise of ‘celebrity culture’; the increasing number of affordable techniques; the acceptability of what was previously considered vain; an ageing population.

The popularity of TV programs such as Extreme Makeover (UK Living) and 10 Years Younger (C4) has brought discussion of cosmetic enhancement into the mainstream, and hence increased its acceptability.

Interestingly, it’s those who are most likely to watch these types of programs, and be interested in celebrity culture – young, socio-economic grade Ds – who are most likely to desire cosmetic enhancement.

Those who can actually better afford such procedures are no more likely to want or to have them. These factors contribute to the greater growth of cheaper procedures, hence the faster growth of volume when compared to revenue.

It’s not a universal social change though. There is a chance that cosmetic enhancement will suffer from the same backlash that has propelled issues of size zero models to the front pages. The British Medical Journal has published criticised some procedures, arguing that they carry risks and that alternatives should be developed.

Dove’s ‘campaign for real beauty’, and programs including Say No To The Knife (BBC3) provide potential consumers with alternative ways of thinking before they embark on costly cosmetic treatments.


Where does this leave the existing toiletries and cosmetics industry? On one hand, the growing market for these techniques could be seen as a threat, reducing the demand for products such as teeth-whiteners, anti-ageing creams, weight loss aids and so on.

Alternatively, those unwilling to undergo surgical or quasi-surgical procedures may have their desire for appearance enhancement fulfilled by new cosmoceuticals, or superfoods such as collagen-rich pigs’ trotters. There’s also potential for complementary products – those that assist and work alongside surgical effects.

Looking towards the cosmetic surgery industry itself, there is considerable scope for an increase in adspend. The adspend:sales ratio is currently at 0.5%, which is very low when compared with fragrances, hair care and make-up.

The demand for cheaper procedures from those on lower-incomes will fuel their growth and development. It’s already given rise to ‘baby botox’, which involves several, smaller treatments, and several, smaller payments.

There are potential implications for the fashion industry too. As people spend more money on their bodily appearance, commonsense suggests that they’ll want to wear clothes which reflect their younger, more confident and attractive appearance. Clothing brands already cater for some sections of the market, offering underwear that helps to shape the body in more flattering ways. Expect to see more of this in the near future.

How will leisure and fitness brands react? People may ask ‘What’s the point spending all my time, effort and money in the gym, when some increasingly common and minor surgery can sort out all my problems?’

Even if this is not entirely feasible now, cosmetic enhancement techniques will continue to be developed and improved, and become more affordable. This will happen in the same short space of time as Botox became commonplace.

The changes to our bodies may only be cosmetic, but those to our society and several product categories may well be far more profound.

For feedback or comment, please contact Insight Manager, OMD UK, Michael Tully on

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