By  on August 31, 2007

Procter & Gamble Co. is breaking new ground with its recently acquired DDF division by taking the unusual step of backing a dermatological, cosmeceutical brand with consumer-driven magazine advertising.

The move is all the more startling because the ad, a close-up of model Yfke Sturm shot by Raymond Meier, seems glamorous for such a technologically driven category that is becoming increasingly crowded with newly arriving competitors. According to P&G executives, the strategy of the ad is to show the end benefit of the product, rather than taking the clinical approach — such as a shot of a jar — as is often done in the industry. The campaign was designed to support the recent launch of Mesojection Healthy Cell Serum, an $80 antiaging and preventative treatment that boasts antioxidants and peptides with a delivery system designed to deeply penetrate the skin and remain locked in for 24 hours.

The ad will appear in the October, November and December issues of six to eight women's and fashion magazines, including In Style, Lucky, Allure and O, The Oprah Magazine, plus the Internet.

"So much is going on in the category that we wanted to make sure our message was very clear," said Betsy Bluestone, global franchise leader of DDF, or Doctor's Dermatologic Formula. While acknowledging that running consumer advertising is "definitely not the norm" among the cosmeceutical firms, Bluestone maintains that the campaign will give the brand "the opportunity to reach new consumers and new channels" within the segment where DDF now operates. Within the U.S., where P&G is now concentrating, the line is distributed in about 1,000 spas and salons and 325 specialty stores, including Nordstrom, Sephora, Pure Beauty and Beauty First.

P&G acquired DDF's parent company, HDS Cosmetics Lab Inc., in January from the private equity firm North Castle Partners, which previously had bought the company in April 2004. New York dermatologist Howard Sobel founded the firm in 1991 and he remains as a consultant in charge of mapping out dermatological terrain for marketing exploitation and continues to be involved in product development.

DDF is now overseen by Michael Kuremsky, vice president of skin care at P&G. To aid in brand development, P&G brought in Grey Advertising; Bridge Interactive to help revamp the DDF Web site; Bérard Associates for design, and Devries Public Relations.True to form, P&G undertook an intensive investigation of the nature of the cosmeceutical consumer. "We have been spending a lot of time with consumers — in their homes, going shopping with them," said Bluestone, who noted that they tend to be well-read, in-touch with technological advances and very ingredient-savvy.

She added that the company is now in the process of restoring momentum in the product pipeline and concentrating on enhancing the existing distribution in this market, before contemplating overseas expansion. "We want to focus on the core business and then go from there," Bluestone said. The principal foreign market now is the U.K.

P&G does not break out sales or advertising projections. But in the past industry sources have estimated DDF's global retail volume at $40 million, with $30 million of that done in the U.S. The new ad campaign could cost $3 million to $5 million, according to market estimates. It's also a new opportunity for the brand's founder, Sobel, who said that P&G's support will fuel growth to an extent that never was possible when the company was operating independently. When he founded the company in 1991, the field was wide open. "There were no derm brands around, no complete skin care lines [in the professional sector]," he said. DDF broke ground with products like Fautox, a wrinkle relaxer that worked parallel to Botox. But Sobel didn't have the marketing muscle and financial strength to counteract copycats, he noted. Now that's changed. "With P&G, I don't think there's any level that we can't get to."

One avenue that he sees for product development plays to one of DDF's unusual characteristics. Sobel founded the line with the help of a biochemist and nutritionist and that holistic tripod approach should come in handy in tackling future issues. For instance, nutrition and biochemistry could play a role in the mystery of how to trigger the cells that stimulate fibroblasts in collagen production. And he sees a towering issue in the health risks wrought by global pollution. "We're seeing cancers at early ages not seen before," he said, adding that sunblock will increase in importance. Although the competition is proliferating by the day, Sobel predicts many of these skin care entries will wither away much like the 40 or 50 auto companies that popped up in early 20th-century America. "People want real science and real results," he said.

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