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Challenging an unspoken taboo, German skincare marketer Beiersdorf is introducing a line of skincare products for a nearly forgotten population in Europe-women over 55.

Testing of the Nivea Vital line will take place in Switzerland for a year starting this month and will lead to an international rollout. Hamburg-based Beiersdorf is spending $2 million on the effort in Switzerland alone, a tiny nation of 6.8 million people, in a TV and print effort by GBBS/ TBWA, Zurich, that showcases 55-year-old former top German model Susanne Schonborn.

Both the campaign and the positioning represent a bold approach for Europe, where despite an aging population, marketers have been loath to target products more glamorous than denture cleansers at senior citizens.

"The short explanation is that the age of both marketers and advertising people is so young," said Judie Lannon, a U.K. marketing consultant. "The cutoff point for targeting a product is usually 45 or 50 at most unless [the client] is in the pension business or stomach remedies."

But times are changing. In the skincare area alone, Beiersdorf's Swiss General Manager Daniel N. Tobler suspects that his major rivals L'Oreal and Procter & Gamble are both working on similar lines for seniors, although both companies declined to comment.

Consultant Ms. Lannon said it's high time. "Without a doubt the older age group has finally arrived as a legitimate target for marketing activity. They have the [sheer numbers] and the money to be taken seriously-more seriously than anybody is taking them except cosmetics marketers."

Indeed, seniors are emerging as a force to be reckoned with in Europe, a continent of 502 million people in 1991. According to Eurostats, Europe's 65-plus population grew only minimally from 11% of the population from 1965 to 13% in 1985. But their numbers will jump to 25% by the year 2025.

"This market segment is very huge and steadily growing, and most of these consumers have plenty of money," said Hans-Dieter Maier, director of Munich-based BAW, Germany's leading advertising training school.

Danielle Barr, managing director of Third Age Marketing, a U.K. consultant, said she has clients in the food, clothing, confectionery, publishing and financial services markets who are newly-targeting older Europeans.Ms. Lannon said she expects travel and financial services to be the hot categories for this age group in the near future.

The major focus now, however, is on cosmetics. Beiersdorf's five-product Vital line is part of the distinctive Nivea brand umbrella brand that accounts for almost all Beiersdorf's toiletries sales, consists of a night cream, day cream, tinted day cream, facial wash and concentrated liquid anti-aging capsules. Prices range from $9.50 for the facial wash to $20 for the capsules.

Beiersdorf chose the Nivea brand name for good reason: It is the fastest growing part of its business, accounting for $1.1 billion of the company's $2.9 billion in annual sales.

The print and TV ads for Vital show Ms. Schonborn using and describing the products. Copy in the print ads reads, "Nivea Vital, the facial care range for mature skin. Stimulate your skin daily by Nivea Vital, specially developed for mature skin. Vitamin A builds, Vitamin C activates, Vitamin E protects."

In the :20 TV spot, roses drop onto Ms. Schonborn's face as a voiceover says, "Discover the vital beauty of mature skin." The spot closes with the model holding an armful of roses, followed by a product shot.

Beiersdorf has been thinking about entering senior skin care for six years and TBWA has been involved for the last two.

"First we tested various names, then various advertising concepts," said Bruno Zanola, client service director at GBBS/TBWA. "When the rose concept was decided on, we again tested the concept with 300 consumers, and so the months went by."

The agency also bypassed the usual fresh-faced kids in the creative department and used only older creative staff with the idea that they would understand the project better, he said. In fact, Mr. Zanola, 55, said he did much of the work himself. "We used an art director and copywriter in Europe who are 38 years old and another art director who is 48 years old," he said. "I also tried to involve younger account people on the project, but this did not work out either," he said. Mr. Zanola said the agency also used Senior Partners in Munich, an agency specializing in older consumers, including owner Werner Herrwerth, age 68.

Targeting aging consumers is "a line you do have to cross quite carefully," said Alan Mottus, a U.S. cosmetics consultant. In fact, marketing history is littered with failed experiments of this kind. Mr. Mottus noted that about a decade ago in the U.S. Johnson & Johnson misfired with a shampoo called Dimension, aimed at older women who apparently didn't want to be reminded they were older.

However, he said "[Vital] is a smart move. [Beiersdorf] has a huge amount of credibility in Europe."

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