Kiehl's, the skincare and haircare retailer, sent a custom Captain America comic book to Wall Street Journal subscribers in New York, Los Angeles and San Francisco on Thursday as part of a content-marketing effort meant to help the company better connect with men.
Marketers in general have increasingly been trying to win consumers' attention and interest with branded content. PepsiCo Americas Beverages, in another example, hired Complex Media earlier this year to build a site at Green-Label.com and pack it with content for the coming year. But marketers pursuing the tactic usually encounter the same challenge that traditional publishers face: getting all that elaborate, expensive content in front of consumers.
The Kiehl's comic book, which was created by Marvel Custom Solutions, takes place in the original Kiehl's store at 3rd Avenue and 13th Street in Manhattan and features characters and displays from the company's past and present. Marvel Custom Solutions is an internal agency within Marvel's promotions group that works with marketers to create print and digital comic books, as well as a variety of other products, such as book covers and posters. The Walt Disney Company acquired Marvel in 2009 for $4 billion.
Kiehl's President Chris Salgardo, himself a comic book fan, reached out to Marvel earlier this year. "Of all of Marvel's iconic characters, Captain America was a natural fit," Mr. Salgardo said in an email interview. "He is an American icon and the story-line fits well."
In the 12-page story, created specifically for Kiehl's by writer William Harms and artists Angel Unzueta and Ty Templeton, Captain America must protect some "rare extracts and botanicals" -- hidden in the Kiehl's basement -- that could be used to create another super-soldier like himself.
The story doesn't mention any Kiehl's product by name, but the action is bookended by ad pages from Kiehl's including six pages touting its Facial Fuel for men and Ultimate Man body scrub soap.
The comic book is available at Kiehl's stores with the purchase of any product and a digital version is on the company's website, but Kiehl's worked with The Wall Street Journal because the company wanted more people, predominantly men, to see the comic. "We feel it is so true to our DNA," Mr. Salgardo said. "Instead of advertising, this allows potential new customers to understand Kiehl's -- our quirkiness, but also our expertise in serious skincare."
A comic book insert for a skin-care company appearing in The Wall Street Journal might seem like an odd fit, but beauty advertising is a growing priority for the paper. "This is a great example of our ever-increasing strength in the beauty category," said Nina Lawrence, VP-global marketing for ad sales at the paper. "We've invested in developing our beauty reach over the past few years and it continues to be a huge area of growth for us."
Wall Street Journal readers spent $1.11 billion on beauty products in 2012, a 3% boost over the prior year, according to a 2012 Mendelsohn Affluent Survey.
A spokeswoman for The Wall Street Journal said the insert was a one-time execution.
Kiehl's also plans to hand out the comic book during ComicCon in July. In-store promotions, which the company's own creative team handled, will appear in all 56 of Kiehl's free-standing stores. Mr. Chris Salgardo described the Captain America comic book as a form of "retailtainment." He said the company does not and has never advertised -- at least not in the traditional sense -- and is instead a word-of-mouth brand.
"I truly believe [content marketing] does work," Mr. Salgardo added. "That said, it has to make sense. This was organic for Kiehl's for many reasons. We're known for our generous sampling policy. We've also been an inviting and comfortable place for men dating back to the 1960s when Aaron Morse" -- the former president of Kiehl's -- "would display his motorcycles, bi-planes and racecars in the store."