Youth Inc.

The eyes have it

Bright colours and packaging, and celebrity endorsements make L’Oréal’s brands a hit with young women

Avantika Razdan remembers her 17-year-old sister putting “stuff on her eyes” from a vivid green and pink tube over a decade ago. Razdan was just 10 at the time and was fascinated by the whole ‘doing up your face’ process. Six years later, when she began experimenting with make-up herself, her choice of products was nearly identical to what her sister used, which meant Maybelline’s Great Lash mascara was part of the booty. Nearly 22 now, she still counts Maybelline among her favourite brands — the quirky names, bright packaging and glossy textures appeal to her sense of fun. Her sister, meanwhile, has moved on to L’Oréal Paris products. She’s dropped in at the Lancôme store occasionally and plans to check out the Kiehl’s store soon. 

People like Avantika and her sister are perhaps L’Oréal India’s dream customers. They came on board quickly, continue to use the brand and, at least in the sister’s case, are moving on to the French company’s more premium and luxury offerings. Avantika, especially, is part of a tribe of young women and teens who are experimenting with make-up and beauty products, are keen to try out whatever’s new and don’t shy away from bright colours. 

It’s been 20 years since L’Oréal, the world’s largest beauty and cosmetics company, came to India. But it wasn’t until the launch of colour cosmetics under the Maybelline New York label in 1998 that young women saw it as a brand for them. L’Oréal Paris was a premium product while Garnier, which was the flagship brand in India, was all about haircare products aimed at the masses. Now, L’Oréal has 15 brands in India, across four categories — consumer products, luxury products, professional products, and active cosmetics. But the three consumer brands continue to bring in the lion’s share of revenue — over 70% of 2011’s income of €198 million (₹1,300 crore, up 24.5% from 2010) came from L’Oréal Paris, Garnier and Maybelline. 

Fail-safe formula

L’Oréal’s follows a fairly simple formula to appeal to its youthful customers in India: it innovates on the product front, signs on youth icons as brand ambassadors and is embracing new media to reach out to customers. “We innovate continuously and enter new categories with niche products and maintain this strategy with every brand,” says Dinesh Dayal, COO, L’Oréal India. 

The innovation started early. In 2002, the company launched Garnier Color Naturals hair colour at a time when Godrej’s hair dye ruled the market. L’Oréal’s Professional range of hair colours was already available through salons as was Excellence, aimed at older women. But this was a product developed especially for India, in a product size and a range of colours that would appeal to local consumers. A few years later, it launched an oil-based shampoo aimed at youngsters who had stopped oiling their hair but hadn’t quite forgotten their mothers’ sermons on its benefits. Garnier and L’Oréal were among the first beauty brands in India to introduce skincare products especially for men. And last year, it unveiled Maybelline’s Colossal Kajal, a kohl pencil developed for the Indian market — the kajal is now L’Oréal India’s largest-selling make-up product, says Satyaki Ghosh, director, consumer products division, L’Oréal India.

More than its research and innovation, though, it’s the L’Oréal group’s advertising that’s helping it reach its youthful customers. (Indeed, globally, too, L’Oréal spent 31% of its 2011 revenue on advertising while R&D’s share of the pie was just 3.5%.) The company is not willing to disclose ad spends but industry insiders peg the number at ₹400 crore for 2011. Over the years, the group has had a series of youthful celebrity endorsers. While Aishwarya Rai remains the face of L’Oréal in India and abroad, she’s also associated with more mature products in the range. For newer and more youthful products, actors such as Deepika Padukone, Priyanka Chopra, John Abraham and Sonam Kapoor have acted as brand ambassadors too. “The youth of today don’t want to use the brands their parents did. They want young brands and products. And they will pay if they see value,” says Dayal.  

Reaching out

But it’s not easy to create brand loyalty in make-up among Indian women. In sports shoes, for instance, the decision about the brand is taken first — “I want to buy a pair of Nike shoes” — and the style is decided in the store. However, in colour cosmetics the colour is key — “I want a pink lipstick” — after which the customer picks the shade she likes from a set of preferred brands. Moreover, Lakmé’s grip over the Indian colour cosmetics market still remains unchallenged. According to Nielsen data for lips and nail cosmetics, Maybelline and L’Oréal together accounted for a dismal 2.9% market share in 2011, behind Revlon and sub-brand Street Wear’s 5.3% and Lakmé and sub-brand Elle18’s 29%. The caveat: the Nielsen data does not include face and eye makeup and it doesn’t include sales made through modern trade channels.

Perhaps that’s part of the reason why L’Oréal India is upping its focus on new media communication. In 2008, it roped in digital advertising firm Foxymoron to catch youngsters online and get them hooked on to the company’s different brands. Apart from keeping the various brands active on social media sites, Foxymoron also creates internet-specific content. “The effort is to be localised yet stay true to every brand’s core,” says L’Oréal’s Ghosh. For instance, Garnier Men has a contract with Rajasthan Royals to associate with the IPL and emphasise the brand’s effectiveness when used after outdoor activities. 

The make-up brands offer a series of online tutorials on getting ‘the look’ — for going to work, a party or even bridal make-up. “The communication always solves a consumer problem. The approach is solution-oriented, which is what the young want,” says Harshil Karia, co-founder of Foxymoron. The numbers bear that out: the videos on Maybelline’s brand channel on YouTube have already been viewed 600,000 times. If the viewers follow that up with a trip to the mall to stock up on make-up, L’Oréal should be happy.