Not just a pretty face

Perricone MD, the US skincare brand at the cutting edge of the ‘cosmeceutical’ trend, has come to the UK, with a campaign that eschews the perceived wisdom of using ‘a beautiful face’ to sell the products.

The traditional promotion technique for a beauty brand usually involves an ad featuring a gorgeous model pouting at the camera while a wind machine ruffles her hair.

But a new wave of “cosmeceutical” brands – mixing beauty and science – is moving away from clichéd model shots towards using educational methods to sell their wares as a lifestyle choice. At the forefront of this trend is American skincare brand Perricone MD.

The company has introduced its range to the UK on a platform of holistic education so consumers can adapt their way of living to achieve better health and beauty. The “cosmeceutical” and “nutriceutical” range promotes a three-tier philosophy: a good diet, supplements and skincare.

It may seem like a strange time for Perricone to expand. Many cosmetics brands are reeling from the impact of the recession – last month, 30-year-old Prescriptives was laid to rest by parent company Estée Lauder.

But “cosmeceuticals” are looking healthy. The market has grown 58% between 2002 and 2009 and is now worth more than £140.6m in the UK, according to Mintel. The research company predicts the market will continue to grow at a fast rate despite the downturn and will be worth an estimated £177.3m by 2012.

With the recession causing some people to trade down from expensive surgical procedures to products at a more manageable cost, lines such as Perricone are set to benefit. Twenty-five per cent of adults already regard cosmeceuticals as a good alternative to cosmetic procedures, according to Mintel.

Perricone MD chief executive Diane Miles describes her company as a “holistic beauty brand”. Rather than concentrating solely on appearance, it attempts to “look at beauty from the outside in and inside out” with its products, which range from face cream to diet books.

The positioning reflects the principles of the brand’s founder, nutritionist and dermatologist Dr Nicholas Perricone. He does not attempt to treat external appearances alone; he has always advocated a lifestyle approach, combining nutrition with topical products.

Miles says that with a lifestyle proposition, it’s vital to convert consumers into customers by providing indepth product information.

 “Once the customer is educated, then you have a customer for life,” she claims.

A virtual sales lab has recently been launched to provide information to Perricone’s salespeople, enabling them to “pass on their knowledge to the customer,” says Miles. This online portal allows sales representatives from various high-end department stores such as Harrods and Selfridges to access product information whenever they need it.

As well as high-end department stores, TV shopping channel QVC is another sales route being used to push Perricone. But since direct-selling TV is often associated with discounts and bulk buying, is this the right place for products typically costing anything from £50 to £300?

Miles admits that people used to be snobbish about using TV shopping channels to sell high-end products but claims this has now changed. She says TV is now regarded as an essential way to “educate” consumers about Perricone’s products and ingredients.

It’s not just the long product-demonstration times available on TV shopping channels, but also the tone involved, says Miles, adding: “QVC gets the emotion and lifestyle of the brand – it’s a friendly way to see how the products work.”

But not every consumer wants to be told about the products upfront. Some people want to do the research themselves, which is why the company has relaunched its website recently to allow consumers to find out in detail about the different product ranges.

Some product descriptions also have demonstration videos attached, tying together the brand’s website and the visual demonstrations on QVC. The site is also used to sell the Dr Perricone diet, with the doctor himself producing a blog giving advice and information on food.

To back up the other marketing activities, Miles says the company has also redesigned its packaging to ensure it is appealing to a highly educated urban female consumer.

“We want to look like a serious medicinal-type brand. With this in mind the packaging now looks pharmaceutical. We want to be authentic,” she says.

The trend for medicinal-style packaging is something that Mintel has noted. Its report says there is “a growing trend for incorporating applicators with measured dosage and the pipette format is increasingly common.”

As well as concentrating on pushing the medicinal angle, Perricone also aims to move away from talking too much about traditional cosmetics territory such as the product’s look and smell.

“Normally the cosmetic pleasure of the product is the number one objective,” Miles argues. But, she says, Perricone’s objectives are the opposite of this. “We will always formulate for efficacy before the smell, for example.”

“Often you won’t open the products and think: “This is so exquisite”. You’ll open it up and think, it stinks a bit,” she explains.

This is another reason why Perricone needs to use education in its marketing, says Miles. There is some way to go before everyone “gets” this approach to beauty. She admits that the brand sometimes gets returns because people are surprised by the smell of the products.

With such a focus on information rather than simply beautiful imagery in marketing, public relations is another essential tool for Perricone. The brand invests heavily in this area as a mention in a beauty magazine can result in a product flying off the shelves.

This is reflected in the large amount of space on the Perricone website given to product endorsements by a variety of glossy magazines.

Yet despite the masses of information that Perricone pushes about its stock, Mintel warns that cosmeceutical brands are increasingly being scrutinised for their bold claims and many consumers are sceptical of the results they can get by buying more expensive products.

A lack of recognition by official bodies means the sector is treading a fine line. With no medical body backing many cosmeceuticals’ efficacy, this can also lead to cynicism among consumers.

“Boasting scientific or medical-sounding ingredients and names, cosmeceuticals are often endorsed by doctors such as Dr Andrew Weil or NV Perricone. This exploits consumer perceptions that pharmaceutical products work but cosmetics’ claims are little more than puffery,” Mintel warns.  

As well as the risk of not being taken seriously, Perricone is also seeing a growing number of competitors muscle into its market, creating copycat brands directly in competition with more expensive, niche brands.

The brand SkinCeuticals (which has price points from £15 to £200) has been purchased by L’Oréal for example. Meanwhile, Origins produce an anti-ageing skincare range with Dr Andrew Weil (costing from £13 to £50).

There are also independent competitors that have a lower price point than Perricone but which have some of the same medical-style overtones as Perricone.

The larger competitors such as Origins and L’Oréal certainly have greater marketing power than Perricone, and Mintel believes that some customers will be attracted by the lower price tag.

“The type of consumer buying into masstige brands may not see the need to trade up to cosmeceuticals, given that half of people say that many products are expensive but can’t guarantee results,” says Mintel.

But Miles argues that innovation will keep Perricone ahead of the mass-market brands. It is focusing on two new products that will appeal to a large audience, she argues.

A foundation called No Foundation, Foundation has been designed to suit all shades and skin tones, while Cold Plasma Serum can be used on all skin types, all ages, day and night, says Miles. She says these products will appeal to women who are committed to a skincare regime but want minimal fuss.

Despite realism from consumers about the as-yet-unproved benefits of cosmeceuticals, Mintel says that because women are devoting “more time, money and commitment to looking after themselves”, they are unlikely to let the small matter of suspension of belief get in the way.

The brand will just have to ensure its educational-style marketing manages to avoid the type of outlandish claims that will turn customers into cynics.

Whether using cosmeceuticals is a trade down from plastic surgery, or a trade-up from standard skincare regimes, Perricone looks set to present a good face to consumers during the remainder of the recession. 

Cosmeceuticals strengths and weaknesses in the market

Strengths

  • Product claims backed up by clinical studies.
  • A cheaper alternative to cosmetic surgery and non-surgical procedures.
  • High investment in new product development.
  • Small brands can be swift to market with new products.
  • Ability to articulate clear product benefits.
  • Niche brands have helped to create cult products.
  • Growth forecasted among the market’s core users.
  • Cultural trends driving appearance anxiety and pushing consumers to look for new products.
  • Strong interest among mainstream cosmetic companies.

Weaknesses

  • Not recognised as a market sector by industry bodies.
  • Brands have low recognition.
  • Questionable efficacy.
  • Limited retail availability and distribution.
  • Independent brands are susceptible to takeover by larger brands.
  • Smaller budgets for advertising.
  • Safety concerns over product technology such as nanotechnology.
  • Largely reliant on consumer understanding of products to justify high price tags.
  • Subject to scrutiny by advertising standards and journalists as products claims push plausibility.
  • Encroachment from masstige non-cosmeceutical products.
  • Typically require brand-trained sales assistants to advise consumers.

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