Revlon Counts on 'Selling Hope' to Make Up for Its Small Size

After 13 Years at Coca-Cola, Julia Goldin Jumped to Iconic Beauty Brand to Help Engineer a Turnaround

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Julia Goldin spent 13 years at Coca-Cola, working on, by some measures, the most-valuable brand on Earth at a company that was on a roll. Yet two years ago, the Russian-born marketer was lured to Revlon, an iconic brand in its own right but one that has struggled under Chairman Ron Pearlman and a rotating cast of CEOs and CMOs.

Revlon CMO Julia Goldin
Revlon CMO Julia Goldin

With less than $1.4 billion in sales last year -- half of those from outside the U.S. -- Revlon is 1/20th the size of L'Oréal and dwarfed even by some individual brands in the beauty industry.

Ms. Goldin isn't content with that . She's revamped Revlon's agency roster, naming Y&R, Taxi, AR, VML and Mediacom to global roles. And she's undertaken that classic exercise to define what the core Revlon brand is all about. She's also helped return Revlon to modest top-line growth by unleashing hot new products, including ColorStay Nails and Lip Butter, two of the leading new cosmetics products of 2011 and early 2012, respectively.

In an interview with Advertising Age, Ms. Goldin explains what lured her to Revlon and her turnaround strategy for a core brand that may have been ahead of its time once but fits just right today.

Ad Age : What made you decide to go to Revlon?
Ms. Goldin: A couple of reasons: The main one was that the company was very strong, but they were looking for strong top-line growth to reignite Revlon as a truly global iconic brand. For me that was really very enticing because having worked at Coke a long time, I'm very passionate about iconic brands.

Ad Age : How are you reigniting growth?
Ms. Goldin: Revlon is 80 years old this year. To understand it is to go back to the founder Charles Revson because the way he founded the position and the brand is what gives it the point of view and the stature it has today.

From its inception, Revlon and Charles Revson encouraged women to express their fabulous femininity. It wasn't built out of science or a particular kind of woman or look. It was built on the idea that women needed to express themselves. He encouraged them. He enticed them. He motivated and pushed them and maybe challenged the preconceived notions.

Controversial Fire and Ice ad from 1952.
Controversial Fire and Ice ad from 1952.

[Ms. Goldin points to a "Fire and Ice" ad from 1952, asking such then-provocative questions as would you wear an ankle bracelet or close your eyes when you kiss?]

For 1952 that was pretty racy, and a lot of publications actually banned this ad, not only because of the questionnaire but because the picture of the woman was very provocative. She was facing the camera and was very curvaceous.

The product heritage was always about enticing women with color and setting trends when it comes to color. And we're still doing it today.

The essence of the brand is bold glamour. This has not changed over the years ... even in places where Revlon is not selling so much.

In the 1980s and 1990s and even the last decade, I would say [the meaning of the word] glamour has been simplified so much. In the English language it has become kind of superficial. It's one kind of look. ... That's not really what the word is . The actual meaning of the word is to enchant.

Ad Age : So how do you bring the magic back?
Ms. Goldin: The one segment we know we appeal to the most is women we call colorful and complex. They're the largest and the most underserved segment. They tend to express themselves more. They want to wear more makeup. They wear more makeup in more circumstances and therefore are the least satisfied.

We've brought in two new brand ambassadors: Olivia Wilde and Emma Stone. They're true believers in color and also believe in confidence -- values of the brand -- and its philanthropic efforts in breast cancer.

Halle Berry [a brand representative for 15 years] says beauty is not just physical.

Another key point is reflective of staying relevant and modern to the consumer with innovations that match the complexity of women's lives [such as foundations with anti-aging ingredients and ColorStay gel nail polish].

We did a big survey of more than 1,500 consumers globally to understand what women really want. Beauty and sex appeal came in at the bottom. Intelligence and charisma scored higher. But the [quality scoring] highest around the world was confidence.

We're encouraging and enticing her, but we're also giving her the tools and the confidence to express herself.

Ad Age : What do you see as the similarities and differences between Revlon and Coke?
Ms. Goldin: In terms of similarities, one is [that they are] the iconic brand and the passion and hunger and excitement people feel around them. There's a big difference in size. Revlon has a much tighter organization, but it still has very much of a global spin.

Ad Age : Your competitors are much bigger. How does that change how you work?
Ms. Goldin: In the current world, money is not everything and size is not everything. It's really about the quality of the connections you make with consumers, the way you bring the brand to life.

Charles Revson said something very interesting. One of his famous quotes was: "In the factory we make cosmetics. In the store we sell hope." Our packaging has been designed by Fabien Baron, one of the most famous designers in beauty today. So the minute she touches the package, she feels it's a high-quality experience.

It's not about outspending anybody. It's really about making sure the message gets through. In the current environment credible opinions are very important. We work a lot with bloggers. I would say a product like Lip Butter that we launched from the beginning of the year, a lot is that people need to try it, and we had a lot of buzz online.

Ad Age : What keeps you up at night?
Ms. Goldin: Besides my children?

Ad Age : Professionally?
Ms. Goldin: It's really how quickly you can capture the opportunities. My mind is always going because I can see so much. We're in a very exciting industry because for a woman, you can never have enough shoes, nail color, lipsticks. In the current environment, what we see globally is that women are becoming more and more comfortable expressing themselves and wearing makeup, and that all plays into opportunity.

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