News Opinion From The Old World

Unilever Finally Tip-Toes into Men's Skin Care

By Colin Hession, Colin Hession Consulting | April 30, 2008

Innovation is the name of the game, so the marketing gurus tell us. Think outside the box! Go for bold strokes! Do something new and different! Well, maybe for the likes of L’Oréal and P&G, but not for Unilever, it seems. Having successfully established the innovative Axe brand in the notoriously difficult world of young male consumers, you might be forgiven for thinking that Unilever would bring similar innovation to bear on Axe’s older brothers. Having taken the high ground and got ’em young, why not capitalize on marketing success with some more innovative ideas from Axe’s locker? But no, we’re talking super-tanker maneuvers here and caution is the name of the game, it seems.

So, Unilever is testing a new six SKU line extension of male grooming products in the UK under the tried and tested Vaseline masterbrand, with the unsurprising name of Vaseline Men. Packaged in equally unsurprising blue livery, the range consists of three variants of shower products, body and facewash, including one with “micro beads to help scrub away grime from the daily elements;” two variants of body lotion and one variant of hand lotion. Pricing is unsurprising, too—relative to competition, that is, although our North American readers may not think so in absolute terms when they look at the dollar equivalent prices in the table above…and remember, these are mass prices.

On the one hand, you have to admit that body lotion and hand lotion for men is a brave step, so why not give it the help of Vaseline’s name and presentation. But on the other, does this really leverage all the marketing experience of the company that took the world by storm with Axe? Compared with L’Oréal’s Men Expertise, with its ground breaking packaging, formulations and advertising, or P&G’s Gillette Fusion, this cautious, toe-in-the-water approach from Unilever seems in danger of being too little, too late.

Vaseline Men, an unsurprising launch.

L’Oréal Buys Out Partner

L’Oreal has bought out its partner, the catalog expert, 3 Suisses International, to become the sole owner of the direct sales cosmetics retailer, Le Club des Createurs de Beaute. Founded in 1987, this direct sales operation has business in France, Belgium, Germany and Japan via websites and catalogs (see ) and in 2007 had sales of €111 million, claiming some five million individual customers worldwide.
The strategic point of interest here is L’Oréal’s policy of “covering the water-front;” i.e., making sure that the company is represented across all the channels where beauty products are sold to consumers. Hence its purchase of Kiehl’s, and more recently, of The Body Shop. But no entry in spas…yet?

Boots Branding Across Europe

Stefano Pessina, Alliance Boots’ executive chairman, recently gave the go-ahead for all of the 125 pharmacies which the company owns in Norway to be re-branded as Boots, a small start of what promises to be a big strategic push.
Mr Pessina and U.S. private equity firm KKR, took Alliance Boots private last year in a $22 billion deal. Mr Pessina is quoted as saying “Something we will really push is the Boots brand. Boots is unknown outside the UK but in reality, it is not exploited at all. We want to roll it out in Europe. We have started in Norway.”
As we have pointed out before, while chain pharmacy is still outlawed in much of continental Europe—unlike the UK, Netherlands and Norway—the legislative situation looks set to change later this year, when the European Court of Justice is due to rule on the matter. German drug chain Schlecker is setting up a mail order pharmacy business in anticipation of a change in the rules, and the giant German grocery chain, Rewe, is also said to be considering its options.
Advertising needed for Lumene?
Meanwhile, Alliance Boots continues to flex its newly-privatized muscles, announcing tough new payment terms for suppliers in the UK. The company has recently received final approval from the Chinese authorities to complete a 50:50 joint venture with the Guangzhou Pharmaceuticals Corporation of China.

Lumene Clears the Decks

The private equity owners of Finnish skin care and color cosmetics brand, Lumene, have recently been  tidying up the brand’s holding company. They have taken out the janitorial cleaning business which came with their original purchase of the Lumene group, and made it into a separate stand-alone company. This would certainly make any sale of Lumene easier—they have held the company since 2003—although the Nordic professional haircare subsidiary, Cutrin, would still probably need to be sold on to a local buyer.
Lumene’s special relationship with CVS has stood it in good stead, based on the brand’s innovative product line and unique Finnish natural ingredients, and CVS’s skilful merchandising. Whereas the more ordinary Isadora color cosmetics brand from Sweden has seemingly paid the price of being simply too “me-too” in Walgreens, and has recently disappeared from the shelves. But nevertheless, it does look as if Lumene may have reached the stage in the U.S. when expensive national advertising is needed to take it to the next level. 

New Sun Care Rules

This summer, new rules are meant to come into force for sun care products in Europe. Meanwhile, in the U.S., the FDA recently issued new sunscreen guidelines as well (see also The Sunscreen Filter on this site).
In both cases, these so-called rules, seem to represent voluntary agreements struck between the major manufacturers of sun care products and the regulatory bodies on both continents. The background is that on the one hand there is clear evidence that over-exposure to sun can cause cancer, and on the other, it seems that over-claiming by sun care manufacturers in the past may have confused or lulled consumers into a false sense of security.
So, in Europe, the authorities have agreed new labelling rules for sun care products with manufacturers, as follows:
    • Four groupings of SPF, Low (SPF6,10) Medium (15,20,25) High (30,50) Very High (50+),
    • UVB and UVA indication, too,
    • SPF/UVA not higher than 3 (e.g., SPF 30 UVA 10) and
    • Words “sunblock” and “total protection” to be outlawed.

We understand that the FDA is going to follow suit, albeit with slightly different rules, using a 4-star system indicating UVA protection levels as well as SPF. Also, including a warning statement on pack.
Interestingly, the U.S. regulates sunscreens as drugs, not cosmetics as is the case in Europe, explaining in a 1999 ruling “…because sunscreen active ingredients affect the structure and function of the body by absorbing, or scattering the harmful, burning rays of the sun.”
Meanwhile, it seems that the medical profession remains somewhere between uneasy and genuinely unhappy…it will be interesting to see which packs obey which “rules.”

J&J’s Little Local Hero

When J&J acquired French independent, Laboratoires Vendome in 2006, it inherited an interesting local French brand called, Le Petit Marseillais—literally, “the little boy from Marseilles.” The line was originally based on traditional, Marseilles bar soap, but had been progressively expanded into more modern bath and shower products.
However, last year saw the roll out of an attractive new body care line extension, called Mediterranean Formula, which has been making good progress on mass market shelves. Strategic point, who said acquisition by big multinationals stultifies local innovation? Seems you just have to have the right multinational.

About the Author
Colin Hession is managing director of Colin Hession Consulting, a specialist consultancy that focuses exclusively on personal care in Europe, in terms of marketing and commercial development. Tel: 44-1202-710377; Fax: 44-1202-710399 E-mail:; Website: