P&G launches skin care brand

Illume paired with feisty celebrity Cecilia Cheung

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GUANGZHOU--Procter & Gamble is following up the success of its Japanese premium skin care brand SK-II in China with Illume, another import from across the East China Sea that will go on sale in Beijing next month.

Although P&G developed the brand in Tokyo as a mass-market substitute for Olay, which P&G does not sell in Japan, Illume was given an upscale makeover for China. It still has protection against ultra-violet rays and serves as an oil-reducing base for make-up foundation, which is heavily applied in Japan, in particular.

But through a two-year process, the packaging and marketing were given a younger, more dynamic and more scientific look for China, where Illume will be sold through high-end department store counters, not retail store shelves like Olay, which is available in China.

The result is a mid-range brand that Guangzhou-based P&G China hopes will appeal to young, sophisticated urban women who cannot yet afford its pricy SK-II skin care line, or who simply want a quality skin care product with a less conservative personality than rivals such as L'Oreal's Biotherm and Estee Lauder’s Clinique line.

P&G tapped Cecilia Cheung, 25, a popular Eurasian actress who starred last year in “The Promise,” an epic fantasy directed by Chen Kaige, one of China’s most prominent film directors. Known for her husky, sultry voice and outspoken demeanor, the Hong Kong native was "an ideal spokesperson" for a new brand that P&G wanted to infuse with energy, according to Olivella Liu in Guangzhou, P&G's external relations director, skin care & color cosmetics.

"She’s a very independent, brave, innovative woman, so her character is a good match with Illume's brand character. She brings the right energy and attitude to the brand,” Ms. Liu said.

Ms. Cheung is "not milk toast, she has a strong personality and says what she thinks, and she’s very respected for that,” added Jeff Bradley in Hong Kong, regional brand director, Asia/Pacific for Leo Burnett’s P&G brands. The agency handles advertising for Illume in China. “Illume gives us a chance to bring some attitude to this category, where you don’t usually get it.”

Besides print and TV ads, P&G will invest significantly in interactive promotions later this year, because young adults in China now spend more time online than with almost any other form of media. P&G would not disclose further details about the upcoming online campaign, but Ms. Liu added, "We are thinking a lot about innovation in our marketing to effectively reach our target group, China's new generation, to bring youth to our products."

Mr. Bradley doubts P&G plans to roll out Illume into other markets, and the Cincinnati-based company declined to comment officially, but some other execs familiar with Illume say the brand could be expanded to other markets, particularly other parts of Asia.

“Let’s see how it works in China first, that’s a good testing ground, but it’s very possible [it could be introduced elsewhere]. Illume would have cachet as an Asian beauty brand, because Asian women have such good skin, it makes people think there must be some magical formula in their products that’s good for everyone. The same isn’t true for western brands. While many foreign brands do well in Asia, Asian women have a deserved arrogance about their good skin and they do prefer Asian-made products, particularly those from Japan.”

P&G is "always" looking at potential to expand to other markets, said Ms. Liu, so "we are exploring other opportunities for Illume. We create many innovative local brands, particularly in Japan, that end up in other markets like Singapore. But Illume is being tested carefully in China, starting in Beijing We want to grow step-by-step."

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