By  on June 17, 2005

NEW YORK — Executives at John Frieda Professional Hair Care are aware that imitation is the sincerest form of flattery, but the company is finding out that it's hard to be an innovator when you constantly have to watch your back.

"When you have competition nipping at your heels, it is that much more challenging to be innovative," said Brigitte King, assistant vice president of marketing for John Frieda, which is owned by Kao Brands.

King is talking about the slew of products currently on retail shelves imitating John Frieda's customized hair care line for blondes, brunettes and redheads, better known as Sheer Blonde, Brilliant Brunette and Radiant Red. Currently there's Pantene's Expressions and products by Marc Anthony. And, according to industry sources, Unilever's Dove hair care brand is getting ready to launch a line of shampoos formulated to target different hair shades. In Europe, L'Oreal markets hair masks formulated for different hair shades, and it may be just a matter of time before they land in the U.S.

"We have seen a lot of competition using the John Frieda concept and imitating our strategy, even our language," King said. "It inspired us to create a whole new TV campaign that redefines what premium hair care looks like in the mass market."

King turned to the resources immediately available to her: Serge Normant, John Frieda's global creative consultant, who is one of the most well-known editorial and runway stylists in the business, and kirshenbaum bond + partners, John Frieda's advertising agency. The result? Two 30-second TV ads — one promotes Brilliant Brunette, the other Sheer Blonde — that look to remind mass consumers who the innovator is in mass hair care.

King describes the ads as "very high-end in approach" that reinforce John Frieda's salon credentials and heritage because "that's where the brand's equity is."

Traditionally, the rule for shooting hair care commercials has been to take bright lights and shine it down on the hair, King said. The new ads take a completely opposite approach. "We used light to enhance the hair, giving a real look at what hair is and does, as opposed to a manufactured look," King said.The spots begin airing July 11 and will be supplemented by print ads. In total, John Frieda is spending approximately $45 million to support its estimated $120 million colored enhancing hair care franchise, according to industry sources.

Normant was excited to work on the new campaign and bring some of what he does in his daily life — editorial shoots — to the mass market.

He described the Brilliant Brunette ad as one that mimics a photo shoot — the ad was filmed at Industria Studios in the West Village here — with a long-haired model posing as she would for a music video. Normant is quick to point out that the ad does not look cliched, since the mood and attitude of the set "is quite graphic."

The Sheer Blonde ad features two models, one with long flowing hair, the other with choppy hair, at the Soho Grand Hotel, featuring them as well-dressed, with the right hair that has the right cut and the right length.

King expects the ads to not only set a new bar for the industry, but one for herself.

"[Once] we had the luxury of being under the radar. But the big players are paying attention to everything we do."

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