By  on February 18, 2005

NEW YORK — Professional hair care products, for the most part, are found in salons. Which is ostensibly why Suave, a hair care brand sold in the mass channel for a few dollars a bottle, has outfitted a shop along Fifth Avenue into a full-scale salon, at least for next week.

The slick marketing move is intended to drive home Suave’s long-standing advertising claim that the budget brand works just as well as pricy salon products.

The Suave “Can You Tell?” Studio, located at 12 East 42nd Street, will open its doors to the public on Tuesday, Feb. 22, for five days. A team of hairstylists, led by Harry Josh — Suave’s spokesman who has styled the tresses of celebrities such as Jennifer Aniston and Gisele Bündchen — will give free haircuts and blow-drys from 11 a.m. to 8 p.m. each day.

The Suave styling team will challenge salon visitors to see if they can tell the difference between Suave and an assortment of professional brands, namely Matrix and Nexxus. The challenge correlates with Suave’s “Can You Tell?” TV, print and Internet advertising campaign, which features two women with shiny, healthy hair and asks viewers whether they can tell which one uses Suave or a  salon brand. The grand-prize winner of the sweepstakes on the Web site who correctly identifies the woman who used Suave shampoo will be awarded a trip to New York and a head-to-toe makeover with Josh and a fashion editor.

The temporary salon will also introduce consumers to Suave’s latest offerings, slated to bow in March. Product names, such as Suave Professionals Sleek Shampoo and Suave Thick & Full Shampoo, seek to tap into the cache of professional lines such as Matrix Sleek Look and Pantene Full & Thick, respectively.

Manicurists will also be on hand and will pit Suave’s new skin care products against Lubriderm lotion, which is made by Pfizer. Suave has recruited New York dermatologist Francesca Fusco to advise salon-goers about proper skin care in between their manicures and hand massages.

To spread the word about Suave’s salon, Unilever executives have gathered an army of 60 women who will don “Can You Tell?” T-shirts and have perfectly coiffed hair, of course, to fan out across Manhattan Tuesday and Wednesday. Buses, wrapped in “Can You Tell?” print ads, were spotted in Manhattan this week.For every free service, Suave will donate $40 to Gilda’s Club Worldwide, a charitable organization that provides emotional and social support for people living with cancer. Suave will donate an additional $10,000 to Gilda’s Club through its Web site,

The temporary Suave salon does not come cheap but is on a par with buying an ad page in a consumer magazine. A source familiar with the deal said that Unilever shelled out $65,000 for a one-month lease, which is a $20,000 premium over the average rent for that location.

Suave’s effort is part of a brewing marketing trend called “pop-up retail,” where companies take out a temporary lease on a retail store to create an environment where consumers can interact with their brands. Real estate firm Newmark Retail, the retail services division of Newmark & Company Real Estate Inc., has worked on similar deals such as the Meow Mix Café, a feline-friendly restaurant that opened last August for five days promoting the Meow Mix brand. Target has experimented with the concept as well. The retailer, which does not have any stores in Manhattan, opened a temporary location in Rockefeller Center in fall 2003 to call attention to its deal with fashion designer Isaac Mizrahi.

“Companies now realize that a storefront with large windows and signage gets seen by so many people in one day, especially at a location on 42nd Street and Fifth Avenue or Times Square,” said Jeffrey Roseman, executive vice president at Newmark Retail. “I have heard companies say for the price of an ad in any of the top fashion magazines, this gives so much more of a buzz.”

The Suave salon concept will travel to Chicago and Minneapolis in March.

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