"This is a segment of the marketplace that is gigantic, that is predisposed to brands and has money to spend," said Lynne Robertson, VP-general manager of KidCom, a unit of Campbell Mithun Esty, Minneapolis, which specializes in marketing to children. She estimates the group of children born between 1977 and 1994 is 72 million strong, a larger generation than the Baby Boomers. "Marketers themselves are saying: `This is a whole new audience."'
Ms. Robertson quoted a recent Simmons Market Research study that noted one-fourth of girls under 13 years old said they had experimented with makeup.
There isn't much advertising in the kids cosmetic category because marketers are trying to tread lightly. "It's tricky," said Julie Halpin, CEO of Geppetto Group, New York, WPP Group's kids' marketing unit. "[Advertising] needs to be done with sensitivity to the parents. What causes alarm in parents is when it's inappropriate for the age."
One marketer that is taking a soft approach to targeting young girls is Procter & Gamble Co., which has launched an experiment for Cover Girl. The marketer unveiled new Internet-connected mall kiosks in locations such as White Marsh Mall in Maryland, where young consumers can try on products and surf the company Web site.
FUN APPEAL, NOT SEX APPEAL
At a recent analysts' briefing, P&G President-CEO A.G. Lafley said the mall kiosks are not an alternate retail channel, but another one of the nontraditional word-of-mouth marketing channels P&G has tried in the last year. P&G wants to reach more of a preteen "point-of-entry" market for Cover Girl, speaking to 8- to 10-year-olds "where they play and hang out," Mr. Lafley said.
Alice Ericsson, exec VP-senior creative director, beauty at Grey Worldwide, Cover Girl's agency, maintains the risk of inviting controversy is slight because Cover Girl is a "mom-approved" brand that has many playful products appropriate for younger girls. The brand's playful items include Peelers Polish "peelable" nail enamels and Pure Magic Body Art, a package of body paint and stencils that comes in designs such as Halloween shapes. P&G doesn't offer specific age ranges for the line, and actually features older models in its advertising for the brand.
P&G's kiosks are also careful to display less-sophisticated products such as glitter and lip gloss, rather than items with more adult appeal such as eye liners and shadows.
"That's a really smart way to talk to this audience," Ms. Robertson said. "They keep that fun, entertainment, occasional [use] target and there's less risk of a backlash."
Some other manufacturers have joined in with kids' brands to license characters, promoting kid makeup brands as playthings, appealing to kids' sense of fun rather than allure and sexuality.
Walt Disney Co. licensed several animated characters to Kiss Products-a New York-based cosmetics and toiletries manufacturer that also licenses "Toy Story," Pokemon and Teletubbies-for a line of lip gloss and nail polish kits available at Disney stores.
Mattel's Barbie Consumer Products unit licensed its popular doll brand to Cosrich Group, Bloomfield, N.J., which produced a line of cosmetics and bath products including lip glosses and body glitter for girls. Neither line is supported by advertising.
Disney's products for girls are packaged in boxes with pictures of Tinkerbell, Winnie-the-Pooh and other Disney characters, while Barbie makeup comes packaged with plastic charms and bracelets. "That's where it will have to stay to be on the safe side," Ms. Robertson said.
Industry estimates put the tween purchases of health and beauty aids around $1 billion annually. It started in the toiletry aisle, with the success of L'Oreal USA's L'Oreal Kids hair
L'Oreal Kids, introduced in 1997, has grown to 2.1% of the highly fragmented $1.7 billion U.S. shampoo market, and L'Oreal is the largest single shampoo brand, according to figures from Information Resources Inc. To follow up on its success, L'Oreal recently expanded L'Oreal Kids into children's body washes.
Other large personal-care marketers followed, extending key adult hair care brands into the kids' market. In 1999 alone, Unilever introduced Suave Kids, Johnson & Johnson's brought out Johnson Kids and Clairol launched AussieLand, an extension of its Aussie brand aimed at kids as young as six years old.
While the success of the toiletries shone a spotlight on the potential market for children's personal care, demographics have also played a part, said Campbell Mithun's Ms. Robertson.
Boomer parents waited longer than their parents to have children and are more willing to indulge their kids than their own parents were, said Ms. Robertson.
And the kids are a very different generation, one marketed to all their lives and aware of brands, she added.
"That [Cover Girl] kiosk was like a magnet to my 11-year-old," Ms. Robertson said.
Contributing: Jack Neff