Smoothing Away Age, Time: Ads For Anti-Cellulite Creams Boost Sales Despite Little Scientific Proof

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Cellulite, bulges caused when fat is pressed up against the skin, occurs in 90% to 95% of women. In the universal quest for beauty-in this case for thin, taut thighs-global brands can make a killing.

A few years ago, anti-cellulite products wouldn't dare to market themselves as effortless, much less luxurious. Anti-cellulite creams were presented around the world as another modest weapon in the ongoing war to be beautiful, and required dedication: vigorous, faithful massage, in addition to regular visits to the gym and a low-fat diet. Ads emphasized firmness and skin quality more than the loss of inches.


When Christian Dior's Dior Svelte was launched in 1993, its message to women was different. The glamorous ads, created in-house and looking suspiciously like perfume ads, showed smooth thighs gift-wrapped in a silky red ribbon. According to the ads, the orange-scented cream absorbed in seconds, and "very quickly the skin is smoother, the silhouette liberated, clothes feel more comfortable," with nary a mention of diet or exercise.

The ads were placed mainly in women's magazines, often on the back cover. Dior has also used some alternative media; right now Svelte ads are on U.K. bus shelters.

"The images [in anti-cellulite cream ads] used to be very medicinal," said Sarah Raper Larenaudie, European beauty editor at Women's Wear Daily. "But with Dior Svelte, you didn't have to massage it in and it was a nice texture, closer to a face cream than to a depilatory, so Dior could go with a more glamorous image."


With 10 million bottles sold worldwide, Dior is the global leader in the premium segment of the cellulite cream category and is widely recognized for revolutionizing the market. Not only did the ads inspire similar marketing from the other cosmetic companies, but they are credited with expanding the market. According to a survey by Lanc"me as reported by Women's Wear Daily, 14% of women used anti-cellulite products in 1992, but this number had jumped to 18% by 1994. According to Dior's market research, 71% of women who buy Dior Svelte have never purchased an anti-cellulite product before.

Cosmetic companies scrambled to court the growing base of consumers. Secodip, a French distribution monitoring company, reports that in France, $14 million was spent on advertising for the category in 1995, double that of 1992.

Dior's advertising has been such a success that the company hasn't changed the visual in its worldwide ads since the cream's launch. The Svelte name has become so recognizable that Dior has extended the line with three new products, a fragrance called Eau Svelte, a Svelte Exfoliating Body Toner and a Svelte Vitalizing Body Moisturizer.

"The Dior name is quite familiar, but linked to couture," said Dior Marketing Group Manager Letitia Precomtal. "The visual [for Dior Svelte] had to answer those double expectations: the high technology of the product and the glamor of the brand."

Dior Svelte has been particularly popular with Japanese women. Before its launch there in April 1995, there was such a demand for the product that Paris department store Printemps had to limit sales to three bottles per customer after Japanese tourists tried to buy 50 to 100 bottles at a time, according to Women's Wear Daily.


During the launch of Est‚e Lauder's Thigh Zone, Tokyo department store shoppers were offered a free-gift-with-purchase-a silky blue kimono with every two bottles of Thigh Zone purchased.

"The advertising has played a major part in Dior Svelte's success," said Nina Stimson, associate publisher and managing editor of European Cosmetic Markets. "The image is instantly recognizable with a picture akin to that of a perfect body, and the Dior name is well-known around the world, so it's an entire package."

Competitors quickly followed Dior's lead by going back to the labs and emerging with creams of a similar consistency. The marketers of these products also took their cue from Dior.

"All the companies have taken a new look at their advertising," Ms. Larenaudie said. "The colors used now are much more feminine, the ads are more aesthetically pleasing. Instead of showing how the cream is applied, it's part of a whole image."

Great secrecy surrounds ad spending and market shares in this highly competitive category, although European Cosmetic Markets reports that Dior has a 51% share in the U.K. Industry publications estimate Dior and Lauder each supported their launches with $5 million in U.S. ads.

The only market in which Dior seems to be behind is France, where Clarins' Lift-Minceur is the leader, said Clarins Marketing Manager Catherine Vigneron. The ads, by Euro RSCG-owned Eldorado, Paris, feature a woman's bare backside draped with a clean white towel. The sexy image shows the influence of Dior's ads, although there are differences.

"Clarins has a bit of a different image than Dior," Ms. Stimson said. "It has a slightly more clinical approach and less of a visual beauty approach."


While Clarins' ad slogan is a vague, "The shape of things to come," Ms. Vigneron said that the product, which she says "firms the skin," has never been promoted to be used alone, like Dior Svelte. "We always tell people not to eat too much or drink too much and to exercise," she said. "That's always been part of our philosophy."

Clarins' market share, which Ms. Vigneron would not disclose, dipped three years ago with the release of Dior Svelte. "You can't really say that people are loyal to these products-they go for novelty," she said.

Third-ranking Lanc"me said its R‚fleXe Minceur, released in March 1995, sold 2 million units that year. Its ads, by Publicis/

Bloom, New York, also show Dior's glamorous influence with a pair of long, cellulite-free legs crossed in an X. R‚fleXe's publicity brochure offers "slimming in less than 2 minutes a day," and it claims that it helped 50 women take off up to 2 inches from their upper thighs in just a month.


The ads by Bates USA in New York for Lauder's Thigh Zone, launched in April 1995, feature a woman's curvy silhouette. The promotional brochures cite ultrasound and other ballistometer tests that measured sleeker contours and firmer skin in test groups, although it stresses that its product is not an "overnight miracle" and that regular exercise and a low-fat diet can "enhance" cellulite control. Lauder says it is the only company to use TV ads. The commercial is a take-off of the well-known Infiniti car ad, with a marble rolling along the contours of a woman's body.

Most striking about the success of Dior and its competitors is the fact that there is little outside scientific proof that cellulite can be reduced by any product. French consumer watchdog magazine 50 Millions De Consommateurs rated all (including Dior Svelte) of the anti-cellulite products it tested as very unsatisfactory or unsatisfactory.

But some industry insiders say cosmetic companies actually downplay their claims in order to avoid trouble with regulatory agencies like the U.S. Food & Drug Administration. Because cellulite creams occupy a murky area between a cosmetic and a medicine, marketers are careful not to make physiological claims in their ads. Restrictions vary by country. For instance, the U.K. forbids references to making cellulite disappear.


Dior and Clarins have run into this problem already. Both were investigated by the National Advertising Division of the Council of Better Business Bureaus in the U.S. In 1991, Clarins was asked to tone down its ads that promised to "slim down and firm up." Dior was criticized in 1994 for the wording of its test results, which led consumers to believe that cellulite was reduced by 70% in test subjects. Actually, 70% of the subjects tested showed less cellulite. Although NAD found that Dior could substantiate its claims, the wording of the ads was changed.

One industry consultant who asked not to be named thinks the success of cellulite products is beginning to wane. "The ones who wanted to try these products did, and now the issue is repeat business," the source said.

Still, "Hope springs eternal," Ms. Stimson said. "If these companies can convince people that they have something new, they can convert non-users into users and expand the market."

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