L'Oreal goes DIY for $15 mil launch of high-end makeup line

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As L'Oreal paris looks to take on Estee Lauder's fast-growing M.A.C. brand with its own higher-end cosmetics line, HIP, it is shunning roster shop McCann Erickson and taking creative in-house.

The leading cosmetic brand's $15 million-plus effort for the upscale, but mass market, High Intensity Pigments brand-lipsticks, makeup, eye shadow and blush offering more intense color at prices 20% higher than typical L'Oreal Paris offerings-was developed by in-house creative guru Douglas Toews, a former McCann executive who spent three years consulting at L'Oreal. Mr. Toews was recently named chief image director and head of the cosmetic giant's now official in-house boutique, Image Lab.

Though L'Oreal Paris President Carol Hamilton praised McCann's ongoing work for L'Oreal and said the agency "plays an important role in the strategic process and develops a lot of great advertising," she said Mr. Toews' insider perspective allows him to get to the "heart and soul of the brand" and develop modern communication tactics for "projects that are truly about the future of L'Oreal."

During his tenure Mr. Toews has helped L'Oreal develop the in-store look of its first standalone retail stores and created the Color Space program that offers hair-color education to women at state fairs across the country. But the campaign for HIP, important for L'Oreal because it is a new technology for a whole array of cosmetics rather than a single category, marks the first time he has not worked in conjunction with McCann for advertising creative.

Ms. Hamilton suggested that Mr. Toews and his "virtual" team of freelancers across the world will work on roughly five high-level projects a year, projects that-as with HIP-Mr. Toews is involved with from their inception and can develop outside the traditional agency-client structure. McCann, meanwhile, will still be tapped to coordinate roughly 30 TV shoots and as many as 100 print shoots annually in addition to its responsibility for L'Oreal's many celebrity spokespeople.

Holistic translation

Robert Montagnese, exec VP-worldwide director at McCann, said the agency often works in harmony with Mr. Toews (Mr. Montagnese's former partner at McCann) and that the Image Lab's role in-house "to develop conceptual ideas that can be translated holistically," is quite a common one among most large beauty-care companies.

In fact, as the biggest spender in the beauty category, with measured media totaling $290 million in 2004, L'Oreal has relied far more on outside agency creative expertise than many of its competitors. Estee Lauder, for example, has traditionally done the creative for its advertising in-house, using its agency, JWT, New York, solely for media buying.

Revlon, though, has gone the opposite route. After years with its own in-house agency, Tarlow Advertising, Revlon moved to Deutsch, New York, in 2000 and last year shifted to Kaplan Thaler Group.

HIP, originally conceived of for women of color, is expected by L'Oreal to offer critical category growth because "it's the first time that in the mass market you can shop across product categories for new technology," Ms. Hamilton said.

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