Living Proof That Small Brands Can Make the Big Time

Jennifer Aniston Helps Tiny Company Make Major Splash

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Conventional wisdom is that big beauty companies and brands have a near monopoly on big stars and new technology. Jennifer Aniston is Living Proof they don't.

The star of "Friends" in the 1990s and numerous films since waited decades to do her first beauty endorsement, and when she did chose largely unknown brand Living Proof to back in a deal reached late last year. Now, she's having a big impact.

Since Ms. Aniston's webisode series for small ultra-prestige brand launched in May, combined with a spring print campaign featuring her in Vogue, In Style and Glamour, the brand's online sales at LivingProof.com have soared fivefold, the company said, though it declined to give specifics. Living Proof's brand awareness has more than doubled (up 140% the company said) from a year ago. And this comes despite a still-modest 148,000 YouTube views so far for the first installment of the "Good Hair Day" series.

Living Proof may still be well down the awareness list compared to the likes Pantene, Tresemme and even salon brands like Redken. But in May it did for the first time crack the top 300 on Total Beauty's "Share of Audience" report, which ranks brands based on web traffic they generate at review site TotalBeauty.com. Google Trends indicates search volume for Living Proof has passed that of well-established salon brand Biolage.

Sales are also up at key retailers Sephora and Ulta, where Living Proof sells most of its product, though the privately-held company isn't divulging sales are other than that they remain "under $100 million," said CMO Grace Ray. But she's clearly happy with the job Ms. Aniston, who also took an equity stake in Living Proof as part of her deal, is having on the brand.

Living Proof CMO Grace Ray
Living Proof CMO Grace Ray

Ms. Aniston had been approached by just about every company in the beauty industry the past two decades, said Ms. Ray, herself a veteran of L'Oreal and Smashbox, who joined Living Proof in 2011 after the latter's acquisition by Estee Lauder.

But the others "just didn't feel right" for Ms. Aniston, according to Ms. Ray. "What really drew her to the brand was our science."

For her part, Ms. Aniston said in a statement: "Being part of a new company is exciting. I only get behind products that actually work for me."

Living Proof was launched originally in 2004 (the same year "Friends" ended its run on NBC) when Polaris Ventures co-founder Jon Flint approached Massachusetts Institute Technology professor and prolific biotech inventor Robert Langer about applying his skills to the beauty industry. The first products didn't emerge until 2009 on QVC.

Mr. Langer, earlier this year awarded the Presidential Medal of Technology and Innovation, holds more than 800 biotech patents covering weightier things like treatments for cancer, diabetes and schizophrenia. But he's also developed the molecules behind Living Proof's NoFrizz and Full products for smoothing and volumizing hair. They sell at a steep $26 per 8-ounce bottle at Ulta, well above even pricey salon brands.

Financing round
Moving beyond Mr. Flint and Polaris, Living Proof in February secured a $30 million financing round led by healthcare investment bank firm Leerink Swann, which could fuel further marketing and expansion. And before Ms. Aniston, Living Proof also had added some star power in recruiting former PepsiCo and Victoria's Secret marketing executive Jill Beraud as CEO in 2011.

Ms. Aniston's deal is unusual in including an ownership stake and say in product development, something most industry deals with bigger players can't or don't include, Ms. Ray said.

"We weren't looking for a typical spokesperson," Ms. Ray said. "We were looking for someone who was really aligned with our business."

Badger & Winters, New York, handles creative work on Living Proof along with digital agency Protagonist, Los Angeles; Guggenheim, New York, on webisode production and Full Picture, New York, on PR.

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