We’ve all seen the undeniably beautiful line up of L’Oreal spokeswomen, including Milla Jovovich, Beyonce Knowles and Gwen Stefani. But, who was the original voice of the brand? Who demanded that she was “Worth It?”
Meredith Baxter Birney did mouth that famous phrase in the 1979 Preference by L’Oreal commercial.
However, she is not the mastermind behind this profound phrase. That title belongs to Ilon Specht.
“In 1973, Ilon Specht was working as a copywriter at the McCann-Erickson advertising agency, in New York. She was a twenty-three-year-old college dropout from California. She was rebellious, unconventional, and independent, and she had come East to work on Madison Avenue, because that’s where people like that went to work back then.
Ilon Specht is now the executive creative director of Jordan, McGrath, Case & Partners, in the Flatiron district, with a big office overlooking Fifth Avenue. She has long, thick black hair, held in a loose knot at the top of her head, and lipstick the color of maraschino cherries. She talks fast and loud, and swivels in her chair as she speaks, and when people walk by her office they sometimes bang on her door, as if the best way to get her attention is to be as loud and emphatic as she is. Reminiscing not long ago about the seventies, she spoke about the strangeness of corporate clients in shiny suits who would say that all the women in the office looked like models. She spoke about what it meant to be young in a business dominated by older men, and about what it felt like to write a line of copy that used the word “woman” and have someone cross it out and write “girl.”
“I was a twenty-three-year-old girl-a woman,” she said. “What would my state of mind have been? I could just see that they had this traditional view of women, and my feeling was that I’m not writing an ad about looking good for men, which is what it seems to me that they were doing. I just thought, Fuck you. I sat down and did it, in five minutes. It was very personal. I can recite to you the whole commercial, because I was so angry when I wrote it.”
Specht sat stock still and lowered her voice: “I use the most expensive hair color in the world. Preference, by L’Oreal. It’s not that I care about money. It’s that I care about my hair. It’s not just the color. I expect great color. What’s worth more to me is the way my hair feels. Smooth and silky but with body. It feels good against my neck. Actually, I don’t mind spending more for L’Oreal. Because I’m” -and here Specht took her fist and struck her chest-”worth it.”
While the slogan has undergone a few makeovers since 1979, the message of female empowerment still resonates throughout the ads. If you have any doubt, just check out how fierce Beyonce is in this Feria by L’Oreal commercial: