NEW YORK — L'Oréal Paris is in experimental mode. The L'Oréal USA division has formed an in-house creative boutique, The Image Lab, headed by chief image director Douglas Toews. The lab looks to serve as both an in-house ad agency as well as a think tank to help mold new product ideas from inception to concept, through to creative direction, and ultimately to create out-of-the-box messages tailored for today's fast-paced consumer. McCann Erickson and La Micela New York will remain L'Oréal Paris' advertising agencies of record, but Image Lab will focus on projects that have the opportunity to reshape L'Oréal's image."We work to constantly be innovative, not only in our products, but in the way we creatively relate to our consumer base. It's better to work with more than one source and really play off each other because that creates, I would say, this more inspired creativity," said Carol Hamilton, president of L'Oréal Paris. Toews (pronounced Taves) is no stranger to the beauty giant, or to the beauty industry. His career has been almost entirely in beauty, with the past three years spent as a consultant for L'Oréal Paris. He also served as creative director for the brand when he worked for McCann Erickson. Toews has touched many other beauty brands, including Coty's Rimmel London, Lancaster, Yue Sai Kan, The Healing Garden and Calgon, when he was executive creative director there. He was also creative director for The Limited Stores, and has worked on brands including Davidoff Cool Water, Jil Sander, Douglas Perfumeries, Chopard Fragrances, Joop and Shiseido. A good part of his career, too, has been spent traveling the world. He went to high school in Germany. He's lived in Paris, Montreal, New York and San Francisco. And when he worked for Coty, he lived half the year in London and the other half in New York and China. He speaks French, German and English fluently.Bringing this global point of view to L'Oréal Paris is what he described as "required, not extra." And as a result of his travels, he may even overestimate people's knowledge of the world we live in. "Everyone knows that in Korea they're light years ahead of us in terms of creativity and high-speed networks and the way people use cell phones. And the grocery stores in Tokyo? It's like shopping in Neiman Marcus," said Toews.In the last eight years, Toews' interest has focused on digesting the tumult that's currently reshaping the media and communications industries. But he's a quick learner. Already Toews works virtually with most of his collaborators: a retoucher in London, a music score creator in Croatia, an art director in Brazil. It's how he prefers things. And, as someone who's extremely interested in interactivity, not just the Web, he looks forward to when the masses transition to a high-speed, interactive, wireless world. And when it does, he'll be L'Oréal's interpreter.Toews' new role at L'Oréal points to the way beauty companies and advertising agencies may be forced to assess their relationships. At Unilever, according to Laura Klauberg, vice president of marketing, there are no plans to develop an in-house agency, but it works in concert with external design agencies. "We rely on a roster of world-class agency partners working together to deliver highly integrated brand communication," she said, noting that the way beauty companies will market and reach consumers in the future is rapidly changing, and many aren't responding to the change as quickly as they should be. "Most beauty and fashion companies continue to rely heavily on print as their primary communication medium, and have not been as quick to diversify their communication channel spending," said Klauberg. "I expect that this will change as the market continues to fragment and consumer media consumption continues to evolve." To convey messages outside of traditional print and media efforts, Unilever's brand teams and agencies have focused on developing and executing 360 communication ideas.Procter & Gamble, known for being on top of consumers' needs and wants, doesn't utilize an in-house creative guru, either. But a focus on ad efforts outside of traditional print and media plans include partnering brands with various TV shows, such as "America's Next Top Model" and "As the World Turns.""By partnering with a reality show, the Cover Girl brand identified its new model — and America was there to see the process unfold behind the scenes," said Anne Martin, vice president of global cosmetics and beauty marketing. "For two years, this has offered a new way for Cover Girl to connect with women." Last year, it also introduced Clairol Nice 'n Easy Root Touch-Up with "As the World Turns" by integrating the product into the show's story line."It's not a simple product placement, but a completely integrated part of the story with product use," said Martin. "To further support the launch, Nice 'n Easy offered a Watch & Win Sweepstakes linked to the story line of 'As the World Turns.'"P&G remains speculative about an in-house think tank and is unable to predict what the future might hold. Toews, however, is confident his new role at L'Oréal will catch on. "This [concept] is working," he said.Toews' first project for L'Oréal Paris was revealed during the Golden Globe Awards program on Jan. 16: High Intensity Pigments, a new cosmetics brand he helped create in look and tone. "It is a project that, from start to finish, could not have happened without Doug being involved every single step of the way. I mean, the idea was born in [Hamilton's office] with a team of people brainstorming, and Doug was here, and he took that inspiration and was able to visualize it through pictures and words. That's everything in beauty. Everything," Hamilton said. Additional Toews' projects are expected to emerge late this year and center around communication mediums and events. Aside from building brands and corresponding looks, Toews' real talent is expected to keep L'Oréal in pace with the new ways consumers are consuming media and product messages. His role overall, he said, is one that's the wave of the future. "I think this experiment, or the way we're working here, is the next generation. It's where creative, marketing and media people start working on the same projects simultaneously," Toews said.
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