In the cacophonous light- and noise-filled chambers of a massive technology trade show, it is hard to stand out — much less cause a commotion that gets an exhibitor kicked out. But that’s what happened to skin-care company Foreo at the last Consumer Electronics Show in Las Vegas.
At WWD’s Style Lounge at SXSW, where chief executive officer Paul Peros delivered a session on brand storytelling, he seemed to wear the dismissal like a badge of honor.
Shows like CES haven’t changed much over the years, he said, and companies try to attract attendees with glitz, with lights and sounds. “We thought, OK — what would be a much more interesting way to do it? And we came up with a secret research-laboratory style, a building with 12-foot-high walls and barbed wire, and signage that would say the opposite thing: Stay away,” he said. “We even trained the teams to tell people to keep moving, and not to stop. And once they were in, we didn’t mention the product. We basically gave them a performance show to portray how we feel about innovation.”
The company used a director and actors, and it led visitors into “the lab” blindfolded. When the masks came off, they enjoyed a 10-minute performance before being scooted out by actors with fake chain saws.
“We had the Las Vegas police department on the scene within the first hour,” he explained. “It was continued by constant warnings and interventions that ultimately led to us being asked to leave the show.” While Foreo may not be coming back to CES anytime soon, the experiment was ultimately a win for the company. “We had over 600 articles of coverage and an estimate reach that was in the billions.”
The example illustrates Peros’ approach to storytelling, which can be an especially difficult feat in beauty technology. The subject matter can skew dense and technical, if not handled well. It’s even trickier for a relatively new niche and business.
“Once you have a good innovation — so, something that has not been around — you have a problem of communication,” said Peros, whose company marks its fifth year in business in 2018. “Nobody has ever used it. Nobody knows about it. Nobody tried to buy it. Nobody tried to sell it. This last element is actually really, really tricky, and I’m sure many of you have experienced it — in the sense that most of the retail and communication landscape around us is actually suited or efficient for existing products.”
To meet the challenge, Foreo handles a large bulk of its operations in-house, from product development to manufacturing and, of course, marketing. The structure allows the organization to be nimble and experiment. The company positions itself as an innovator, and that flows all the way down to how it communicates with the public.
One thing is clear in Foreo’s approach: It’s not for the faint of heart. The start-up doesn’t fear experimentation, and its structure allows the company to test things quickly and make adjustments, learning as it goes.
“You have to make your own stories,” Peros told WWD after his session. “The more you’re out on a limb, [the more] you can make something no one has ever seen.” Even better if, as he put it, “you have an organization that’s crazy enough to make something happen.”
As for what’s next, the company is mulling that over. After the CES ejection, “we were met by some interesting guys from San Diego,” Peros said. “They were from Comic Con, and they were delighted. They wanted us to go, and we’re thinking about it.”