By  on October 10, 2008

BOSTON — Beiersdorf AG wants consumers to know behind every feel-good lotion is a mountain of science.

The Hamburg, Germany-based beauty firm is now taking that message to the U.S., literally.

Last week, the company outfitted a large conference room at the Westin Copley Place hotel here with enough scientific instruments to make the eyes of NASA engineers widen in excitement.

The R&D exhibit was part of Beiersdorf’s global leadership conference, an annual gathering of the firm’s senior management team and the heads of each business unit. The consumer products company ranks seventh among the world’s top beauty companies with a portfolio that includes, but is not limited to, Nivea, Eucerin and luxury skin care brand La Prairie.

Beiersdorf’s Nivea brand has spent the last two years working to better ingratiate itself with U.S. consumers, and shift its positioning from functional skin care to beauty products with an emotional pull.

The brand is a staple in medicine cabinets and showers throughout Europe, and the company’s aim is to make Nivea a mainstay in U.S. consumers’ lives as well.

“We were very excited that this year’s meeting was happening in the U.S. It gave us an opportunity to showcase our progress here,” said Iain Holding, president of North America, noting the U.S. is one of the company’s key markets.

Nivea sells products across 14 categories globally, but to date its U.S. strategy has focused primarily on skin care. “At the heart of our strategy — alongside innovation — is strengthening Nivea’s brand equity by connecting with U.S. consumers with a strong emotional message,” said Holding. To that end, its marketing efforts have centered on the concept of feeling beautiful. The brand ushered in this strategy in 2006 with the launch of its very sensuous “Touch and Be Touched” ad campaign for Smooth Sensation body lotion. In July, Nivea expanded its platform to lip care, adopting the tag line “Kiss and Be Kissed” for the purpose. Ad spots for Nivea Lip Care are equally intimate and feature a song by Welsh singer-songwriter Duffy.

“We’ve taken Touch and Be Touched to a new level,” said Holding. “Lip care in the U.S. is a category that’s become about dry and chapped lips. We’re making it all about the emotional benefit of kissing. We want to own kissing in the United States with the Nivea brand.” Holding said that lip care along with recent introduction of products like Good-bye Cellulite Gel-Cream — backed by the Good-bye Cellulite, Hello Bikini Challenge — have helped broaden Nivea’s appeal to more consumer groups.

The tactic for Eucerin is to nurture the brand’s therapeutic skin care heritage. Describing the advertising efforts, Nicolas Maurer, vice president of marketing for Beiersdorf, said, “It’s emotionally engaging, but more from a problem-solution standpoint. It’s always a realistic message.” For instance, he noted the tag line for Eucerin Everyday Protection, available in a body lotion with SPF 15 and a face lotion with SPF 30, is “You can’t always avoid the sun, but you can be ready for it.”

In the U.S., Nivea has fortified its position in men’s care with its Nivea for Men franchise and in body care with a broadening offering. Lip care has rolled out to full distribution, and more categories are said to be on deck. Maurer acknowledged, “In an ideal world, we would want to see Nivea as strongly represented [in terms of categories] in the U.S. as it is in Europe. That’s the ideal picture.” He added that the time line for this ambition is uncertain.

The current focus, Holding reminded, is on building a number-one position in skin care. On that front, Nivea seems to be making long strides.

According to ACNielsen data provided by Beiersdorf, Nivea ranked second on the list of mass-market hand and body care products during the latest 13-week period ended Sept. 20, 2008.

ACNielsen data also indicates Nivea body care sales have gained 53.6 percent in the past two years for the period ended Sept. 20.

To develop the innovations behind that growth, Nivea’s 125-year-old parent company relies on a team of 800 scientists, all of whom are based in Hamburg, said Dr. Klaus-Peter Wittern, corporate vice president research and development for Beiersdorf. “Understanding the skin is one of our core competencies, and making products is another core competency,” said Wittern, adding the aim is to make products that are sensorial with distinct profiles and to then prove the efficacies of the formulas. “Before you can detect an effect, you need certain methods to investigate the structure of the skin to be able to determine the different actives and their primary effect on the skin. So our work starts with bioengineering to develop the techniques needed to have a better look into the skin.”

He noted that it generally takes seven to eight years to identify an active ingredient, conduct preliminary experiments to prove its efficacy and make a product that substantiates all the claims involved. “That’s the same timeline for pharmaceuticals, and the documentation process is the same,” said Wittern. To substantiate its cosmetic claims, Beiersdorf has mined the automobile and the space industries for technology, which it then retools for its purposes. For instance, a laser body scanning machine in the R&D exhibit has been used in the fashion industry for custom-made suits and in the car industry for seat design. Beiersdorf is the first beauty company to use the machine, said a scientist on hand.

Other tools include an eye scanner than can track where a subject’s eyes move when looking at a print ad or a new product label, and an age stimulator that based on thousands of images will generate a computer image of how a brave test subject will look when she is 72 years old.

Wittern acknowledged that the R&D team works closely with the marketing arm to communicate these advancements and product claims to consumers.

“The scientific part is easy,” he said. “The most challenging part is to build a bridge to transfer that scientific information to consumers.”

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