The fall launch of TotalBeauty.com aims to catalog and update in real time the vast array of beauty products; review as many as possible in-house; have visitors review them on their own; and provide a "personalization engine" that lets people sort through them in categories such as price, "eco issues," and skin and hair type.
Though the mechanism is different, the ambition is like that of Google's mission of organizing all the world's information -- yet focused only on the highly fragmented $42 billion beauty-care market with nearly 4,000 brands.
Emrah Kovacoglu, one of P&G's original group of interactive marketers who left his job as head of the company's global beauty-care digital marketing earlier this year, sees TotalBeauty filling a void that has kept major marketers from taking advantage of the web.
Lack of a single, unbiased resource for beauty-product information is "a huge issue for consumers," Mr. Kovacoglu said, "but it's also a huge issue for marketers, because as we look to shift money online, we can't find those contextually relevant platforms."
He expects TotalBeauty to sell advertising to beauty marketers and retailers. And while it won't sell products, he's in talks with online retailers about allowing users to easily drop products they select on the site into online shopping carts.
"There are a ton of products and tons of information about them, but people don't know how the products work together to form a regimen or how to apply the products," he said. "If we can solve this problem, it will allow us to aggregate a large audience of women, and we'll be able to monetize that audience."
Mr. Kovacoglu is getting plenty of people to take his idea seriously, with a board of advisers that includes Bath & Body Works Chief Marketing Officer Anne Martin-Vachon (also a former P&G beauty executive); former Interactive Advertising Bureau President and co-author of the book "What Sticks" Greg Stuart; Nielsen Buzzmetrics Chief Marketing Officer Pete Blackshaw; and Pete Sheinbaum, CEO of the e-mail newsletter Daily Candy.
Mr. Kovacoglu said he's raised $10 million in venture capital for TotalBeauty, which he expects to launch on a limited basis with beauty-industry insiders and people who have preregistered for the site in September, followed by a full launch by early November. TotalBeauty already has begun seeding information on some beauty bulletin boards and blogs and likely will step up search marketing and internet display advertising soon, he said.
"He has great vision and knows how to get things done," Bath and Body Works' Ms. Martin-Vachon said of Mr. Kovacoglu in an e-mail. "His concept is very fresh, innovative and fills a void."
"What sold me on the idea was when I talked about it to my wife," Mr. Stuart said. "We have drawers full of beauty stuff that nobody uses," he said, and believes the same is true in most homes. Cataloguing complex product offerings is just what the internet was made for, Mr. Stuart said.
Taking ad money?
He said TotalBeauty will supplement rather than supplant existing online and print beauty offerings but may draw advertiser dollars away from other media. The recent closure of young women's titles such as Jane is already evidence that digital media is drawing marketing dollars from print, he said.
The launch comes as online beauty retailing, once widely dismissed as a minor niche in an industry where in-person look, touch and feel are crucial, is showing signs of ebullience. NPD Group reported last month that online beauty retailing is now a $1.7 billion business and one of the fastest-growing segments in the industry, with 43% of women indicating they intend to buy more beauty products online this year.
At least with its personalization engine, TotalBeauty resembles an erstwhile P&G project, Reflect.com, which attempted to create a new brand around mass-customized beauty products sold online. P&G shuttered the project in 2005, though some close to it said it had become at least modestly profitable.