Retail therapies

Keeping on the right side of the law and undertaking complex product demonstrations means field marketing in the pharmaceutical and beauty markets is a tricky business. By Steve Hemsley

If you are stung by a wasp next summer, bathe the affected area in vinegar. Snuffling with a cold right now? Boil some lemonade in a saucepan and drink it as hot as possible. You can also rid yourself of a throbbing headache by cutting a lime in half and rubbing it on your forehead.

Even if such remedies work, consumers are unlikely to hear much about them as old wives don’t run large marketing campaigns. Pharmaceutical and cosmetic companies, on the other hand, can afford to shout loudly about their treatments. Operating in a billion-pound industry, these companies are spending an increasing amount on field marketing to get their messages across.

The UK over-the-counter (OTC) medicines market alone is worth about &£1.8bn (source: TNS) with supermarkets accounting for about &£378m and the remaining sales achieved through more traditional outlets such as independent pharmacies.

Yet, unlike much of the brand work carried out by field marketing agencies, health and beauty is one sector where every party involved must tread carefully because of the nature of the products and services being promoted.

Licence to cure

UK law, which has evolved from the 1994 European Directive governing advertising for medicines, makes it illegal to carry out sampling activity among consumers for any product that has a medicines licence. Even the marketing of vitamins and supplements, most of which do not need a licence, is monitored extremely closely by the Proprietary Association of Great Britain.

One of this trade body’s fears is that chewy tablets handed out in stores, or sent through the post as part of a direct marketing campaign, might be picked up by children who could mistake them for sweets. In response, many brands prefer to encourage consumers to buy vitamins, minerals and supplements using money-off coupons instead.

There are potential pitfalls for field marketing agencies when promoting beauty products too. The damage to a brand’s image and future sales if a hair colouring demonstration in a department store goes horribly wrong could be extensive.

Perhaps not surprisingly, the field marketing of health and beauty products has become something of a niche area. Many agencies avoid it altogether, leaving others to become specialists by generating a valuable database of experienced and knowledgeable field staff who understand the products and who can use them professionally.

Agency Blue Water’s health and beauty activity accounted for more than 2,000 field days last year, working on behalf of high-profile clients such as L’Oréal, Garnier and Maybelline. More than 1,000 of these days involved in-store demonstrations of Garnier products in Asda, Boots, Morrisons, Sainsbury’s, Superdrug and Tesco.

“We only use qualified people, so the recruitment process to find suitable field staff is much more difficult than for the other work we do. Most of the demonstrators have been to a beauty college or are still studying. We need the combination of knowledge and personality to interact with consumers in face-to-face situations,” says managing director David Louis.

He adds that, despite the growth in the health and beauty market, grocers still tend to give this sector less in-store marketing attention than categories such as food or alcohol. Blue Water was asked by cosmetic companies to improve the merchandising of beauty products in supermarkets and last year managed to raise compliance rates significantly, from about 40 per cent to as high as 90 per cent for most campaigns.

Beauty test

As part of its process to educate superstore managers and buyers, Blue Water set up a demonstration area, complete with a team of trained masseurs, at Tesco’s head office during a store manager’s conference.

Retail media company The Media Vehicle arranges store sampling for all the major grocers and managing director Lee Collins insists the supermarkets are waking up to the full sales potential of health and beauty products.

The agency organised a field marketing event with agency First People to launch Sainsbury’s botanical beauty and household range of fruit and herb essences, active:naturals. An inflatable sensory tunnel dubbed the Garden of England was built as an extension of each store’s entrance. Sainsbury’s senior brand manager Paul Smith says the campaign encouraged trial buying by letting consumers sample, touch and understand the product.

In this instance specially qualified staff were not needed to carry out the sampling activity. Yet often a client will demand that every member of a field team has the appropriate qualifications and is prepared to undergo training. Using such experienced people can push up the daily cost rate by as much as 40 per cent but the agencies say that clients view the extra cost as a worthwhile investment for important product launches.

Agency LoewyBe has also worked with Garnier, providing brand ambassadors to promote its range of hair colourants. The field team underwent two days of training to understand fully how different colours work and which colours are suitable for which hair types. Again, all the staff were paid a premium rate. Client services director Lynette Baer says any field marketing activity in this sector must be supported by an information leaflet or a freephone helpdesk number to reassure consumers.

LoewyBe also works with food brands promoting a health message. It is overseeing a &£1m sampling campaign for Jordans’ cereals where brand ambassadors are supported on a campaign bus by fully qualified dieticians. Meanwhile, its staff distributing samples of the health drink Yakult have the backing of qualified nutritionists.

Being able to explain to a sceptical consumer why he or she will benefit from having billions of live bacteria swimming around inside their body does require some training. “It is all about taking positive brand association a step further rather than just pure sampling,” says Baer.

Headcount has a number of health-related clients including Nicorette and its patches and inhalers; the hangover cure Regaine and the hayfever treatment and antihistamine Clarytin. Managing director Mike Garnham says his more specialist field teams spend much of their time informing and educating busy pharmacists and their assistants about new products and merchandising techniques.

“This kind of activity is not about doing a deal, it requires people who are patient and able to talk to busy professionals. In such a specialist area a team might make up to 25 per cent less retail calls than they would with other brands. Clients have to understand this,” he says.

The beauty business is not just about women these days. The male grooming market is a growth area and field marketing agencies are taking advantage.

According to figures published by Gillette, more than 75 per cent of men have tried a premium male grooming product. Lever Fabergé, which will spend about &£13m marketing its Lynx brand this year, estimates that the men’s toiletries market grew by two per cent in 2002 to &£357.5m.

The Nivea brand is a keen user of field marketing to get its message over to a male audience. Integrated marketing agency Mercier Gray has updated its Nivea Retreat roadshow this year and will again be visiting rugby grounds, Premiership football matches and shopping centres to encourage men to get into the habit of using a skincare product everyday. The Retreat includes a bar, video games and other ways for men to relax while learning about the Nivea range.

Male makeover“The main difference between men and women is that men often have less knowledge of the products and how they might be of benefit before they receive a sample or witness a demonstration,” says managing director Rob Gray.

Mercier Gray has also worked closely with agency PromostaffUK to devise the Protection Squad, a team of people distributing about half a million mini Nivea deodorant samples to men and women across cities in the north of England and in London. The activity is reaching consumers in different environments such as train stations, offices, high streets and gyms.

“It is important to target a consumer’s frame of mind and tailor your reach mechanism so that it appeals to an individual. This type of face-to-face approach is vital for a brand whose usage is flexible and not linked to a specific occasion,” says PromostaffUK client services director Tracey Wills.

Brand experience company iD developed a nationwide campaign to support the launch of Ralph Lauren’s new fragrance for men called Polo Blue. More than 100 highly targeted and pre-vetted offices covering the finance, marketing and legal professions were visited by a female team of brand ambassadors who distributed samples. The activity was supported by brand hit-squads that targeted men in bars, hairdressers and male retail outlets.

One of the most specialised areas of health field marketing is the medical arm where field staff visit hospitals or work with consumers in the community to publicise health issues.

Field marketing agency FDS, for instance, was asked by medical and industrial equipment company KeyMed to supply male and female models to help demonstrate the Ultrasound machinery it distributes. KeyMed needed live patients for the medical exhibitions it attends and the user-training days run at its Southend base.

CPM is another company with experience of this area. One of its clients is computer giant HP’s medical consumables division which targets hospitals. CPM used the nursing trade press to recruit a full-time field team of current and former nurses who visited hospital sites to talk to NHS purchasing managers about HP’s technology.

Field nurses

“The challenges that NHS staff face meant it was not difficult to recruit the people we needed and to train them. Clients are prepared to invest more in this type of field marketing work if it gets their message across to a more specialist target market,” says managing director Mike Hughes.

The pressures on consumers to look good and feel good mean the health and beauty market is likely to get more crowded and cluttered. It is unlikely though that the field marketing companies will get sick of demonstrating how their skills can help.

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