By  on May 27, 1994

NEW YORK -- After a year of anticipation and an estimated $500,000 in production costs, the Origins Natural Resources division of Estee Lauder has begun testing its new infomercial, and the initial results have more or less met expectations.

William P. Lauder, vice president and general manager of Origins, said the company is pleased so far. "It's not off the charts, but it's not below the charts," he said. "It was reasonably successful."

Lauder emphasized that the sales targets have been "tiny" during the past two weekends of test broadcasts. Each weekend, the infomercial appeared once in 13 different markets ranging from Sacramento, Calif., to Boston.

About 25 percent of Origins' more than $20 million volume is generated by skin care. So that is what the show pitched -- a skin care kit, containing a combination of two treatment products plus a specialty item -- for $89.85, or three installments of $29.95 each. Viewers who pay the whole sum got a free lipstick and mascara.

Lauder did not disclose sales totals, but sources estimate that "several hundred" kits were sold during the first weekend, and results were similar last weekend.

Origins ran another broadcast Thursday and is continuing the test today, and executives expect to decide by mid-June when to take the infomercial national.

The infomercial was produced by Script to Screen of Santa Ana, Calif., after Williams Television Time of nearby Santa Monica pulled out. The resultant product is studded with a parade of unpaid testimonials from customers.

William Lauder appears in the show, which delves into the workings of the natural-based treatment products, with explanations provided by Joseph Gubernick, Lauder's head of research and development, who created the Origins line.

In discussing the results, Lauder said sales were 20 to 25 percent better than anticipated for the time slots. The conversion rate of phone calls to sales was 54 percent, he added, noting that the home shopping industry average is 55 percent.

As for the most-cited yardstick, the ratio of sales to advertising costs, Lauder said the industry average ranges from 1.5 to 3, and Origins fell within that spread.When Lauder announced the infomercial project a year ago, he saw its potential spreading beyond the immediate sales. It will increase consumer awareness, he said, and act as another form of advertising to drive retail sales.

After the test, Lauder said it was too soon to gauge the infomercial's impact at retail. But Origins executives said the number of consumers coming into stores after seeing the infomercial was roughly 15 percent higher than expected. No customer numbers were given.

Carlson Marketing is conducting follow-up interviews with viewers who called in.

Lauder said the strongest market during the initial test was Boston, which also is Origins' best retail region. In rate of response, Boston was followed by Sacramento; Austin, Tex., and Las Vegas.

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