Clinique Sees Hope in a Fresh Start

Aging Beauty Brand Shies Away From Tried and True Marketing Playbook

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Clinique's #StartBetter campaign seeks to empower women.
Clinique's #StartBetter campaign seeks to empower women.

Performance Claims have served Estée Lauder Cos. well in recent years, helping it beat competitors with often eye-popping numbers, such as the 12% organic sales growth reported in its fiscal third quarter.

But in a move controversial even within the company, its aging Clinique brand is stepping away from that approach. Its #StartBetter digital and social-media branding campaign makes no references to hope in a bottle—only to the sort of hope embodied in a fresh start, be it a new job, new relationship or simply a new day.

"We didn't want to make it about selling product," said Clinique Senior VP-Global Marketing Agnes Landau. "That was a very conscious decision and a super controversial one. There were a lot of naysayers."

The #StartBetter video manifesto, something of a mini motivational speech, is the first product of another fresh start, Clinique's relationship with digital shop 360i, which began late last year. The video generated 1.4 million views on YouTube and Facebook in two months and mostly positive comments in social media.

It's enough to put #StartBetter among the top 100 beauty brand videos of all time, according to research firm Pixability.

Still, 48-year-old Clinique is facing a growing battle from hot brands making inroads at fast-growing beauty retailers Sephora and Ulta.

So is this about contemporizing? "You always want to feel contemporary," Ms. Landau said. That's one reason Clinique never had a "face of the brand," she said, because "we don't want to be aged by one face." The consumer is supposed to see herself as the face of the brand, which is why a campaign linking the brand to personal empowerment made sense.

"The reach numbers are great, but the goal is really to get women to say how they're going to start better, and the engagement is exceptionally high," said Sarah Hofstetter, CEO of 360i. "Women are saying 'I am going to look for that new job. I am going to ask my boss for a raise.'"

Future phases edge closer to closing the sale. They'll feature stories of how Clinique products helped women make fresh starts and draw on experiences of counter consultants, such as one case where the brand's Happy Heart fragrance comforted a woman starting cancer treatment.

In December, #StartBetter will expand to in-store displays and events focused on women starting new jobs, relationships or healthier habits.

An emotional approach is only logical, said Ms. Landau. "Nobody needs lipstick," she said. "Nobody gets hurt if I have one more wrinkle. People use cosmetics because it makes them feel better, prettier, more confident. But we sell the category in a completely rational way: I've got 60% fewer wrinkles or we're giving you 50% more moisturizing value in this lipstick."

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