P&G launches Cover Girl in China

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[Beijing] After two years of painstaking R&D and market analysis, Procter & Gamble Co. is slowly introducing Cover Girl cosmetics in China, but the brand bears little resemblance to its American heritage. Cover Girl products, altered to reflect Chinese skin tone and fashion trends, are on sale at a handful of snazzy retail counters in major Beijing department stores. The counters are staffed by beauty consultants. The products are sold in small, snappy containers that resemble pieces of colorful candy and the packaging is more silvery, giving it a premium edge. It also has less blue than in Western countries, because that color has connotations of death and mourning in China.

"The smaller sizes are more appetizing to Chinese consumers," said Daisy Ching, regional group account director for P&G, at Cover Girl's agency Grey Global Group. "Like Japanese girls, they like cute packaging, like to try out new things and change the colors with the seasons."

Chinese women "want trust-worthy products, but they can't afford prestige brands. Cover Girl allows them to try out premium products at a price many can afford," said Tsai Hsin-Hsin, P&G's Guangzhou-based associate marketing director for cosmetics in Greater China. "But we needed to tailor-make everything for this market-the products, the brand equity and brand proposition, the packaging. Everything is different. You can almost say the only thing that didn't change is the Cover Girl brand name."

For the launch phase, at least, the core target market is urban women aged 20 to 35 who earn $250 per month. The only entrenched local competitor, L'Oreal's Yue-Sai, aims at older women. P&G's closest competitor in China is L'Oreal's Maybelline, which has a younger image and less localized advertising. China's cosmetic market is growing at more than 10% annually, but Chinese women are relatively new users of cosmetics and most do not buy them before entering the workforce. P&G has no immediate plans to introduce Cover Girl products in drug stores and supermarkets. The counters, although expensive, offer a more premium atmosphere.

"P&G needed a different sales model in China, because consumers need more services. The on-site beauty consultants are very important to closing sales there," said Ms. Ching.

"You can't just import cosmetics here, companies have to understand what beauty means to Chinese women and what they look for, and product offerings and communication has to be adjusted accordingly. It's a lot harder than selling shampoo or skin care."

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