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How Neutrogena Built a Monster Hit

New LED mask helps deliver innovation to the mass-market acne category.

The confluence of several factors helped make a novel-looking acne mask one of the brightest launches of 2016.

In fact, Beauty Inc awarded Neutrogena’s Light Therapy Acne Mask at last week’s awards as the Mass Launch of the Year.

Retailers report The Neutrogena Light Therapy Acne Mask, which started shipping in October, was a certain success.

The hands-free plastic mask was an instant Instagram hit. It didn’t hurt that Neutrogena brand ambassador Olivia Holt appeared on Facebook Live to demonstrate the mask.

With its price tag of $39.99 for the reusable mask and an activator for 30 sessions, the Light Therapy Acne Mask filled white space in the mass market since previous LED light devices were priced out of reach. Sold separately are replacement activators providing additional 30 sessions for $16.99.

Topping that off, the mask generates positive word of mouth supported with clinical results. Eighty percent of subjects with mild-to-moderate acne who used the LED mask for 12 weeks once daily reported fewer breakouts in as little as one week. The results soared to 98 percent of users experiencing fewer breakouts after 12 weeks with longer usage of the mask. Retailers said instant results encourage return purchases.

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Neutrogena’s entry comes at an important crossroads for a category that’s been shrinking. For the 52-week period ended October 30, 2016 for multiunit doors tracked by IRI, acne dollar volume was down 5 percent to $582 million. Although Neutrogena is the market leader, its sales were impacted, as well.

“The category has been in a decline, largely due to a lack of innovation in a heavily regulated category,” confirmed Cory Price, general manager for Neutrogena, Johnson & Johnson. Price said Neutrogena was presented with the challenge to look at “new territories of growth while elevating a higher standard of care for the consumer.”

Acne, she added, affects the entire face and needs a holistic approach. That’s where the mask, which harnesses blue and red light to target acne-causing bacteria and reduce inflammation on the entire face, comes into play. Since the user simply wears it for 10 minutes per day, the mask encourages compliance.

“This is the first new technology platform in over 20 years-plus beyond what is currently available in the mass-market [acne category]  today,” said Price. The masks reflect the growing demand for at home devices, now an $800 million business across all retail channels with huge potential in mass doors.

Retailers confirm the Neutrogena mask is attracting shoppers to their acne departments. “It is selling well,” confirmed Alex Perez-Tenessa, the vice president, beauty and personal care at CVS, adding it delivers newness to acne shelves and helps the chain attract younger shoppers.

While Neutrogena would not comment on predictions, industry sources estimate it could hit sales of $25 million to $30 million in its first full year in distribution.

Johnson & Johnson already had an inkling it had a blockbuster in the making when it acquired La Lumiere in 2015. That company, led by entrepreneur Jay Tapper of Spinbrush fame, marketed a predecessor item called Illumask. Tapper said he remains involved in the research and development.

J&J tweaked the earlier mask, adding more bulbs for a greater concentration of lights to foster a better consumer experience. That reduced the time of treatment from 15 to 10 minutes without eroding efficacy — important for the impatient teenage target user. Also unique is the use of simultaneous blue and red lights, which differentiates Neutrogena’s model from other mass LED acne devices.

Telling the story at retail also taps into Neutrogena’s strength with educational materials in stores along with in-store demonstrations, especially in doors with beauty advisors. “We are very focused on education and the science behind it to make the device approachable,” said Price. There are displays that are light-activated to catch the shoppers’ attention as they pass by the department.

The marketing campaign includes heavy digital efforts including how-to tutorials. A pre-launch party also generated buzz for the product, especially among beauty influencers. “We created a more positive conversation about acne, rather than doom and gloom,” noted Price.

The target users are men and women aged 13 to 24 — many of whom are discouraged by existing options on the market.

Innovations from Neutrogena such as the Light Therapy Acne Mask and the Hydro Boost Water Gel are credited with elevating the company’s market position across all skin care. “Their Hydro Boost line continues to resonate very well with our customers. They have taken out Olay as the number-one brand in face care,” said one source. “We expect a similar halo effect from the acne mask.”