As many mass skin care brands turn to slick retail partnerships and targeted guerrilla-marketing techniques to spark sales (Maybelline and Burt’s Bees, respectively), Procter & Gamble Co. has created a 28-minute, science-driven infomercial to help build trial for one of its beauty brands.

This story first appeared in the May 7, 2010 issue of WWD. Subscribe Today.

On the market for just more than a year, Olay Professional Pro-X has been slow to drive trial, said Joe Arcuri, vice president, North America Female Beauty for P&G. The professionally positioned, premium-priced, antiaging mass skin care range, which retails for between $42 and $62, apparently made for a difficult sell using traditional marketing efforts — especially in a troubled economy. An infomercial, which gives a brand a platform to tell its story, allows P&G to brag about Olay Pro-X’s scientific nature, as well as results from real users, celebrity brand ambassadors and scientific journals.

Sales of Olay Pro-X reached almost $80 million for the 52 weeks ended March 31, according to ACNielsen. That includes food, drug and mass stores; Wal-Mart, and club stores.

“Consumers are information seekers and want to understand the science and technology,” said Chris Heiert, Olay’s marketing director. “That led to this idea…which is the best of both worlds. We will be able to reach new consumers to drive trial, but when she wants to go back and purchase it, she can — in the mass market.”

Infomercials have helped build beauty brands into multimillion-dollar operations, such as BareMinerals and Proactiv, said Sam Catanese, chief executive officer of Infomercial Monitoring Service Corp. About 250,000 to 260,000 infomercials are aired each month, he said, with beauty infomercials ranking as the third largest (10 percent) behind health and fitness (28 percent) and household (16 percent). According to IMS, which provides data to media buyers, marketers and retailers, in 2009 BareMinerals ranked as the sixth most popular infomercial overall. While infomercials, he said, can sometimes be tarnished by “snake-oil salesmen,” they are getting better and better.

After a brief review, Catanese said the Olay Pro-X infomercial looked “well produced and well thought out,” estimating that P&G didn’t hold back on production costs, as it was shot in film and features several celebrities. P&G confirmed the infomercial cost between $750,000 and $1 million to make and that Los Angeles-based Quigley-Simpson was a partner in creating it.

“It looks like a good show. They shot it in film…they took their time and built it right, like building a house,” Catanese said.

He believes what likely brought the mass brand to the airwaves is that it “probably had weak appeal, so they thought ‘Why not buy some infomercial time?’ It is the best thing they can do. So many products have been built that way. There is so much competition out there. BareMinerals is a direct response brand. It didn’t start with a big name. They have grown through paid ads.”

P&G said its infomercial — which launched Thursday, April 29, on cable networks nationwide — looks to serve consumers where they want to shop.

“We saw that TV skin care brands were speaking to [the consumer], and we wondered if Olay went into this area and we shared more about what we are about,” if the brand’s message could be better delivered, said Heiert. “It allowed us to talk about science and the clinical studies and to bring testimonials to life. When we developed the professional line, we had done lots of clinicals and had lots of research and development behind it. We were just not able to communicate it in our normal channels.”

The infomercial sells Pro-X’s Starter Kit, which includes an Age Repair Lotion with SPF 30, a Wrinkle Smoothing Serum and an Age Restoration Complex, for three payments of $19.99. To drive purchase, buyers also get five Pro-X Firming Masks, an Eye Restoration Complex and a $10 coupon toward their next purchase of Olay Pro-X. The entire package is worth $100, P&G said.

Television celebrity journalist Lara Spencer hosts the show, which features about a dozen testimonials from women who have used the product; before-and-after pictures; clips from P&G’s beauty labs; an explanation of how Pro-X works by P&G scientist Dr. Greg Hillebrand; clinical data by the British Journal of Dermatology comparing Pro-X to retinol, and actress Angie Harmon, an Olay Pro-X user.

Wendy Liebmann, ceo of WSL Strategic Retail, said that P&G has often led the way in new marketing vehicles and that the infomercial “reflects the changing needs of categories such as beauty, as they become more sophisticated, complicated and higher priced, and the mass market selling environment remains unable to deliver the kind of education, information and service that are needed.”

The infomercial is slated to run through the second half of 2010 — and possibly into 2011, if successful — and will surely receive some tweaks based on consumer feedback.

Already some light has been shed on what consumers want in addition to the Starter Protocol, such as cleansers. “There are additional products to fill out the regimen,” said Heiert. “She is asking about cleansers so [operators] are selling her that over the phone.”

Catanese said it’s common and expected for a manufacturer to tweak a spot based on customer feedback, especially if a certain message isn’t clear or a good number of callers ask the same questions. “They don’t want people calling in for inquiries, they want them calling in for a sale,” said Catanese.

Whether Pro-X will achieve BareMinerals-esque success remains to be seen, a feat that was achieved by only one thing, Catanese said.

“It worked. They had a successful product,” he said. “Not every product that is on TV is going to be something someone needs.”


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