The Doctor Is In: Avon Taps Dempsey

Avon Products Inc. has a doctor in the house, albeit a pretend one.

LOS ANGELES — Avon Products Inc. has a doctor in the house, albeit a pretend one.

The direct-sales company said Monday that Patrick Dempsey, the actor known as McDreamy on ABC’s “Grey’s Anatomy,” will be the face of a signature men’s fragrance scheduled for a November debut in the U.S. Dempsey’s wife, makeup artist Jillian Dempsey, has been Avon’s global creative color director since July 2006.

“I felt comfortable going with Avon because my wife has such a great relationship with them. I wasn’t going into something blindly,” said Patrick Dempsey. “I do feel that Avon is changing. It is moving forward. The face is younger, and it is revamping in a positive way. You are seeing that with the sales. It is fun to be part of that transition with Avon.”

Avon declined to discuss terms of the multiyear contract with Dempsey, 42, but industry sources estimate he could be guaranteed $5 million to $6 million over three years. Dempsey is going to be creative director of the fragrance project as part of his role with Avon, according to Claudia Poccia, Avon’s global president of Mark and strategic alliances.

“This will be arguably the strongest franchise in the company’s history,” said Andrea Jung, Avon’s chairman and chief executive officer. “Fragrance has always been an important category. The company was founded in 1886 as the California Perfume Company. One hundred twenty-two years later, $10 billion in revenues and growing, [fragrance] still is a critical category and, last year, our fastest-growing category.”

Within Avon’s beauty division in the fourth quarter last year, the fragrance business grew 20 percent, outpacing color cosmetics at 16 percent and skin care at 6 percent, respectively. However, personal care chalked up 21 percent growth. Overall, the company’s fourth-quarter revenues climbed 17.4 percent to $3.08 billion from $2.62 billion the prior year, while profits dropped 30 percent to $128.9 million from $184.1 million as Avon continued its multiyear turnaround plan.

“The business is growing; the focus on celebrities and alliances has been working and is building momentum,” said Jung. “With Patrick’s accomplishments, his broad appeal, his authenticity, combined with the momentum we are experiencing in this [fragrance] category, we have a big opportunity to really break through to a new level in the men’s segment.”

This story first appeared in the April 1, 2008 issue of WWD.  Subscribe Today.

Even though advertising costs ate into Avon’s fourth-quarter net earnings (in 2007, the company’s advertising budget was $370 million, a figure that is expected to increase comparable to revenue growth), the company has made marketing a priority and has quickly built up a stable of celebrity and designer partners. In March, the company unveiled fragrances with Emanuel Ungaro and color cosmetics with Marimekko. Avon’s designer lineup also features Christian Lacroix and Cynthia Rowley.

Avon’s Hollywood contingent includes global ambassador Reese Witherspoon; Jennifer Hudson, who fronts the Imari fragrance brand, and Lauren Conrad, a spokeswoman for Mark, Avon’s line tailored to women 18 to 24 years old. New York Yankee Derek Jeter teamed up with Avon on the Driven and Driven Black fragrances.

“The truth is, with all of our partners, it really is more about a collaboration than a straight-up endorsement,” said Poccia. “We look for people and companies who share our values and our interests.” She noted Avon was particularly impressed with Dempsey’s commitment to fighting women’s cancers and his support of the Patrick Dempsey Center for Cancer Hope & Healing in Maine, the actor’s home state.

Upon closing the fragrance deal with Avon, Dempsey, who stars in the film “Made of Honor” coming out May 4, recalled he “bought everything on the market” to educate himself about colognes. “I like something that is masculine, but not overpowering. Something that is contemporary, but has a nod to the classic,” he said. “How do you make something that is approachable and not overwhelming? It has been really challenging. We are still developing that idea and looking forward to the final.”

Avon wouldn’t yet reveal details about the advertising campaign or the men’s fragrance it is working on with Dempsey, which is slated for a global launch in 2009. However, Poccia said, “It is safe to say that we will be actively promoting the fragrance in many forms of media.”

“We have over 5.4 million sales representatives who have relationships [with consumers] in this category who buy for the men in their lives,” said Jung. “The power that Patrick can have to motivate our women’s sales representatives I think will be enormous.”

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