Wet ‘n’ Wild believes it has a hit on its hands with Fergie, the brand’s first celebrity spokeswoman.

This story first appeared in the February 10, 2012 issue of WWD. Subscribe Today.

Wet ‘n’ Wild, a holdout from the celebrity fray, had largely been content to let its affordability and immense selection speak for itself, while its competition amassed star-studded rosters of spokespeople. But the recession spurred brands of all sorts to tout their value propositions and blunted the Markwins Beauty Products Inc.-owned brand’s point of differentiation. By breaking with its historic precedent and signing Fergie, Wet ‘n’ Wild is going on the offensive to reinforce its place in beauty aisles as the playful, inexpensive choice for color that spans the spectrum.

“This is a 33-year-old brand. We are about fashionable, fun and affordable cosmetics —always been, and we always will be,” said Brian Talbot, Markwins’ vice president of marketing. “Where we had room for improvement was in the articulation of the DNA. Were we clear? Were we concise? Were we consistent? I don’t think we have always been as consistent as we could be. We are going to clarify our message.”

Wet ‘n’ Wild is distributed to over 30,000 food, drugstore and mass market doors, including Walgreens, CVS, Rite Aid, Wal-Mart, Target and Kmart.

Crucially, Fergie, age 36, has demonstrated broad appeal as the front woman for The Black Eyed Peas. On hiatus at the moment, the hip-hop group is one of the top 50 music acts of all time with more than 50 million albums sold worldwide, but Fergie has had success as a solo artist as well with “The Dutchess,” a 2006 release that produced five top five singles in the U.S. and sold more than six million albums.

Even though Wet ‘n’ Wild is heading into uncharted territory with its celebrity deal, Fergie, whose real name is Stacy Ferguson, has already proven her music accomplishments translate into product sales. Outspoken, her first fragrance with Avon Products Inc., became Avon’s largest fragrance launch in 2010. Her two namesake footwear lines with Brown Shoe Co. Inc. have been sales drivers for the company. And Fergie’s special edition lipstick and lip gloss for MAC’s Viva Glam initiative in 2009 was estimated to have generated $3 million in sales at counter.

Fergie didn’t blanch at the opportunity to become Wet ‘n’ Wild’s debut famous face. She was comfortable with the brand because she’d used it as a girl in Hacienda Heights, the Los Angeles neighborhood where Markwins founder and chief executive officer Eric Chen also lived. “For me, this is really no risk whatsoever; it has always been a part of my life, so it is natural to me, ” she said, adding, “I like to dive into things that haven’t been done before. That keeps me stimulated. Otherwise, life is boring.”

Thinking back to her teenage years, Fergie recalled, “In Hacienda Heights, there were a lot of beautiful chola girls. They wore Wet ‘n’ Wild. I would watch them put on their eyeliners and lip liners at school. The big thing for the eyeliners was to heat them up and put on the black eyeliners smooth. They would also line their lips with dark lip liner.…Their faces were like palettes. I would try to emulate them.” She continued, “Eric Chen, who is the [Markwins] owner, was like 30 seconds to a minute away from me growing up. He saw girls like me stocking up on those lip liners and eyeliners.”

Wet ‘n’ Wild’s low prices — the average unit price was less than $2 for the 52 weeks ended Dec. 24, according to Nielsen data — were an important element in Fergie’s decision to associate with the brand. “I like something accessible, something that my fans can afford,” she said. “It feels good to be a partner with brands my fans can afford because they have helped me get to where I am today. All the brands that I am partnering with my fans can afford.”

Fergie’s images on Wet ‘n’ Wild’s planograms, modulars, in-store promotions and advertisements are slated to begin appearing for the back-to-school season. Talbot said the brand is increasing its advertising budget by 50 percent, bringing it to 8 to 10 percent of annual sales. “We will be using her everywhere. She is our voice,” he remarked. A line for Wet ‘n’ Wild by Fergie is a strong possibility, but plans for how it will take shape haven’t been solidified yet. Talbot pinpointed eye, lip and nail as categories for which Fergie will play a prominent role.

“I have always been a big enthusiast of playing with nail color, design and shape,” said Fergie. “A lot of things that I do on my nails mean something to me. For a while, when I started with The Black Eyed Peas, I had black with a white stripe that reminded me of all the roads I had been on because we were doing so much traveling.” In music videos, she said, “There always is a token nail shot. It is always definitely themed toward the video. Right now, I have been keeping the stiletto nude nail for a while because it is simple, and it elongates my fingers.”

Talbot explained that Wet ‘n’ Wild prepped the brand last year for the renewed vigor Fergie would bring this year by shoring up its relationships with key retailers, and perfecting its promotional and product strategies. At stores, the result is “you’d see a much cleaner, better-stocked fixture, and you would see stand-alone off-the-planogram promotions that are specific to the retailer selling products that worked successfully for them,” he said. Enhancing the brand in protection and color, the latest launches Wet ‘n’ Wild is concentrating on are $2.99 MegaShield Lip Color SPF 15, $2.99 Juicy SPF 15 Lip Balm, $1.99 MegaLast Nail Color, $4.99 Color Icon Eyeshadow Collection and $1.99 Color Icon Shimmer Singles.

Sales increases indicate Wet ‘n’ Wild’s moves have been productive. Excluding Wal-Mart, Dollar General and Ulta, Nielsen data shows Wet ‘n’ Wild’s dollar volume climbed 18.8 percent to nearly $80.3 million in the 52 weeks ended Dec. 24. Factoring in the retailers that Nielsen excludes, Talbot suggested growth has been even higher. “We finished 2011 up 20 percent from 2010. It was our best year by far, and we had growth three times the category rate. We have been extremely healthy. We are the fifth-largest brand in units shipped, and we are the fastest growing top-10 food, drug and mass brand in dollars,” he said.

Going forward, Talbot described Fergie as a “rocket boost” for Wet ‘n’ Wild. “We are focused on growth, and we will not accept less than two times the category average for our growth,” he said. “We have phenomenal momentum. We have done great foundation work. We have added this great boost, and we expect to do even better.” Fergie feels she has a personal stake in pushing Wet ‘n’ Wild to that next level. “Have you ever heard of anyone else coming out of Hacienda Heights? Me and Wet ‘n’ Wild,” she said. “Hacienda Heights is being put on the map in a big way.”

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