Make-up and skincare brands have devised some innovative uses of digital media to empower their customers, from video tips online to information kiosks in stores

quick facts

  • Lauren Luke has clocked up more than 56m YouTube hits and 250,000 site subscribers since launching in 2007
  • The UK skincare industry is expected to grow 25% in constant value terms between now and 2014
  • Mama Mio aims to be the first beauty brand to introduce 2D barcodes on its packaging, linking to its mobile site
  • There’s an industry wide trend towards fusing offline and online shopping experiences and empowering the consumer with more information

If you want an example of the potential digital media offers the beauty industry, ask Lauren Luke. Since launching her make-up tips online in 2007, she has clocked up more than 56m YouTube hits and attracted 250,000 website subscribers, interest which has since spawned the popular Lauren Luke cosmetics brand.

“When I started uploading make-up videos I was pretty much on my own - it was new ground and for a while something of a novelty that the beauty industry didn’t really take seriously,” says Luke. “These days there are hundreds of bloggers, many of whom have built solid reputations. It means information is widespread and there’s choice, which breeds more competition.”

Luke’s success from humble beginnings has helped to give the beauty industry the impetus to take bolder steps online. “The acceleration into digital of companies like Johnson & Johnson and Beiersdorf has been significant this year,” says Charlie McGee, head of digital at media planning/buying agency Carat, which works with both companies and reports that Johnson & Johnson has a mandate that at least of 10% of its ad spend has to be on digital (nma 18 February 2010). “The clients I talk to understand the need to be involved in digital as their customers are increasingly looking there for information,” he adds.

With Euromonitor predicting the UK skincare industry to grow 25% in constant value terms by 2014, brands are starting to embrace digital as a critical channel.

Film-star looks

As Luke has shown, video is one area that can serve beauty well - the perfect medium for consumers to access make-up demonstrations and tips without the ignominy of sitting in the middle of a department store with a trainee sales assistant. Bigger, long-established brands are also recognising the power of the medium.

Procter & Gamble has been creating online video for its beauty brands, such as vodcasts featuring brand ambassadors like Tess Daly talking to a Clairol stylist about how to colour hair for holidays in the sun, and Suzi Perry discussing the perfect smile with an Oral B dentist. The company is launching a YouTube channel imminently where it will be posting a number of these vodcasts.

Jergens Naturals, part of Kao Brands Europe, launched in the UK in April 2009 and worked with digital agency Holler to raise awareness via a branded online TV series which launched this spring (nma 6 May 2010). The five-minute episodes of Skin & Bare It feature members of the public swapping their daily bodycare routines for three weeks, and are hosted on, and a number of third-party sites.

“The idea was for Jergens Naturals to create entertaining and insightful content to get the public watching and engaged with the brand,” says Abi Blanche-Martin, interim senior brand manager for skincare at Kao Brands Europe. Views have exceeded 100,000 and the campaign is still live. “It’s tempting to stick to tried and tested methods to encourage awareness and consumer loyalty. But Skin & Bare It has shown these can also be induced by producing quality content that not only educates but also entertains consumers,” she adds.

Skincare brand Mama Mio has taken a slightly different approach in its use of video. In May it launched a viral video of an animated singing navel supported by a fictitious band called Belle and the Buttons (created by marketing agency Baber Smith) as part of its campaign to raise money for the charity Look Good Feel Better. The video has had more than 40,000 views on YouTube.

“Mama Mio has always been a proponent of online customer communication,” says founding partner Sian Sutherland. “Unusually for a skincare brand, 30% of our worldwide business comes through and we invest considerable time and effort in growing that. So to use social media for such an unusual fundraising initiative was our first choice.”

But as Carat’s McGee points out, while YouTube can work well for some, the content has to be compelling. “You may have TV ads and assets but what’s the point of putting them on YouTube?” he asks. “If you have something to say, like Lauren Luke has, than it’s a very useful way of getting extra reach and being in an environment that was traditionally alien to a brand. But it has to be done with a degree of caution.”

Parlour talk

Brands are also capitalising on other social media platforms, reaching key influencers and gathering detailed feedback to inform both product development and marketing strategy. Luke uses her blog to tell her audience about product development in its earliest stages and, as she acknowledges, “Not everything I do works 100%, but I get instant feedback from my audience so changes can be made quite quickly.”

Avon tries to have a presence in all social media spaces where its brand is being talked about. “The unique ability to monitor responses on social media outlets almost instantly is invaluable for adapting strategy on a day-to-day basis,” says head of digital marketing Emma Lowry.

Georges-Edouard Dias, head of L’Oreal Digital Business Group, says such feedback is one of the key strengths of digital in marketing. “Social media has transformed and enhanced the interests of marketing. Being closer to customers isn’t a risk or a problem - it’s exciting. Sometimes you’re not happy with what customers say about you but you have a chance to improve.”

Boots even used Facebook feedback to build a major integrated campaign. The rave customer reviews of the brand’s Beauty Serum on its No7 Facebook page formed the heart of the first birthday campaign of its No7 Protect & Perfect Intense range. “We were so amazed by the sheer volume and passion, we created a campaign based on the fans’ love for our product,” says Rebecca Collison, No7 marketing manager at Boots UK. “With fans’ permission, we quoted them in store, online, in press advertising and they had a starring role in our TV ad. It’s clear that our customers enjoy engaging with the brand via digital channels and we’re using this feedback to formulate bigger plans for beauty and digital in the future.”

Product sampling is also a popular area, says McGee, adding that Carat is building a partnership with a major cross-media owner for Piz Buin based around product research. “It’s about sampling and creating feedback on the product using influencers in this area,” he says.

Two former Procter & Gamble Beauty executives have set up Latest In Beauty, a site enabling brands to carry out targeted product sampling in the UK. Since launching in 2008, it has worked with more than 100 brands including DKNY, Estee Lauder, Hugo Boss, John Frieda and Olay. “All our 60,000 members have a beauty profile, enabling brands to very specifically target them, and over 50% of people sampling a product tell us if they liked it, bought it and then write reviews,” says co-founder Nort Janssen. The digital channel overcomes the flaws inherent in ’classic’ product sampling through magazines or in-store, he adds, namely achieving exact targeting (avoiding giving a dry skin product to someone with oily skin) and measuring results. The company aims to double its subscriber base over the next 12 months.

Innovate or dye

Digital is also being used to bring the online and offline shopping experiences together, of which Dias is an advocate. L’Oreal is one of the brands included on interactive kiosks being piloted in some Boots stores, allowing consumers to access product information. “There are several reasons why you lose a sale when a customer is in store,” says Dias. “One is if a customer is looking for a specific product of ours that isn’t in stock. If they don’t know when it’ll return or if it has been discontinued, and maybe the sales staff don’t know, then we lose that sale. But we have access to that information: we know why it isn’t there, when it will be back and whether there’s a substitute product in stock.” Empowering customers with that information quickly is crucial, he says.

Mama Mio is taking a similar tack. It aims to become the first beauty brand to introduce 2D barcodes (produced by Baber Smith Mobilise) on its packaging, allowing consumers to find out more information about the product and offers while in store. Shoppers scan the barcode on their phone to visit the company’s mobile-optimised website. The company will have barcodes on all its packaging by the end of the year. “It allows us to make offers that can be refreshed instantly,” says Sutherland. “Scan the code today and it could be that we’re celebrating winning a product award by offering a product promotion.” She believes a mobile-optimised site is now a must. “Trying to view a standard site on a mobile just isn’t satisfactory. At best it’s hard to navigate, at worst it can harm the customer’s opinion of the brand.”

Last week new media age reported that Max Factor was trialling direct selling to consumers via Facebook, the first P&G brand to sell direct via a social network (nma 22 July 2010). But innovation in the sector is patchy. Lauren Luke believes many beauty brands are still coming through the “reactionary stage” and haven’t fully adjusted to what’s happening to the beauty industry online. “Most of the big companies are still using traditional methods or using their financial weight to buy into what’s happening online rather than innovating,” she says.

Carat’s McGee says it’s about reaching a balance between caution and innovation. “Do new stuff, of course, but do it in a very measured and controlled way,” he says, adding that last year was one of experimentation for Johnson & Johnson but the feedback has been positive. “It has resulted in increased investment in all things digital. So it’s a success story for the industry, but one moderated and calibrated by experienced marketers.”

L’Oreal is considering in-store kiosks that enable consumers to test different hair colours and make-up virtually. Dias says, “If you can’t test a new product, you won’t buy it. So we’re looking at a tool that takes your photo and shows your face with different colour lipsticks. It may be that it can also recommend you need a certain foundation or mascara, so it also helps to cross-sell.”

Using digital to enhance the high-street experience is also being investigated by Latest In Beauty. It’s developing a mobile app that helps members choose what to buy when they’re in a store using their online beauty profiles and what products they’ve liked through sampling. The first version is due for launch by the end of the year.

Beauty brands are starting to address a digital audience that’s keen to share tips and their experiences, and to experiment with different looks, online. Combining the wealth of online functionality with the tactile in-store experience might just be the finishing touch.

case study: Rimmel London seeks US approval

Rimmel London wanted to raise its awareness in the US using online. It worked with marketing agency Iris, which partnered with youth network Ruby Pseudo to find ten American brand ambassadors.

“Developing a social media presence has provided us with a forum to have a direct dialogue with our customers,” says Rick Goldberg, VP of US marketing at Rimmel London. “To truly connect, though, we need to earn the attention of our audience with the content we put out there. It’s not enough simply to have a presence. We know they don’t always want to hear from us alone, so we engaged ten creative, fascinating women to provide their
thoughts on trends, London, cosmetics and creativity.”

The girls have been set ten challenges over ten months, finishing on Rimmel London’s tenth anniversary in the US. “We can link the content they post in their social worlds through Rimmel London’s social media profiles, plus content from,” says Goldberg.

he campaign more than doubled the number of mentions of Rimmel London online within three months, increased the number of monthly visits to from 32,674 to 50,639, and increased the site’s number of monthly unique visitors from 27,943 to 45,108.


Published 29 July, 2010 by NMA Staff

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