Avon targets black sales reps

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Commuters to New York's Grand Central Terminal are seeing Venus and Serena Williams in a giant ad promoting the tennis playing sisters' new Avon jewelry collection.

Until recently, Avon's multicultural efforts were limited to occasional brochures targeted to one or another group of ethnic women. From that toe in the water, the direct-selling beauty company will attempt to make a bigger splash among all skin shades with storefront sales-the first time ever at Avon-in high-density Hispanic and African-American markets. It plans to use the Williams sisters in advertising and collateral materials intended to recruit African-American representatives, and has created a position with the title leader of market segmentation, held by Joyce Mullins-Jackson.

African-American market

"Our Hispanic reps do very well and we've seen the number of them grow, but growth in African-American representatives has not been as good," Ms. Mullins-Jackson said. That reality has prompted efforts to actively recruit with advertising for the first time since the `80s, she said. Venus and Serena Williams have already been used for corporate ads, color cosmetics campaigns and now to launch their line of jewelry. The ads were done in-house.

One of Avon's first steps will be to discontinue specific ethnic-targeted mailings in favor of overhauling its main brochure to reflect "what this country looks like," she said. That includes featuring a diverse mix of Hispanic, African-American and Asian women in at least 30% of the brochure. The company has also developed an in-house multicultural beauty advisory board of 24 Avon associates who offer input on hair products, skin care, color and fragrances for their various skin tones and will include a new "Shades of Beauty" column in its representative newsletter.

"Last year, we focused on Hispanics [with a brochure, Avon Es Tu, that featured products including jewelry and statues] and before that we reached out to African-Americans [with a special brochure]," said Ms. Mullins-Jackson. Now, she said, "we want to make sure we are considering all ethnic groups as part of the whole and really addressing the beauty needs of all women."

Avon's sales totaled $6.2 billion in 2002 and grew by 8% to $3.14 billion during the first half of 2003. Avon would not disclose how much of the company's sales are from multicultural consumers or how fast those sales are growing.

To reach out to urban minorities who may think Avon's products don't work for them, Avon later this year will test beauty kiosks in storefronts of cities including New York, Atlanta and Chicago where consumers can actually order products directly. Although Ms. Mullins-Jackson said there have been Avon Beauty Centers, this will be the first time consumers can order products directly.

The goal is to get ethnic consumers to understand how Avon products apply to them, even those not typically used by their ethnic group. Among the offerings will be the entire array of Avon foundation shades and Double Impact lipstick shades as well as a new skin-care product, Avon Clinical, which will be touted as an alternative to Botox injections. A rollout of the kiosk program next year is planned pending results in the test cities.

Avon will also partner with Latina magazine for a national promotion still in development, and will test a link between its Web site (avon.com), Univision and a yet-to-be named community organization for its Cellu-Sculpt skin-care product.

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