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The L’Oréal Group is the world’s largest cosmetics and beauty company. Cast your gaze on any shelf in Walgreens, and you’re probably looking at a L’Oréal product. For that matter, walk into any airport cosmetics store—be it The Body Shop or Kiehl’s—and you’ll likely be in L’Oréal land. Their reach is wide, and with a $9 billion spend in advertising and promotions last year, you’re about to notice them even more.
Beauty brands are commonplace in the first sixty pages of Vogue and in TV ads featuring an impossibly swishy-haired model. For L’Oréal, this mass-market approach has been de rigeur since 1925, when the company started targeting consumer awareness.
But the game has changed recently. With the topic of beauty Googled over 4 billion times a year, and consumers increasingly relying on social media influencers and mobile apps to make purchase decisions, L’Oréal recognized the potential for informative content that does more than parade or push a product. Over the past five years, the cosmetics giant has decided to meet their consumer with targeted and interactive content in lieu of one-way, aspirational messaging.
In an interview with CMO, L’Oréal CMO Marc Speichart explained that this approach focuses on the “long tail of content” for the consumer’s “evaluation phase.”
“What we realized is that we shouldn’t create just one piece of content that will be relevant to the majority of people,” he explained. “Instead we’re creating many different assets that address the specific needs of consumers.” Digital spending doubled during Speichert’s CMO tenure. (He recently left for Google.)
To drive experimentation within the brand group, Speichart encouraged innovation through a series of initiatives. L’Oréal sets aside money for The Next Fund, a three-year-old initiative that backs brands’ digital ideas, provided each brand shares its learnings with the group.
“If you have a great brand story to tell, how do you make sure that you’re using that content framework to really make sure that every piece of content helps to reinforce the bigger brand story?” Speichart asked.
Here are some of the stories that help build L’Oréal’s bigger picture:
First, L’Oréal launched Makeup.com, an online publication that sources content from an editorial staff and a network of vloggers. YouTube beauty stars like Michelle Phan and Eva Gutowski (mylifeaseva) share the branded content on their own channel, resulting in a broader reach for L’Oréal. The site has a healthy audience of its own, though, with 807,000 fans on Facebook, 23,600 followers on Twitter, and a sizable Pinterest following of 94,000.
Last summer, L’Oréal skincare brand Kiehl’s wanted to appeal to men in particular. The brand had never advertised, relying instead on word-of-mouth. Their first foray into marketing had to feel more like another product sample rather than a blaring ad. To satisfy their ideal marketing tack, they worked with Marvel Comics’ content studio to create a branded issue of the Captain America comic. The storyline was custom to Kiehl’s—Captain America must protect rare botanicals hidden in the Kiehl’s 3rd Avenue basement in New York—but the story didn’t name-drop any products. President Chris Salgardo told AdAge he thought of it as “retailtainment.” Kiehl’s sent the 12-page story (bookended by Kiehl’s ads for men’s products) to Wall Street Journal subscribers in New York, Los Angeles, and San Francisco. The book was also handed out with certain purchases in 56 stores across the country.
Finally, L’Oréal’s most recent content marketing experiment moved away from publishing and towards user-facing, interactive technology. At the Cannes Film Festival in May, the brand unveiled Makeup Genius, an app that scans your face and allows you to virtually try on different L’Oréal products. It’s surprisingly addicting. Here I am at 6 a.m. in the “Butterfly Look” by Billy B.