News Opinion From The Old World

Dove Tests Its Male Appeal with New Grooming Line

By Colin Hession, Consultant | November 9, 2009

All things to all men? Or women? Or both? Unilever is testing whether its ubiquitous, but highly successful, female brand, Dove, can work its magic on men, too. The company has launched Dove Men+Care in Italy this fall, and there is talk of expanding into other European markets soon, along with a possible U.S. rollout early next year if the line is successful.

Dove Men+Care, which consists of five deodorant SKUs and three shower gels in grey packaging, is targeted at men aged 35 and over, positioned—so the PR goes—to help find a better balance between men’s personal and professional lives. A brand director is quoted as saying the line was created to complement the company’s younger male brand, Axe, and that having launched with deos and shower gels, the company will look to extend into other products.

Clearly, this is strategically significant on several levels. For Unilever, it could mean making a serious attempt to build on the unique position it has created in the male grooming category with Axe. If it works, Axe users will no longer graduate to Nivea Men, L’Oréal Men Expert or Gillette when they grow up. But this begs the question of just how serious an attempt is it? If it is just the addition of a few male SKUs, as was the case with Vaseline Men, then it will be unlikely to provide a strong, somewhat older stablemate for Axe. To achieve a strong male franchise, the new line must come out from behind Dove’s skirt and establish its own identity, which potentially poses all sorts of communication issues, especially Unilever’s concept of real beauty.

The competition—Beiersdorf, L’Oréal and P&G—will surely monitor this European test market very carefully. While they may have been surprised at Unilever’s reticence up to now to capitalize on the high ground they have held at the younger end of the category with Axe, they may well not have expected a brand extension from Dove.

So what will success look like? As we’ve already suggested, not like the over-cautious Vaseline Men that tiptoed onto shelves last year, or even the failed, silver-colored Axe Skin Systeme, which is a distant memory. Success must be measured in solid repeat numbers, plus little or no attrition to the Dove masterbrand’s values longer term. And there’s the rub, because both of these metrics need time to be read with the sort of confidence required to convince senior management in Blackfriars. But, if it does succeed, then the company can expect to see significant net sales increases as the huge Dove sales pipeline is filled worldwide.

This large pipeline potential will mean pressure from the commercial side within Unilever H&PC, if initial signs are good, to speed things up and go global sooner rather than later. After all, there’s nothing like a healthy dose of incremental sales linked to the selling in of a new line to gladden a financial director’s heart. But in this case, marketing must show restraint and curb its usual enthusiasm until reliable, repeat buying rates have been established and image monitor ratings for the masterbrand have held steady. Certainly one to watch...

Mass, Prestige Blur at Retail

We have been watching with interest the increasing number of new retail formats in North America that seem to blur the traditional mass-prestige divide. We wrote about CVS’ Beauty 360 at the beginning of the year (see Happi, January 2009). In September, Canada’s Shoppers Drug Mart opened its third Murale store in Toronto and has plans to add five more stores this year in Calgary and Vancouver. But the most intriguing development is Sears’ return to cosmetics, with the debut of new beauty departments in 13 malls in Chicago, Los Angeles and New York last month.

Shoppers Drug Mart’s Murale blurs the edges.
Sears shuttered its previous venture into cosmetics, Circle of Beauty, in 2001. The point to note, of course, is that Circle of Beauty was effectively an own label exercise, whereas the new beauty departments will, according to a Sears’ spokesman, “offer an assortment and brands that will attract younger, more fashion savvy customers and protect the Sears core female customer of 35-plus.” That surely speaks volumes for brands, compared to private label.

Interestingly, Lumene, that clever little Finnish skin care brand which we have often written about (see Happi September 2009), has been chosen by Sears for its new concept stores—which has to say something about Lumene’s appeal in the U.S.

Meanwhile, Wal-Mart is breaking ground by adding prestige fragrances, from Guerlain to Burberry, in e-commerce and select stores.

The strategic question here is how far will this blurring of mass and prestige retail go? Far from damaging brand perception, as some Gallic prestige manufacturers would have us believe, it may even win them new business, as consumers encounter their brands for the first time.

Is Diversion Illegal?

Another U.S. issue that has caught our attention is the whole matter of whether the diversion into mass retailers of hair care products destined for the salon is truly illegal. It has implications for us in Europe, where suppliers have managed to keep a tighter lid on diversion, and as a result, you do not see Matrix or Redken on Tesco’s shelves. Whereas in the States, our research suggests that up to 12% of the mass shampoo and conditioner category is accounted for by diverted professional brands.

Superdrug’s new recession-busting range—a sign of the times!
So we were interested to read about L’Oréal USA filing suit against an affiliate of Sally Beauty Holdings Inc., claiming that the distributor diverted Matrix salon-only product to the grey market and ultimately to the shelves of Target and CVS. The case is complicated and we would not presume to comment upon the detail involved, but the issue it raises is a significant one for the industry.

The subject has been debated endlessly in Europe in terms of the selective distribution of prestige fragrances. So far, the European Court has ruled that manufacturers are within their rights to restrict distribution of their products, on the grounds that it is somehow in consumers’ interests that brand image is maintained—something we have always found difficult to accept. Ultimately this must change, so the outcome of L’Oréal’s current tussle with Sally is significant for interested parties on this side of the pond.

Superdrug Adds £1 Skin Care

Watsons’ UK drugstore chain, Superdrug, has launched what it terms a “recession-busting” skin care range of own label products, priced at only £1…A sign of the times?

What Happens in Sweden

In Sweden, it looks as if interested parties have lost no time in reacting to the government’s likely decision to deregulate its state-owned pharmacy channel in 2010 (see Happi March, 2008). Giant German pharmacy wholesaler Celesio will open its DocMorris mail-order pharmacy unit in Sweden, in addition to its current operations in Germany and Ireland. Celesio has said it will build pharmacies in Sweden, aiming for 100 outlets there in the medium term.

Meanwhile Sweden’s largest supermarket chain, ICA, will team up with the state-owned pharmacy organization to offer pharmacy services in larger ICA stores.

Strategic point: yet another move toward the establishment of chain pharmacy in Europe…CVS and Walgreens to note…

Kanebo’s Russian Division

Japanese beauty company Kanebo, which was rescued from financial problems by Kao in 2007, has established a subsidiary in Russia. Kanebo was originally launched there through a local distributor in 2002. Since then, the company has grown sales of its prestige brand, Sensai, to more than $4 million and projects more than $10 million in sales by 2011. A Kanebo spokesman is quoted as saying “In our forecasts, Russia has the highest potential of all the markets.” Something to think about!

Unilever Buys Sara Lee Unit

So Unilever will buy Sara Lee’s personal care business for $1.88 billion in cash. The sale includes such brands as Sanex deodorants, Duschdas shower gels in Germany, Radox bath foam in UK, Monsavon bar soap in France, and Zwitsal baby toiletries and Prodent toothpaste in Holland.

We wonder why Unilever, having only recently disposed of its own long tail of small local brands, would acquire a whole lot of someone else’s? Some of the diverse bundle of brands involved have been M&A’d several times and have been owned by several other companies; e.g., Monsavon belonged to P&G and Duschdas to Beechams (now GSK). There could be some immediate incremental sales to be had by folding some of these erstwhile orphans into the Unilever distribution network, but what then? They must be supported, which brings one back to Unilever’s previous rationale for cutting smaller local brands. It’s a bit of a mystery, what goes around, comes around…

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 commercial and marketing development.
Tel: 44-1202-71037, Fax: 44-1202-710399, E-mail:, Website: