Reese Witherspoon: From Hollywood star to Avon lady

Oscar-winner Reese Witherspoon signs on as global ambassador for cosmetics giant
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Ding dong! Avon, the world's most bizarrely successful cosmetics company, is targeting the younger buyer. Last week, the company appointed the actress Reese Witherspoon, 31, to be its global ambassador.

Judging by Avon's promotional material, the company pitches itself somewhere between a giant, global conglomerate, a women's health charity and a religious cult. Its representatives are evangelical. "I could go on for ever telling you why I love this job!" says Alison from Tyne and Wear. "I have found myself as a result of working with Avon," insists Nikki from Stockport.

Avon began in New York in 1886, with a door-to-door book salesman David Hall McConnell. In a canny marketing move, the son of Irish immigrant parents from Co Cavan started giving away a bottle of cheap perfume with every purchase. He soon realised that women liked perfume much more than they liked books. He soon had his first sales rep, Mrs P F E Albee, a New Hampshire widow – and the Avon Lady was born.

In the 1950s Avon became famous for its slogan: "Ding dong! Avon calling!" Now it is a swish global brand, with "90 per cent brand recognition" and more than five million representatives ringing doorbells in 100 countries and is worth $8bn. It even (shock!) has male reps.

But Avon's philosophy remains unaltered. Its celebrity spokeswomen are sensible, down-home pretty types. Denise Van Outen models its jewellery. "I love the black Kaylana bracelet," she says. "It's the perfect accessory to glam-up any outfit with its lovely, chunky, sparkly beads." Mumsy northerner Tess Daly uses the Arabian Glow collection "to create kittenish eyes and natural-looking shimmering lips".

Witherspoon said breathlessly that she is proud to be representing the company because "I feel a great responsibility to give back to society."

The company sells itself to potential reps as a community service movement. In its mission statement, Avon says that its vision is "To be the company that best understands and satisfies the product, service and self-fulfilment needs of women globally." Ding dong!