Burt's Puts Bee in Bonnet of Skin-Care Marketers

First National Effort by Clorox Brand Bashes Ingredients in Beauty Products

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BATAVIA, Ohio (AdAge.com) -- In its first major national ad campaign under new owner Clorox, countercultural brand Burt's Bees criticizes industrial-strength ingredients long found in conventional beauty brands.
Burt's Bees ad

In the tradition of Dove's "Real Beauty," Burt's Bees' ads don't have typical models, but they're still attractive. 'That juxtaposition of hard-core message and real, beautiful image is very different,' CMO Mike Indursky says.

Among the first of six ads from agency Pool, New York, to appear in issues of magazines such as People, Oprah, Allure, Real Simple and Natural Health starting Feb. 5, is one that in classic package-goods mode compares the beeswax in Burt's to the petrolatum found in other products.

Beeswax is a "naturally replenishing moisturizer made by bees," while petrolatum, Burt's says, is a "non-renewable hydrocarbon made from crude oil" that leaves a "greasy film that could contain contaminants."

Mike Indursky, the chief marketing and strategic officer at Burt's Bees, knows his beeswax, but he's no stranger to petrolatum. He's a veteran of Unilever skin care (think Vaseline petroleum jelly) and L'Oreal (with petrolatum currently in HIP eye shadow).

Not attack ads
"You see brands attack other brands," Mr. Indursky said. "We'd never want to do that. What we want to do is show one ingredient vs. another ingredient."

The other half of the strategy, he said, is to build a reputation for efficacy by showing natural ingredients that do the same jobs as chemical additives and define the squishy notion of "natural" in the process. The campaign, he said, "really helps show the difference between natural and not natural in a very provocative way."

The conventional personal-care industry is among those likely to be provoked, but representatives of Unilever, L'Oreal and the Personal Care Products Council, which represents the industry on safety issues, either didn't return calls or couldn't reach executives for comment by deadline. The PCPC website notes that petrolatum is approved by the Food and Drug Administration as safe to use not only in cosmetics, but even as a food additive.

At least some people doubt Burt's has much room to bash others about ingredients now that it's owned by a bleach marketer. "If they make a face cream we may all come out looking like Michael Jackson," chided a poster on Consumerist.com.

But Mr. Indursky believes the critics are few. Both he and CEO John Replogle, another Unilever alum, have been responding to as many critics as they can. "Our standards are only going to rise," he said. "Our product is only going to get better."

Unconventional beauty message
By putting an unconventional beauty message in a familiar beauty context, he believes the ads will make the brand stronger, too. "Once you understand [the rules of beauty ads]," he said, "you can ignore some, follow others."

Burt's marketing had focused mainly on events, public relations and store displays. A much smaller and short-lived magazine campaign in late 2005 also focused on ingredients but had less of a beauty angle. For example, one for Lemon Butter Cuticle Cream showed no women, but did show the package, two lemons and two bees with the copy: "What do you do when life gives you lemons? You rub them into your cuticles. Duh." It also listed other natural ingredients, which it said give "instant results."

"We don't believe we were sending the right brand message," Mr. Indursky said. The new effort, he said, also links better with the company's effort to establish a standard definition for natural products -- and differentiate them from products labeled "natural" but which have synthetic chemical ingredients.

Like 'Real Beauty'
In the new ads, the models never show their faces and, though they're naked, not much of their bodies are seen, either. In the tradition of Dove's "Real Beauty," they're not typical models, but still attractive. "That juxtaposition of hard-core message and real, beautiful image is very different," he said.

"They're very dramatic, exciting ads," said beauty consultant Suzanne Grayson, who believes they'll get women to think about cosmetic ingredients. But she believes a standard headline across all ads would work better, particularly her favorite so far: "How do you get the soft without the suspicious?"
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