If you thought Savage x Fenty was the last event on this season’s New York Fashion Week calendar, think again.
Olay is making its NYFW debut with a runway show for press and influencers on Thursday. Despite being held after NYFW is finished, the show has nothing to do with clothes — or traditional models or makeup, for that matter. Instead, the Procter & Gamble-owned brand is sending beauty influencers and women from its new Face Anything campaign down the runway sans makeup and clothes and they will appear only as faces on the runway, thanks to a tech-powered “skin-visibility cloak” that will leave everything from the face down invisible.
The point of all this is to highlight the power of Olay skin care. Women walking the Face Anything runway will include campaign participants YouTuber Lilly Singh, Olympic gold medalist Aly Raisman, plus-size model Denise Bidot, sportscaster Kay Adams and cancer advocate Mama Cax, along with several other influencers, such as Jackie Aina, Dulce Candy and Maya Washington. They will have each completed an Olay “28-Day Challenge”, which involves using an Olay moisturizer and eye cream for four weeks.
The runway show is the latest in a series of influencer-backed initiatives Olay has rolled out in the past year, in efforts to make the brand relevant to Millennial consumers.
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“It’s really getting back to the consumer at the heart [of the brand],” said Chris Heiert, vice president global for Olay at Procter & Gamble. “We want to be an inclusive brand and focus on that Millennial approaching 30, seeing what needs and desires she has in skin-care products. The [Face Anything] campaign — this brings relevancy within the consumer group.”
The Face Anything campaign debuted with a ten-page spread in Vogue’s September issue, featuring nine women — including Raisman, Singh and Bidot — sharing qualities they had once been told they had “too much of.” The campaign, which doesn’t mention product, is meant to encourage women to be bold and embrace individuality. The rollout includes outdoor ads in New York’s Grand Central Terminal and Times Square, along with a digital video campaign. “We wanted to put out the point-of-view that great skin is connected to great confidence,” said Stephanie Robertson, brand director for Olay in North America. “We want to encourage women that to be fully confident in how they embrace and define themselves.”
Partnering with influencers has been “critical” in the brand’s turnaround, Robertson said. A series of social media and influencer campaigns in the past year have raised the brand’s EMV significantly. In February, Tribe Dynamics reported a 303 percent increase in EMV for Olay, driven by campaigns for the launch of its new Olay Whips face moisturizers. “We’re seeing a health mix of paid and organic promotion,” Robertson said.
The new point of view appears to be working. Until recently, Olay was in a serious sales slump in its major markets, including the U.S. and China — but this is changing. Procter & Gamble on its fourth-quarter earnings call in July reported double-digit growth in its beauty business, driven mainly by skin-care brands SK-II and Olay. In North America, Olay Whips has been a success, earning $13.3 million in sales in U.S. drug and mass retailers in less than a year, according to data from IRI tracking the four weeks ending Aug. 12. Sales are up especially in China, where P&G has invested in revamping its counters and growing the e-commerce business — the company reported on its second-quarter earnings call in January that sales were up 30 percent that quarter.
Sales growth, according to Heiert, is not limited to the U.S. and China, the brand’s biggest markets. “The good news for Olay is that the consumer around the world is responding to how we’re focusing the brand, and we’re seeing broad growth in our ten core countries,” Heiert said.
Aside from playing catch-up on influencers and social media, Heiert noted the brand has not forgotten about product innovation. The Whips moisturizers were the focus of 2018, and another major launch is set to debut in October.
The brand is centering much of its innovation on research and learnings gleaned from Olay Labs, a division of the company that experiments in personalization technology. The Skin Advisor app, which launched in 2016, is one — its AI-driven technology is designed to give consumers insight into the best skin-care regimen for their specific needs, and is also designed to give Olay feedback on consumer skin-care concerns. A more recent “test” has been a website that allows consumers to design their own product regimen based on a personalized skin-care quiz. Sponsored ads directing consumers to the site started appearing on Instagram over the summer.
For now, Olay’s personalization efforts are designed to be “learning experiments” for the brand. Said Heiert: “We want to stay close the consumer and stay inspired by the consumer. We’re learning a lot and continuing to put out innovations the consumer wants.”