By  on July 5, 2006

Now that the consumer is up for grabs as never before, the mass market is a channel in transition. With a strategy based on speed, service and innovation, Carol Hamilton is looking to ensure L'Oréal Paris comes out on top.

Carol Hamilton, president of L'Oréal Paris, thrives on being one of the busiest women in beauty, but right now what she really needs is time. Not time to recharge her batteries, mind you. But time from retailers to let L'Oréal's newest color brand, HIP High Intensity Pigments, take root in their stores.

Targeted primarily to African-American women and Latinas, as well as Caucasian women, HIP has been a disappointment since its launch in February, with retailers grumbling about an overly dark shade range and an edgy ad campaign that failed to drive customers into stores.

"Innovation takes time to seed," says Hamilton. "With the fragmentation of the media and consumers being bombarded, the seeding of ideas, especially when it requires a behavioral shopping change, is not necessarily going to happen overnight," she continues, noting that ethnic consumers haven't historically bought beauty products in the channel. "When the going gets rough, we have to remind ourselves of the commitment we've made and how much it's costing us. We're asking [retailers] to make sure they give us time to make it work."

The plea for time is a rare one coming from a woman who's visited three continents in the past two weeks. But Hamilton—who oversees L'Oréal Paris in the U.S., which has estimated sales of $1.3 billion—is passionate about planting the seeds of growth. Be it at her country house in Connecticut, where her self-taught gardening skills are evident in the profusion of perennial shrubs and flowers that populate the grounds, or at L'Oréal, which she joined 22 years ago as director of marketing for cosmetics and was named president of in January 2002, her nurturing skills are equally on display.

With the plethora of challenges and opportunities facing the mass market, she's going to need them. In the short term, Hamilton estimates that HIP's sales will be on track within six months. The company has started adding brighter shades to the line, and a new ad campaign will launch in July or August. "We're evolving from a launch image-building campaign to a more product technology and superiority story that will focus on star products," says Hamilton, noting that a massive foundation sampling campaign driven by radio and outdoor advertising breaks in July. Though Hamilton declined to discuss figures, sources estimate L'Oréal will spend about $25 million this year on marketing HIP. "By the end of the year, we should have gotten the sales up to the point where the turns justify the space," says Hamilton. According to Information Resources Inc., L'Oréal Paris' overall color cosmetics sales were about $386 million for the 52-week period ended March 19, 2006, not including Wal-Mart. With HIP and other new product initiatives, L'Oréal is looking for a sales increase of 5 to 10 percent this year.

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