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Pete Unplugged: A Marketing Maven Returns

WWD’s executive editor of beauty, Pete Born, sits down for a tête-à-tête with Andrea Robinson, who’s back on the beauty scene with a new book.

Appeared In
Special Issue
Beauty Inc issue 03/21/2014

“Fifty is the new 50.”

That was the slightly exasperated comment from a female beauty executive, sitting in The Seafood Bar at The Breakers in Palm Beach. Her point was that it is time to stop clinging to fantasies of reclaiming lost youth and get down to the hard business of doing the best with what you’ve got because, at the end of the day, that’s pretty good.

Well, she and others now have a new standard bearer. After years of speculation, the widely known marketer Andrea Q. Robinson has returned to the industry spotlight with a beauty book for women aged 50-plus, and plans to launch an accompanying makeup line.

She wanted to call the book “Beauty Truths from the Real Mrs. Robinson,” as a sly wink at the 1967 cult film, The Graduate, in which a young man is seduced by his girlfriend’s mother. Instead, it is entitled Toss the Gloss, a reference to the less-than-flattering effect of lip gloss on older lips. The book basically is a 203-page primer on the makeup, skin care and grooming products and methods to use on older skin: what works—including lists of recommended products at the end of each section—and what doesn’t. The subtitle is Beauty Tips, Tricks & Truths for Women 50+, and the book was designed as a platform for the launch of a makeup line called Mrs. Robinson, due next January. “It’s cosmetics, it’s not treatment, because there’s an aching need out there,” Robinson says over lunch in her Park Avenue apartment, a fire crackling in the background, prior to the April publication of her book by Seal Press. Ralph Lauren is throwing a book party on April 2.

“Women can still be sexy and appealing in their own right, Robinson maintains. “Don’t try to look younger, try to look like yourself, but look your best.” She sets the tone of her book with an opening chapter introducing the concept of Wabi-Sabi, which celebrates the beauty of the flawed and the imperfect.

Robinson describes the brand under development as a masstige-priced range of five products “with a short shade range of each.”

At a time when much of the cosmetics industry is preoccupied with the rise of the Millennials, Robinson is making a pitch to the older customer, a market that, she says, has been “ignored.”

She herself has certainly earned her stripes, first as a magazine editor at Seventeen, Mademoiselle and Vogue, before entering the corporate world, where she came up with blockbusters like Ultima II’s The Nakeds neutral makeup palette at the dawn of the Nineties, and Lip Sexxxy long-wearing lipstick. At L’Oréal, she created Ralph Lauren’s hot-selling women’s fragrance franchise, Romance, and at Estée Lauder she worked with Tom Ford.

Stabs have been made in the past to cultivate the older customer, such as Revlon’s Vital Radiance makeup line for age 50+ women in 2006, only to be yanked from the shelves. Revlon’s attempt resulted in an estimated $40 million loss. “There have been efforts but I don’t think they’ve been done very well,” Robinson says. “The efforts that have been made have taken sort of a negative approach rather than a positive.”

Robinson quantifies the market at “about 55 million women. We supposedly have the most money to spend of all the generation segmentation and it’s hard to find cosmetics.”

Discussing the experience of older women, she continues, “They know they don’t quite look the way they should, but they don’t quite know what to do about it. They look in the mirror and obviously their face is changing and [they] turn to treatment products, which, as I name in the book, there’s only a handful that can really move the needle. Things that are really going to change the skin are only counted on one hand at this point. I’m talking nonsurgicals and noninvasives.”

Robinson adds that she can’t see most treatment products having the power to lift the neck or eyes, but “you can do more if you know what to do with cosmetics.”

Asked why the major brands don’t make a more concerted effort to tap this market, she posits that some men running brands say, “It can’t be a good idea because it wasn’t done before.” She adds that “They think that women don’t necessarily care about the way they look over 50 and I don’t agree with that.”

While Robinson clearly has scorn for what she calls the “suits” (including the unnamed individual at Lauder who reportedly told her she should retire), she is careful to point out in the acknowledgements section that “not all men are ‘suits’ and cites a handful of leaders who mentored and supported her, starting with Sir Lindsay Owen-Jones and ending with Tom Ford.

Robinson identifies herself on the book’s cover as the “ultimate beauty-industry insider” and the text is laced with little realities of doing business that may raise the eyebrows of consumers and the hackles of former colleagues. Her revelations range from how manufacturers cascade down active ingredients from their premium to mass brands and the artful language of product claims to the small number of labs that supply nail enamel and what Robinson perceives as the influence of advertisers when magazines pick products. But Robinson insists she’s still enamored of her career in the industry and looking forward to getting back in the game. “I don’t mean to sound severe,” she says, adding she’s just trying to be truthful about what’s good for women. “I feel very privileged.”