Byline: Laura Klepacki

NEW YORK — For every woman who has angled for a spot at the ladies room mirror or discretely checked out her look in the glass door of the frozen food aisle, the advertising campaign for Revlon’s newest lip color — Absolutely Fabulous — is sure to resonate.
In a pivotal move for the struggling cosmetics brand, Revlon will unveil a commercial on Monday from its new agency — Kirshenbaum, Bond and Partners — that signals a dramatic departure from its model-product-benefits advertising formula of recent years.
In a 30-second spot designed to “modernize” Revlon’s image and “bring it to life in a whole new way,” according to Cheryl Vitali, Revlon’s global executive vice president, the brand has transitioned to a lifestyle approach, albeit a glamorous one.
With the Seventies Blondie hit “One Way or Another” pounding out plenty of attitude on the soundtrack, four stylish young women stride through an office building lobby, down a supermarket aisle and even gather in a public restroom where they freshen their lipstick, as a narrator begins, “You never know what we’ll do or where we’ll show up” and closes out with the tagline, “It’s absolutely fabulous being a woman.”
Rose Marie Ryan, president of Kirshenbaum, said the ads were created to “tap into some human truths about being a woman.” The ads also declare that women make the world more colorful.
Disturbed by focus groups that concluded the Revlon woman that had been presented by the company no longer exists, marketers have been anxious to discover what had become of their traditional customer. Research took Revlon execs to pop culture insiders they dubbed, “style mavens” i.e., hair stylists, makeup artists, fashion designers and photographers for insight. What they learned is women have become “unapologetically colorful.”
And no longer do women feel being powerful precludes being feminine. “It is not about being a power woman, but about the power of being a woman,” said Vitali.
It is hoped the new ads will “capture the new attitude and reignite the passion Revlon was born with,” said Vitali. The ads, she noted, also speak to the comraderie among women. “And no other brand has really tapped into that.”
Sources said Absolutely Fabulous could reap sales of $40 million this year, based on a $12.5 million advertising budget. Print ads break in May and feature several models in various poses. One ad shows a clearly displeased woman with the line, “We can make our point without opening our mouths.”
Absolutely Fabulous Lipcream is being promoted as an item delivering thick, rich color that puts fun and fashion back into lipstick.
Revlon needs for its new ads to strike a chord with consumers. Sales slipped from $658 million in 1999 to $621 million last year, dropping the brand from first to third with a 17.2 percent market share after Maybelline and Cover Girl. Keeping its lipcolor business healthy — a core strength — is particularly crucial.
Revlon says moving forward without model Cindy Crawford, who had become synonymous with the brand, should not negatively affect it in the long term. “The brand is bigger than the moment,” commented Vitali who pointed to seminal Revlon campaigns that preceded Crawford, including “Unforgettable.” It employed the tagline, “The most unforgettable women in the world wear Revlon” and featured celebrities including Oprah Winfrey and Audrey Hepburn. There was also the Charlie fragrance commercial, which reflected the empowerment of women as they entered the workforce in the Seventies. Earlier on, Revlon polished its glamorous image as a sponsor of the Ed Sullivan Show and the $64,000 Question.
For the Absolutely Fabulous ads, Revlon and partner Kirshenbaum tapped relatively unknown models including brunette Rhea Durham, who has appeared in Christian Dior and Tommy Hilfiger fashion ads. The choice of Durham, which was first reported in these pages on March 9, came as a bit of a surprise since the market and many in the media were expecting an actress or supermodel to get the nod as the successor to Crawford, whose contract was discontinued after 11 years.
The other actresses in the new TV spot include Luciana Curtis, Liya K. and Nicola Breytenbach.
Richard Kirshenbaum, co-chairman of the agency, said they not only scrutinized portfolios, but called in models to audition for the ads. “We were looking for playful, intelligent, humorous women who could interact with others.”
The women had to have a personality, said Kirshenbaum. “That eliminated a vast majority.”
“The new face of Revlon is Revlon,” Vitali stressed, portraying the brand as the celebrity, not a Hollywood star. She later stressed that this decision does not preclude using a supermodel in the future. In fact, Revlon is continuing with the stars on its payroll, such as Halle Berry.
Before Kirshenbaum won the Revlon account, the agency got an early crack at its business with the development of the campaign for Skinlights, a new face makeup collection. It also did not feature a super model.
But will supermodels factor into the new campaign?
“It is not an issue of should we or shouldn’t we, but an issue of how,” said Kirshenbaum. “We will only use celebrities if they are unapologetically colorful women.”