P&G introduces Cover Girl

U.S. beauty brand gets local color

By Published on .

BEIJING--After two years of painstaking R&D and market analysis, Procter & Gamble Co. has taken tentative steps to introduce Cover Girl cosmetics in China, but the brand bears little resemblance to its American heritage.

Cover Girl products, altered to reflect Chinese skin tone and fashion trends, are only sold at a handful of snazzy retail counters in major Beijing department stores staffed by manicured beauty consultants. The products are sold in small, snappy containers that resemble pieces of colorful candy and the packaging is more silvery, giving it a premium edge. It also has less blue than in Western countries, because that color has connotations of death and mourning in China.

“The smaller sizes are more appetizing to Chinese consumers,” explained Daisy Ching, regional group account director, P&G, at Grey Global Group, which developed creative for the launch campaign in China. “Like Japanese girls, they like cute packaging, like to try out new things and change the colors with the seasons.”

Chinese women “want trust-worthy products, but they can’t afford prestige brands. Cover Girl allows them to try out premium products at a price many can afford,” added Tsai Hsin-Hsin, P&G’s Guangzhou-based associate marketing director for cosmetics in Greater China. ”But we needed to tailor-make everything for this market--the products, the brand equity and brand proposition, the packaging. Everything is different. You can almost say the only thing that didn’t change is the Cover Girl brand name.”

While the U.S. consumer goods giant has implemented significant changes to the Cover Girl brand, Ms. Tsai acknowledged P&G is still testing the waters: “We just entered the cosmetic world in China, there are so many things we are learning day by day. We’re still evolving who the Cover Girl consumer is in China.”

For the launch phase, at least, the company decided its core target market would be urban women aged 20 to 35--older than the teen market it courts in the West--who earn $250 per month.

P&G is determined to build Cover Girl into the leading mass-market cosmetics brand in China, the fourth-largest make-up market in the world, following the U.S., France and U.K., according to Datamonitor. Despite its late entry, the only entrenched local competitor, Yue-Sai, now owned by L’Oreal, is aimed at older women, while the leading Japanese imports like Shiseido are much pricier than Cover Girl. P&G’s closest competitor in China is L’Oreal’s Maybelline, which has a younger image and less localized advertising.

While P&G has invested heavily in R&D to localize marketing and pricing strategies for other global brands in China like Tide, it knew cosmetics represented a far more personal and subjective market than the other products it sells.

“All the shades, textures and colors of the products had to be adjusted to make sure they look appealing on Chinese skin. They also have to reflect Chinese fashion trends, which are unique even compared to other markets where consumers have yellow skin tones, like Japan,” said Ms. Tsai.

Young Chinese women--like many Asians--usually opt for foundation shades that are lighter than their real skin tone to make their complexion look fashionably lighter (or, more specifically, less like someone who does outdoor manual labor).

However, Chinese prefer a more natural look and use less foundation than other Asian consumers, “in order to avoid looking fake or like they’re wearing a mask,” she added, so P&G developed appropriate shades of a foundation, Aqua Smooth, that is applied in liquid form but transforms into a powder on the skin without caking.

While China’s cosmetic market is growing at more than 10% annually, Chinese women are relatively new users of cosmetics and most do not buy cosmetics until they enter the workforce.

They depend on their peers for information and advice (not their mothers, as many older Chinese have never used makeup), are excited by cosmetics and like to experiment. So P&G reduced the size of Cover Girl’s packaging and containers, to make the brand more delicate.

P&G opened a retail counter in Harbin late last month and plans to expand slowly into department stores in other cities in northern China, a cold, dry region where women wear more makeup than their counterparts in the humid, sub-tropical southern provinces.

But it has no immediate plans to introduce Cover Girl products in drug stores and supermarkets, where the brand has long been a staple on store shelves in the U.S., because the counters, although time-consuming and expensive to maintain, provide a more premium atmosphere for the new brand.

“P&G needed a different sales model in China, because consumers need more services. The on-site beauty consultants are very important to closing sales there,” said Ms. Ching.

“You can’t just import cosmetics here, companies have to understand what beauty means to Chinese women and what they look for, and product offerings and communication has to be adjusted accordingly. It’s a lot harder than selling shampoo or skin care.”
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