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Beauty Firms Navigate the Virtual World

Call it the online version of "She told two friends."

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Call it the online version of “She told two friends.”

This story first appeared in the April 25, 2008 issue of WWD.  Subscribe Today.

While the Faberge Organic shampoo commercial that spawned the famous quip is now a cult classic, creativity in marketing is being dominated by Web initiatives as beauty companies look for ways to supplement print and TV campaigns. And many aren’t settling for banner ads, either.

According to Heather Dougherty, director of research at Hitwise, a New York-based Internet tracking firm, the word-of-mouth aspect generated by Web searches, e-mail and social media groups is helping big companies to better and more intimately reach consumers. In March, 34 percent of Internet beauty traffic was generated by searches, followed by 12 percent for e-mail and 4 percent through social networking. Cross-shopping, or jumping between health and beauty care sites, generated 7 percent of traffic, said Dougherty.

Many beauty companies, therefore, have launched or are planning new initiatives for the upcoming year.

Recently, Dove decided to explore a new online marketing approach by launching Dove Digital Channel, an interactive consumer Web site designed to link its Campaign for Real Beauty and the Dove product portfolio. For this initiative, Dove partnered with OgilvyInteractive and Microsoft’s MSN, which will provide the Unilever-owned brand with global access to an audience of 465 million users a month in 42 markets.

The new dove.com site was introduced in the U.S. this month, and will be followed by the U.K. and Canada over the next three months. The site features video shorts, op-ed pieces and editorial online to help educate women about the products. It also contains an editorial board of experts, guest editors and ambassadors. Women will be able to participate in the conversations through blogs and message forums through the site and dove.msn.com.

“We saw this as an opportunity to join an online conversation on real beauty in a positive way,” said Kathy O’Brien, marketing director for Dove in North America. “Thirty-second commercials have historically been a strong way to build a relationship with consumers, but traditional top-down, one-way models need to be complemented by continuous peer-to-peer dialogue and online is the way to do that.”

Dove executives said the timing was right to create this digital channel based on the brand’s growth and changes in the media and consumer landscape. The company also felt that the partnership made sense since women, it said, are the dominant gender on the Web. In fact, there are 94.6 million women online, spending an average of 86.4 minutes a day, according to March data from comScore Media Metrix.

“It was the right time for us to build a dedicated digital presence that will expand our relationship with the core consumer of women,” said O’Brien.

Gayle Troberman, general manager of global branded entertainment for MSN, said the Dove brand realized it struck a chord with women with its Campaign for Real Beauty and was in search of a way to expand the dialogue it started about beauty with different segments of women across the globe. Troberman said consumers are not jarred by entertainment content mixed with commercial messages. “Dove has earned the right to have this provocative conversation,” she said. “It’s appropriate for the brand to offer consumers beauty tips.”

She added that strides in online video technology give brands, like Dove, a fitting virtual forum to play the role of beauty expert. “The rapid growth of online videos gives companies an opportunity to give consumers a rich experience shaped by the marketer.”

Also helping beauty firms reach beyond the typical banner ad are newer tech firms, like the San Diego-based technology firm Brickfish that blasts out brand-focused, user-generated content to social media pages, including MySpace and Facebook.

Karen Robinovitz, fashion and beauty director at Brickfish, said this type of viral marketing is much more effective than clicking on a blinking banner.

“I don’t know who is intentionally clicking on banner ads,” said Robinovitz. “The industry norm is that less than one 10th of 1 percent click on banner ads in general across the board. So if you want to reach one million people you would have to expose your ad to 100 million people. Even at the low end of CPI [or cost per impression] that is roughly $5 per thousand. That’s a lot of money. Then, you are getting that very low percentage of who will even click and interact.”

Currently, Brickfish works with many different industries to develop marketing campaigns, including fashion and beauty brands. In the beauty world, Brickfish has recently collaborated with Procter & Gamble’s Aussie hair care brand to help promote a line of products. P&G, its public relations firm Lippe Taylor and Brickfish first developed the contest “Aussome Hair Day” and embedded its details on the Aussie Web site.

To drive traffic to the site, Brickfish reached out to an established group of beauty bloggers who have a heavy influence on die-hard beauty consumers, as well as to social media groups. Each blogger and group tells their users — ranging from 500 to 5,000 potential customers — to check out the campaign. In this case the contest asked users to take a video or photos of themselves with their most creative hairstyle using Aussie products.

“The real beauty of Brickfish is that someone who enters the contest can put the entry on their social media page,” said Robinovitz. “I can take your entry and put it on my Facebook page. My friends will see it and they can click on it and they can enter, too. They can review it and they can put it on their page so the consumers are sharing.” The ultimate prize for all of this sharing? A trip to Australia.

Driving conversations through blogs is Brickfish’s key for its clients. As consumers participate in their clients’ campaigns, on average anywhere from 70 percent or more are organically found, or are referred by a friend. That’s seven out 10 who were not part of the original customer base.

Indeed, the burden of communicating falls on the consumer to promote the products, but according to Hyder Rabbani, vice president of sales and business development for Brickfish, “Typically what ends up happening is this activity affects alpha consumers and Aussie people. If you are slightly predisposed to it you will likely participate. It is an exciting way of doing things.”

Another plus to Internet marketing is its low risk. “It is a very safe and efficient way for brands. At the end of the day we are five to 10 times more effective than banner ads at the fraction of the cost” since they are spending time with the brand, said Robinovitz. “It’s not a sweepstakes where you stick in your name and hope to get a phone call. With this they have made a video, they are doing something with a brand they are into. They are thinking ‘How viral am I getting? How many people am I influencing?’ as they do it.”

Hitwise’s Dougherty said that while social networking usually attracts a younger consumer, the age is getting slightly older in recent times as late-thirtysomethings accept the Web as a way to meet people and get their message out.

“It will likely become a more important channel as these younger users become older,” she said.

While it may be a while before marketing budgets start teetering in favor of the Internet, “Shifting is happening all the time away from the traditional because the Internet is trackable and can prove ROI [return on investment],” said Dougherty. She added, “If a company has a smaller budget they will rely more on the Internet. It allows smaller companies to compete better with bigger companies and allows for more of an even playing field. Search is a good opportunity for them, especially if they can’t afford a print ad in Vogue or Allure, [although] print ads help in brand awareness.”

The L’Oréal-owned Maybelline-Garnier brands redesigned all of their sites in 2007, making them more “customizable and informative.” During the first quarter of this year, Maybelline New York partnered with nbc.com for the launch of the new TV show “Lipstick Jungle.” Quasi commercials during the show would drive viewers to the nbc.com site so they could view video podcasts of Maybelline makeup artists showing how to get a certain actress’ makeup look. Viewers would then visit the brand’s site.

“We saw a lift from January to February [on Maybelline.com],” said Kristen Yraola, director of digital media and Internet at Maybelline-Garnier. “Traffic increased by 200 percent in large part due to this program.” Beginning this month, Garnier Fructis launched a lounge on vmtv.com, MTV’s virtual site, where consumers can receive free hairstyles, customize their own avatar (persona in the virtual world) and win free clothing.

Maybelline’s sister brand L’Oréal Paris has added a diagnostic tool to its Web site called “Can I Help You.” Using the tool, visitors can find advice from various beauty experts. For instance, they can select an appropriate hair color shade with Christophe Robin, get a personalized skin care regimen from dermatologist Lydia Evans, find a new makeup look with the help of cosmetics expert Collier Strong and learn hairstyling tips.

L’Oréal has brought the diagnostic tool to life with a mall tour called Style Space. The tour, which is slated to stop in Northlake Mall in Charlotte, N.C., on Saturday, connects shoppers with experts who can offer them mini makeovers, hair care consultations and skin care analysis. Shoppers can also hop into the Video Beauty Confessional, where they are invited to share their favorite personal beauty story.

The Beiersdorf-owned Nivea brand also aims to foster its emotional connection to shoppers with an online effort called “Good-bye Cellulite, Hello Bikini Challenge.”

The four-week online program is built around Nivea’s Good-bye Cellulite Gel-Cream, which is said to firm skin tone, and a 30-day supply of Nivea Dietary Supplements Capsules. Earlier this month, the two products were launched as a kit for $18.99.

Consumers who sign up for the challenge will receive a host of fitness, nutrition and style tips from niveausa.com. Since the launch of the online contest, roughly 30,000 shoppers have registered, said Nicolas Maurer, vice president of marketing for Beiersdorf USA. “Together the gel and the supplements offer a holistic approach” to beauty, said Maurer.

Markwins International’s Wet ‘n’ Wild brand is tapping mobile phones to introduce its newly launched cosmetics line, Beauty Benefits.

The effort, which is slated to launch in a handful of retail doors in the fall, relies on shelf signage to encourage shoppers to text a code to receive problem-solution messages from Beauty Benefits, said Shawn Haynes, Markwins’ senior vice president of marketing and global brand development.

For instance, one sign reads: “Have dry, blotchy skin?” The question will be followed by a text code, such as “Redness.” The brand’s approach seeks to give commercial messages to shoppers on their own terms.

“Consumers today are more interested in controlling their media rather than having it forced upon [them],” said Haynes, adding the firm plans to roll out the effort to the 500 doors where Beauty Benefits, a mineral-based makeup range, is currently sold. Haynes said that having a compelling Web site is simply the first step. In his view, brands also have to tap into social networking sites like MySpace and Facebook.

“That’s where our customers spend most of their time. If you’re not there, you’re missing a huge group of people.”

— Andrea Nagel, Molly Prior and Michelle Edgar

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