Minnie Wang
Jan 22, 2024

'Pseudoscientific marketing' or a bold innovation in quantum science? Guerlain's new luxury skincare offering sparks controversy

SOUNDING BOARD: Luxury skincare brand Guerlain has come under fire for its bold claims that its new $740 cream boasts the innovations of quantum science. Whilst some online have revelled it as a marvel, others are labelling it a misguided marketing attempt. Campaign asks experts to weigh in on the debate.

'Pseudoscientific marketing' or a bold innovation in quantum science? Guerlain's new luxury skincare offering sparks controversy

In the fiercely competitive realm of skincare, where promises of transformation are aplenty for every conceivable skin woe from dullness to pigmentation and beyond, the quest for the perfect formula continues unabated. With each brand touting proprietary formulas and extensive research, skincare campaigns nowadays seem to overflow with pledges to enhance your appearance and well-being.

Amidst this landscape, the luxury skincare arena adds a layer of nuance, elevating the pursuit of perfection, precision, and a pore-less glow. Standing out on a crowded shelf becomes an art, particularly when it comes to marketing.

Consider the latest unveiling from Guerlain—a highly-sought after skincare brand under the LVMH umbrella—and the release of its latest, much-talked about product: Orchidée Impériale Gold Nobile. A cream and serum combination priced at US$740  (€650) for 50ml, what sets it apart is its bold claim of being "Born from quantum science."

It's this controversial phrase that has catapulted Guerlain into the limelight in 2024, sparking both interest and debate in the beauty community.

Describing the product innovation on their website, Guerlain states: "Thanks to 20 years' research in the Orchidarium, Guerlain experts have identified, from among 30,000 species, an orchid with exceptional powers: The Gold Nobile orchid. Endemic to the Himalayan region, it has inherited the ability to combine several photosynthesis mechanisms to turn the sun's light into real vital energy. The light diffused by its petals is 68% more intense compared to an ordinary white orchid. Guerlain has captured this phenomenal vital energy intact thanks to a cutting-edge biotechnological method, concentrating 27 of this prodigious orchid's fundamental molecules³ at the heart of the Orchidée Impériale Gold Nobile skincare line."


A post shared by Guerlain (@guerlain)

However, as researched and well-developed as the product may claim to be, it seems not everyone has been on board with its positioning since its launch earlier this year. In a controversial video French YouTuber G Milgram criticised the brand's scientific stance as "classic pseudoscientific" marketing. In the video, the science enthusiast with over 176,000 followers claims he received internal documents from Guerlain about the launch of this new quantum range a few months ago, and questions the scientific basis of this launch. He also shares anonymous testimonials from scientists decrying the use of 'quantum' to describe the product.

In China—a luxury market whose revenues are estimated to cross over US$50.6 billion this year—netizens have taken particular gripe with the claims, discovering a notable language shift in the promotional material for the cream in their country. Instead of directly translating the quantum science terminology, the Chinese version labels the product as "bio-photonic anti-ageing technology." This linguistic adjustment raises questions about cultural considerations and the brand's tailored marketing strategy for different regions.

In response to the growing criticism, Guerlain defended its position on X (previously Twitter), stating that its skincare products are based on significant scientific progress in quantum biology, specifically referencing the measurement of Ultra-weak Photon Emission and highlighting proven results.

So, beyond the scientific drama and touching on the broader issue of consumer demand for authenticity amidst a sea of exaggerated claims, Campaign asks PR and marketing experts to weigh in the incident, as well as on how luxury brands looking to communicate scientific advancements can do so authentically, whilst steering clear of over-the-top claims.

Arnold Ma

Can Guerlain's explanation of using 'quantum science' as a basis for its skincare range be scientifically justified, or does it fall into the realm of 'pseudoscientific marketing'? 

Personally, and according to Chinese netizens, Guerlain’s new skincare product is considered pseudo-scientific marketing. Many netizens have questioned whether the product genuinely incorporates quantum science, a field used to explain how substances work on the infinitely small scale of atoms and particles, which cannot be applied to skincare.

In fact, in recent years, quantum technology has been extensively used in the promotion of various products, such as quantum water emulsion, quantum masks, quantum filling devices, etc. However, Chinese experts have all stated that those claiming to be 'quantum + daily products' are generally just engaging in hype and deceptive manoeuvres, playing on the concept.

Interestingly, even after the controversy, the brand's official website still maintains the advertising campaign for "Quantum Biology." However, due to China’s relevant cosmetics supervision and management policies, the Chinese official website and Taobao have toned it down a bit, describing it as “Biological Photon Anti-Aging Technology.” Perhaps Guerlain did not anticipate that netizens would take it seriously, attempting to transition from high-end to ultra-high-end brand, from exclusive for wealthy women to top-tier exclusive, through detailed ingredient explanations.

In fact, it's not just Guerlain engaging in marketing gimmicks; many high-end skincare brands are diversifying their approaches. Lancôme, for example, faced legal issues for its 1100 yuan (US$155) "Advanced Génifique Youth Activating Serum," claiming it provides various skin benefits for a majority of women, such as "perfectly bright skin for 85% of women in 7 days", leading to a lawsuit and settlement over deception and misleading advertising charges.

It's understandable that Guerlain adopts such strategies, given the fiercely competitive market. The booming domestic medical aesthetic industry poses a significant threat to high-end skincare brands. Light medical aesthetics (non-surgical medical cosmetic procedures) competing with luxury skincare brands reached a market size of 146.4 billion yuan (US$ 20.58 billion) last year, with a growth rate of 21.04%. It is expected to reach 415.7 billion yuan (US$ 58.42 billion) by 2030. Many Chinese consumers share the consensus that "opting for medical aesthetics is more effective than using luxury face creams."

How can luxury brands authentically communicate scientific advancements without succumbing to exaggerated claims? 

As living standards rise, consumers are no longer content with basic skincare; instead, they are seeking more advanced solutions. The popularity of skincare products incorporating quantum and other advanced technologies aligns with consumers' desires for multifunctional skincare.

The controversy over Guerlain's "quantum technology" mirrors netizens' weariness with perfect scientific narratives in beauty. In recent years, scientific research in the beauty industry has evolved beyond highlighting new ingredients and potent effects to solidifying research systems and elevating research philosophies. Brands should adopt new narrative languages to communicate with consumers based on this foundation.

However, this presents a contradiction as consumers increasingly demand ingredient transparency, scientific formulas, and advanced research, yet they find themselves confused by intricate scientific narratives in skincare. They remain watchful but are also pleased to witness the dismantling of perfect stories.

Not only in research but also in other aspects of value, such as aesthetics, culture, humanities, sustainability, etc., high-end skincare brands should elevate their offerings, embodying the "high-end” label to attract premium pricing and cultivating a loyal following.

Ashley Dudarenok
ChoZan & Alarice

Can Guerlain's explanation of using 'quantum science' as a basis for their skincare range be scientifically justified, or does it fall into the realm of 'pseudoscientific marketing'? 

It is important to approach such claims with skepticism and critical thinking. When evaluating scientific claims' validity, it is crucial to consider whether they provide concrete evidence, such as published scientific research, independent studies, or expert opinions. If Guerlain fails to provide substantial scientific evidence supporting their use of "quantum science" in skincare, it may raise concerns about pseudoscientific marketing.

As for the discussion on Chinese social media platforms, the netizens in China have left comments like “only selling the concept”, "intelligence tax" and “pseudoscientific marketing”, but some have also said “There is a reason for it being expensive." On Weibo, the topic is on the trending topic page [under the hashtag] #ScientistsCriticizeGuerlainsQuantumFaceCream (priced at 6,100 RMB or US$857.32), which has attracted 77 million views.

Inspite of the controversy, the official website in France has still maintained its advertisement and promotion of "quantum biology," while the official website and Taobao in China have toned it down slightly, describing it as "photon anti-aging technology."

How can luxury brands authentically communicate scientific advancements without succumbing to exaggerated claims?

To authentically communicate scientific advancements without succumbing to exaggerated claims, luxury brands can pursue the below:

Transparent and evidence-based communication: Luxury brands should provide clear and transparent information about their scientific advancements. They should back their claims with credible scientific evidence, such as published research papers, clinical trials, or independent studies. Brands should be willing to share this information openly with consumers.

Collaboration with experts: Collaborating with reputable scientific experts or research institutions can enhance the authenticity of luxury brands' communication. By partnering with experts in the field, brands can ensure that their scientific advancements are accurately represented and supported by credible expertise.

Responsible language and accurate messaging: Luxury brands should avoid using hyperbolic language or making exaggerated claims. They should communicate their scientific advancements responsibly and accurately, clearly stating the potential benefits supported by scientific evidence while avoiding unrealistic promises.

Focus on education and consumer understanding: Brands can prioritise educating consumers about the scientific principles and innovations behind their products. By providing educational content that explains the science in an accessible way, they can help consumers better understand the advancements without resorting to misleading claims.

Build and strengthen their own research and development abilities: Demonstrating a long-term commitment to scientific research and development reinforces the authenticity of luxury brands. Consistent investment in scientific advancements, ongoing innovation, and continuous improvement can build trust with consumers and showcase the brand's dedication to genuine progress.

Jolin Guan
Associate Partner

Guerlain claims on its French website that “Orchidée lmpériale Gold Nobile is born of its research into quantum biology applied to the skin.” However, through a quick search online, you will find that this claim is replaced by the expression of “biophotonics" on its China website. If Guerlain’s quantum biology technology does stand up to scrutiny and testing, I don’t think it will simply give up on promoting it in other regions.

There has been a popular belief in recent years—that luxury skincare is not as effective as medical beauty. While sales and profit margins for the skincare business of cosmetics groups are declining, the medical beauty market has exceeded 100 billion RMB (US$14 billion), and it is still expanding by double digits. The sense of crisis pushes luxury skincare brands to explore their connection with "science and technology" beyond just scarce ingredients storytelling.

I believe the luxury skincare consumers are not only looking for efficacy, but the delightful usage experience and emotional benefits as well. As such, luxury skincare brands such as Guerlain and La Prairie have been successful in resonating with many consumers in China. But the question is—although these consumers might be sophisticated enough to justify the price, will they be willing to pay for deception?"

Nicky Wang
WE Red Bridge

In the world of marketing, brands have always been pushing the boundaries of product narratives to gain a competitive edge. However, in this age when consumers are demanding authenticity, brands must ensure they have credible validation that underpins their claims. Authenticity isn't just a buzzword; it's the cornerstone of trust in a brand's promise."



Campaign Asia

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