Kao tries to restore gloss to Frizz-Ease

Noelle WaughOnce the driving force of innovation and creativity in the premium haircare sector, John Frieda has been forced to revamp its flagship Frizz-Ease range following a recent sales slump (MW last week).

Once the driving force of innovation and creativity in the premium haircare sector, John Frieda has been forced to revamp its flagship Frizz-Ease range following a recent sales slump (MW last week).

The move comes as it gears up for a major repositioning of the brand against a growing number of rivals that have launched into the sector. The repositioning will be supported by a global advertising campaign that launches this month and aims to refocus on the core John Frieda Collection rather than individual products.

The shift in strategy follows the acquisition of John Frieda, which was the first independent professional salon brand to launch in the UK, by global hair and beauty company Kao Brands in 2003. The company, which also owns the Bioré face care products and the Guhl haircare range, operates in 54 markets worldwide, including North America, Europe, the Middle East and Australia.

Promises not Fulfilled
While its consolidation into Kao’s broader portfolio has given John Frieda access to a wider distribution netwrok and resources to support its ongoing development, the company has been criticised for failing to maintain the creative positioning that was the original driving force behind the brand’s growth.

Since its launch in the 1980s, John Frieda has built a reputation as a leading mass-market premium brand. It expanded its portfolio in 1997 by launching a fashion-focused “Ready-to-Wear” haircare line, followed by the specialist colourant range of shampoos and conditioners Sheer Blonde a year later.

More recently, it extended its colour offering with variants for brunettes and redheads. But the brand is facing growing competition from emerging brands and major salons such as Trevor Sorbie and Alberto Culver-owned Andrew Collinge. These have been accused of “copycatting” haircare innovations, which some believe has dulled John Frieda’s brand prestige.

Despite its achievements, industry observers say that since the brand was rolled into Kao, it has lost much of its entrepreneurial drive. One industry source criticises the company for reducing the quality of the packaging and formulations, saying it has “standardised” the range in a bid to cut costs. “When Kao acquired John Frieda there was a belief that it would truly harness the creativity of the business, but it hasn’t done that,” says the source. “One of the biggest mistakes it made was to let the US run the global John Frieda brands/ the European market is very different.”

The company’s recent advertising campaigns have moved away from its heritage as a pioneering, aspirational professional haircare brand. Ravi Punjabi, account director at brand consultancy Futurebrand, says the TV ads promoting its new Colour Glaze range are more “generic” and less focused on professional innovation than John Frieda ads of the past.

Another industry source says: “Its advertising has become standardised and there is no longer that uniqueness associated with brand.”

Cut above the rest
Many believe John Frieda’s advertising needs to be more creative and focus on technological innovation if it is compete with the likes of L’Oréal and Procter & Gamble. Don Williams, chief executive of packaging and branding consultancy Pi Global, says: “The dynamics of the haircare market have changed radically in recent times as mass-market haircare brands have seriously upped the quality and breadth of their portfolios. Not only are their products technologically more advanced, but the standard of their pack designs and premium communication have moved on dramatically.

While the repositioning drive indicates its new owner understands the challenges ahead for the brand, will the strategy be enough to recapture the growth John Frieda once enjoyed?

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