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WWD Beauty Forum: Ingrid Jackel Revives Physicians Formula

Repositioning the mass cosmetics brand as a problem-solution, masstige cosmetics range caught consumers’ attention.

When Ingrid Jackel arrived at Physicians Formula 16 years ago, she found a mass cosmetics brand with an aging customer base in need of a rival.

“I remember waving goodbye to a customer every time I saw a funeral car drive by,” said Jackel, the company’s chief executive officer.

But the brand, founded by Dr. Frank Crandall in 1937 for his wife’s sensitive skin, still had a strong heritage as a hypoallergenic, problem-solving line of cosmetics. Interestingly, Jackel discovered that what continued to sell briskly was the line’s green and yellow color-correcting sticks. With that insight in mind, she set out to reposition Physicians Formula as a problem-solution, masstige cosmetics range. To grab consumers’ attention — both mass market and department store shoppers included — the company began introducing powdered bronzers, mineral makeup and organic cosmetics. “In such a crowded environment, we needed to stand out,” said Jackel. “Being another beige face powder would have led to failure.” Today, she noted the brand is ranked number eight in the mass market. “We succeeded in making an old brand new,” she said.

The brand launches some 50 new products a year, but before each one has a shot at landing on store shelves, Jackel said it’s subject to five questions: Has this been done before in the mass channel? Does it solve a specific problem? Will it bring class to mass? Will it elicit a “What the heck is this?” reaction? How visually appealing can the company make it?

For Jackel, the next innovative idea could come from the research and development team or the chief financial officer. All are welcomed and encouraged to pitch concepts. “At Physicians Formula, everybody wears the product development hat.” Brainstorming for the next round of new products begins off-site, usually in Jackel’s dining room, which she fills with notebooks, colored pencils, product components — caps, bottles, etc. — and a generous supply of M&Ms. She works alone for the first three to five days and then invites the team to join her. “From these sessions come hundreds of products,” said Jackel, adding that the final concept is not watered down or compromised by layers of management. “I have never let anyone or anything mess with my innovation process.”