Alex Keith, president global skin & personal care for Procter & Gamble wasted no time cutting to the chase. “I’m just going to take on the question that is on everyone’s mind right at the beginning,” said the frank and open Keith acknowledging P&G’s shedding of some brands. “Is P&G getting out of the beauty business? The answer to that is a resounding no.”
Quite the opposite, according to Keith, as she outlined the company’s commitment to focusing on the “right brands and right businesses” where P&G can lead by doing what it does best. P&G is “recommitting” to those brands with a team possessing “deep” beauty experience that in many cases helped build market dominance. That includes Keith who had many beauty hits before shifting to Fabric Care (where she launched Tide Pods). Now she’s back in personal care with venerable logos including Olay, Secret, Old Spice and Safeguard under her direction.
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During her time away from beauty, Keith said she remained an engaged consumer; a fact she believes will help her return beauty brands to their former luster. “My eyes are fresher. I see the things differently. I see the things we’ve done really well and I also see the things we didn’t do as well and the mistakes we made — some of which were on my watch.”
The consumer will be the pathway to reboot, she said, citing the example in the Nineties when sales of the venerable Olay brand were stagnant. With an ear to consumer interest in sun protection to halt the signs of aging, Olay formulated a moisturizer with SPF and marketed it Olay Complete for daily use. Because it filled a need in the market, Olay Complete quickly ascended to the number one position in mass market moisturizers.
“This lesson guides us back to everything we need to do to get us back on track and the starting point for me as I come back to Olay,” she said.
Success of Olay Complete invited competitors to follow suit, resulting what she called “suburban sprawl,” on shelves, Keith said. According to Keith, 60 percent of consumers are willing to shop both prestige and mass for skin care, yet mass skin-care sales are down while prestige soared 40 percent. “That tells me that although there are great products, the shopping experience at mass has made it harder to shop, harder to find what she wants and she’s going where she can be guided.” Sadly, there are those who can’t afford to trade up and are being robbed of a pleasant experience.
“It is our role at Olay to change that dynamic,” she vowed. She outlined a multipronged approach including a laser focus on Olay’s consumer, a shopper who wants a reliable antiaging product, rather than one who jumps on the latest trend and has a medicine chest littered with gimmicks. The assortment will be simplified in concert with efforts to help retailers burnish the in-store environment. Those efforts, which she believes will elevate the entire category, will be visible by fall. “We help others [brands] will follow us to do some city planning.”
Keith is bullish on the future. “We know we can delight her and Olay can lead in masstige again,” Keith said. “Not necessarily bigger, but the simple pursuit of better until better becomes best.”