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HAMBURG-In 1993, Rolf Kunisch conquered the world's toughest personal care market.

That's when the facial care line Nivea Visage, a Beiersdorf product, first outsold L'Oreal's Plentitude in France.

Today, Nivea Visage holds a market share of 24% in France, while Plentitude has 22%.

The victory was a very personal one for Rolf Kunisch, 53, then a member of the Beiersdorf management board who was charged with health and beauty care as well as speeding up the company's internationalization.

"Of course, I have pushed the French Nivea Visage development," said marketing-minded Mr. Kunisch, who in June was rewarded with the ceo title at Beiersdorf.

He joined Beiersdorf in June 1991, after working in a number of posts for Procter & Gamble in Schwalbach over a 22-year period. He served as managing director of P&G's German subsidiary from 1983 to 1989, and then was named general manager for Eastern Europe.

"But the success in France is also due to the first-class product range," adds Mr. Kunisch. "Beiersdorf is one of the very few companies worldwide which has the most long-lasting experience with facial care products."

For his part, Mr. Kunisch saw to it that the quality of the Nivea Visage line, consisting of 21 products including those containing liposomes, vitamin E and alpha hydroxy acids, was continuously being upgraded, and that innovative products and advertising was stressed.

TBWA de Plas, Paris, created the TV and print campaign for Nivea Visage, also now running in Germany.

The commercial, introducing the Vital Energizing Care Cream, shows a woman driving fast with the voice-over "Many of the things you enjoy are a real strain on your skin. But you don't have to let it show." The 30-second spot then shows a woman putting on the cream, with the tagline, "For a vital and radiant look all day long, Vital Energizing Care."

Mr. Kunisch also pointed the brand in new directions, deciding in 1992 to roll the Nivea moniker around the world. "If we want to stay on top we must continuously offer first-class products, the more so as the women believe in the magic of the Nivea name," says Mr. Kunisch of the brand, whose name in Latin means "snow white."

The strategy paid off handsomely. Compared to the large international competitors Unilever, L'Oreal, and Procter & Gamble, the German company with worldwide sales of $2.9 billion is still only a small player. But its Nivea line is a megabrand. Including licenses, sales of Nivea worldwide have reached $1.06 billion, making it the world's largest global cosmetic brand.

"[Since] we are a small company, and do not have the huge resources and ad budgets our rivals have, we can only accomplish our goal as a global health & beauty care player on a step-by-step basis," says Mr. Kunisch.

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