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NEW YORK — Mary Kay is delving into the basics.

This story first appeared in the January 23, 2004 issue of WWD. Subscribe Today.

As skin care companies overwhelm the market with more and more skin treatments with high tech ingredients bearing a host of claims, such as reducing lines and wrinkles, minimizing age spots or exfoliating dead cells, Mary Kay contends that sometimes women just want a good, simple moisturizer.

“There is a need for hydration,” declared Rhonda Shasteen, senior vice president of marketing. She said it is a skin concern that customers have been expressing to Mary Kay sales associates, and that interest made it’s way to the ears of the research and development team.

So the Dallas-based direct seller has created two new items that address only that. Mary Kay Intense Moisturizing Cream for dry skin and Oil-Free Hydrating Gel for normal to oily skin are being introduced this month. Both items are designed to leave skin feeling hydrated for up to 10 hours.

And Mary Kay executives expect it to make a big splash. The company is projecting retail sales during the 90-day launch period to reach $45 million to $50 million. A 1.8-oz. jar is $30 and comes with a spatula for easy application.

The cream item, which is a pale pink shade, contains marine extract, meadowfoam seed oil and vitamin E to help soften and smooth dry skin. Essential minerals, such as copper, magnesium and zinc, serve to nourish the skin. The gel version, in a soft lavender color, features marine extract, green tea extract and vitamin E.

The treatments can be used in conjunction with skin care products that add, for instance, antiaging benefits or sun protection. “You can put it on in the morning or in the evening,” said Shasteen. “With typical moisturizers, you don’t get sustained hydration.”

Mary Kay marketers say women can customize their own regimen. “If you want, you can wear it by itself. There are no confusing directions,” said Dr. Myra Barker, executive vice president, global marketing, research and development at Mary Kay.

While the human body is about 70 percent water, according to research provided by Mary Kay, normal healthy skin contains 10 to 20 percent water. Factors such as temperature, humidity, age and hormones can cause dryness and upset the balance.

Barker noted that to keep skin healthy, it must be properly hydrated. Additionally, she said, “visual aspects of fine lines and wrinkles are more apparent when skin is dehydrated.” In developing the packaging, Mary Kay also listened to its customer base. “They told us they like jars,” recalled Shasteen. So a new jar, made from acrylic rather than glass to prevent breakage, was designed.

A promotional campaign will include a nationwide contest dubbed “Hydrate America.” It will be Mary Kay’s first sales contest in several years, noted Shasteen. Based on consultants’ enthusiasm, the sales projection has been increased 50 percent over initial expectations. A video will be shown at Mary Kay’s regional sales meetings next week featuring a performance by Mary Kay’s president of global sales, Tom Whatley, as “Commander Splash.” Whatley has been known to dress as Uncle Sam and even like a bumblebee at sales conventions to energize the crowd. He is accompanied in the video skit by three other senior executives who pose as Agents H, 2 and 0. Among other incentives, the top-selling consultant team will be treated to a visit from “Commander Splash and the Hydro Agents.”

To help spur sales, there also will be buttons that say “Hydrate America,” and consultants are receiving a CD containing information on the importance of well-hydrated skin. Through Mary Kay’s product catalog, five million samples will be given out.

Mary Kay Inc., started on Sept. 13, 1963, marked its 40th anniversary last year. The company celebrated the milestone with an extravagant celebration during its annual seminar meeting in Dallas last summer. Some 100 top sales associates drove their pink Cadillacs to Dallas for the event. Mary Kay Ash, who launched the brand with $5,000 in savings, died in 2001.