Reasserts brand roots: Estee Lauder returns to its Origins

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As William Lauder prepares to take over the Estee Lauder company as CEO next month, the Origins brand he spearheaded 14 years ago is about to get more attention from the cosmetics giant.

Beginning this fall, Origins will undergo a facelift of sorts with a slew of ads, partnerships and products that aim to reassert its roots as the quirky feel-good brand for a broad audience and the first mainstream player in a quickly crowding natural-products segment.

Origins ranks among Estee Lauder's top five brands, with distribution in 125 retail stores and 425 department stores in the U.S. and expectations of reaching as much as $300 million globally in sales this year.


Yet industry observers believe its potential is much greater based on the explosive consumer interest in health and wellness. Growing natural-foods retailer Whole Foods has branched into the beauty world with a Whole Body concept featuring its own and other brands, and a variety of other players such as Bath & Body Works and smaller prestige brand June Jacobs are chipping away at Origins' original premise. As a result, Origins is reasserting itself as a beauty and wellness brand whose multi-sensory products bring the esoteric concepts of ancient healing formulas down to earth.

"When we started, we were really the only ones in this niche of natural products in the mainstream-prestige world, but if you look now at the segment, there are so many different players and we haven't tooted our own horn enough," said Daria Myers, senior VP-general manager, Origins. Ms. Myers worked under Mr. Lauder at Origins for 10 years, rising to senior VP-marketing before leaving in 1999 for sibling brand Aveda.

Banc of America Securities analyst Bill Steele agrees that while Origins has the potential today to be bigger than it is because "people are so much more aware of ingredients in their brands," it "needs to be more aggressive with marketing" to stand out amidst the clutter. Likewise, Linda Wells, editor in chief of Conde Nast beauty title Allure, said that Origins' ability to incorporate aromatherapy into problem-solving products for sleep and sun among others has been great, but they "need to push it to the next step" and build greater recognition.

back to storytelling

Ms. Myers, who returned to the company last December, is beginning by reinstating a plethora of booklets for its stores and retail partners explaining murky concepts such as essential oils. She plans to develop a catalog for advertising rather than sales purposes that will be sent to new and prospective consumers three times a year. Such printed materials, eliminated in recent years, are crucial to setting Origins apart for the quality and degree of natural materials it uses and its reliance on remedies and treatments from indigenous cultures, Ms. Myers said. "We've lost some of the magic of storytelling."

In addition to its traditional radio and print ads, on which Origins spent $2.5 million last year, according to TNS Media Intelligence/CMR, the brand will look to new media including billboards in stressful places such as Times Square to reintroduce its icon product, a $10 bottle of "Sensory Therapy," dubbed Peace of Mind on-the-Spot Relief, which is made from essential oils including peppermint, basil and eucalyptus. According to Ms. Myers, Peace of Mind-placed on pulse points and inhaled to ease a variety of ailments-was the way consumers were first introduced to Origins, and it is the way she plans to introduce it to a new generation of consumers. Consumers will get a "Peace of Minding" experience and a sample from store "guides," and a major public-relations push this fall will for the first time offer credible scientific backing for long-touted claims about Peace of Mind, including that it can promote serenity and reduce stress and anger.

Origins will also begin a "guest editor" program in the fall. It will partner twice a year with experts in fields ranging from home design to music to create exclusive products for Origins and promote the brand. Ms. Myers believes the initiatives will garner publicity and help build awareness of Origins as a cross-category lifestyle brand. Origins' advertising is handled by WPP Group's J. Walter Thompson, New York.

And, of course, Origins will continue to tap into ancient cultures for product launches. Ms. Myers nodded to a major initiative in the fall as part of the company's new mantra to look back to look ahead. "It's back to the future," she said.

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