Women to Watch China 2015

Why Millions in China Downloaded L'Oreal's Makeup Genius App

Plus, Other Innovations From the Brand's Digital Marketing in China

By Published on .

Makeup Genius
Makeup Genius

Last year, L'Oréal launched an app called Makeup Genius to let women virtually try on cosmetics. Hold your smartphone up to your face like a mirror, and the face looking back might have deep red lips and dark eyes for the red carpet, or subtle shades for the office, depending on what products you choose. Even if you move around, the virtual makeup stays in the right places, like looking in a real mirror.

China has been a massive market for the app, bringing 4.7 million of its total 14 million downloads. That's partly because of the size of the country's internet population: 668 million people, with 594 million of those going online with mobile devices, according to official figures from the China Internet Network Information Center. And it's also because it allows curious young women to try out heavier makeup, which is still uncommon in China.

"Girls in China can be shy to apply makeup if they are at the counter or if they are going out with friends -- they don't want to put on very dark lipstick, very dark eye shadow," said Asmita Dubey, chief marketing officer for L'Oréal China.

"There's no culture of makeup passed down from mom to daughter that has been there for years, so for a girl like that to get a virtual experience and try some new looks, that's something she wants to do," said Ms. Dubey, honored as one of Ad Age's 2015 Women to Watch China for promoting innovations in mobile marketing for China's No. 1 skin-care player and second-biggest advertiser.

Outside China's most developed cities, where foreign makeup brands can be hard to find in shops, the app also offers a chance to experience the brand and buy online, Ms. Dubey said. Shoppers can share the looks on their social media through all-purpose app WeChat or use their smartphone to purchase any of the products on Alibaba's e-commerce platform, Tmall.

Ms. Dubey previously led the L'Oréal team at Mindshare Shanghai, where she was managing director of Team L'Oréal. She was hired by the client two years ago to head L'Oréal's marketing efforts in China. Before that, she had worked at agencies in India and China for 16 years.

As China's leading skin care marketer, L'Oréal had a 12% value share in a fragmented category last year and was also the top cosmetics company, with a 32% share, according to Euromonitor International. In competitive categories, where local and Korean brands are getting stronger, L'Oréal is successfully tapping into China's e-commerce boom.

Asmita Dubey of L'Oreal
Asmita Dubey of L'Oreal

Marc Menesguen, president of L'Oréal's consumer products division, said during an earnings call in February that it gets 10% of its sales in China from e-commerce, and that following China's example, the division will try to expand online sales worldwide.

The Makeup Genius app was an example of an international initiative that L'Oréal customized for China; Ms. Dubey and her team have also launched other China-specific digital initiatives. Here's a look at a few of them.

Shake the smartphone: L'Oréal's Maybelline brand sponsors a TV makeover show called "Cinderella." It appears on traditional Chinese state television, CCTV, but it got a digital and mobile boost through a partnership with Tencent, the Chinese internet giant. During the show, people saw a message on the screen telling them to shake their smartphones. When they followed through, a page would pop up on their phones offering a tutorial video of the makeover looks people saw on the screen.

WeChat ads: Tencent's ubiquitous mobile app WeChat had been mostly ad-free until this year, when sponsored messages started popping up on people's newsfeeds. During the Cannes Film Festival in May, people who clicked on a picture of L'Oréal brand ambassador Fan Bing Bing opened a video with the Chinese megastar actress inviting them to virtually join her at Cannes. Many started following L'Oréal on WeChat, got updates on her looks at the festival and bought products via smartphone.
"Mobile social commerce apps is exactly where beauty is going," Ms. Dubey said.

Video games: Men's personal grooming products are seeing solid growth in China. L'Oréal inserted an avatar of a young male brand ambassador, singer and actor Jing Boran, into a popular game on WeChat, Cool Run Everyday. Players got L'Oréal coupons.

User-generated content: In China, online product reviews are a prevalent form of user-generated content – people devote a lot of energy to writing about products and taking pictures and videos of them. Tapping into that, L'Oréal's Lancome has Rose Beauty, a social platform aggregating product reviews from users.

It offers tutorials, product info and samples so people can post their own videos of trying products out. "It becomes your product review platform, your community platform, your beauty platform," Ms. Dubey said. And it links back to e-commerce, of course.

The Women to Watch Questionnaire

Home city: Varanasi, India.

First job: In New Delhi, with Rediffusion Y&R.

Ever lived abroad: In Dubai, Guangzhou, Beijing and Shanghai.

Best advice you've ever received: "Work for the work, not with the expectation of reward … that's an idea from the Bhagavad Gita."