Little-Known Shop Provides Cultural Glue for L'Oreal

From Meeting Presentations to Brand Strategies and Launches, No Agencies and Few Execs Span Divisions Like Tag Creative

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Tag promoted the Makeup Genius app.
Tag promoted the Makeup Genius app.
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For a pure-play beauty marketer, L'Oréal is plenty complex, carved into divisions for luxury brands such as Lancôme, salon professional brands like Matrix, mass cosmetics, retail and more. Even its U.S. mass business is divided into divisions for L'Oréal Paris and Maybelline-Garnier. Few executives and none of its agencies have duties spanning all the divides.

But then there's Tag Creative, a low-profile New York-based shop that helps provide some of the cultural glue that keeps the far-flung company together. It's a relationship that's unique both within L'Oréal and in the broader world of heavily siloed multibrand packaged-goods empires.

While its work often isn't the final product consumers see, Tag (not to be confused with the London-based digital agency of the same name) has helped shape marketing for just about every L'Oréal division over the past two decades.

That includes the flagship L'Oréal Paris brand globally; Maybelline, since it became part of L'Oréal in 1995; the La Roche-Posay brand in the Active Cosmetics division; Kiehl's, both in the U.S. and in its global rollouts in such markets as India; and Essie nail care and Urban Decay cosmetics, upon their acquisitions in 2010 and 2013, respectively. Tag also developed the strategy and content behind the ground-up launch of the Em by Michelle Phan e-commerce brand last year.

Sometimes that work has involved consumer TV or digital video advertising. But often it simply means helping establish brand strategy or internal presentations for annual L'Oréal corporate meetings known for their attention to production values. Regardless of the scope, Tag is a constant at $29 billion L'Oréal.

Leonardo Chavez, global general manager of L'Oréal's Matrix salon professional brand, has been working with Tag since he came in as a junior marketer on Maybelline, including stops during a corporate strategic marketing post. Tag doesn't do work that his primary ad agency, Publicis, "the gatekeepers of my communications," does, Mr. Chavez said. "But Tag supplements very well the creative work Publicis does."

He described Tag's role for him as helping develop strategy that goes into the ultimate marketing, as well as preparing years of multimedia presentations aimed at swaying higher-ups and others at annual meetings.

More broadly, Tag's long track record at L'Oréal makes it a sort of external keeper of the culture, Mr. Chavez said. "They know very well how L'Oréal works as a corporation," he said. "They have a strong network of relationships with many executives. They have a continuity with L'Oréal that's a big plus vs. a lot of agencies out there."

He said Tag's ability to both "understand a brand's DNA" and how L'Oréal works makes it useful in that process of integrating newly acquired brands -- a role it's played with Essie and Urban Decay as both got off to strong starts following their respective acquisitions.