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Cover Story: In Step

Jeff Falk
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In the Dec. 17, 2007 issue of Advertising Age, Richard Laermer—CEO of RLM PR and author of 2011: TrendSpotting for the Next Decade (McGraw-Hill)—posited a list of ten trend predictions for 2008. On it, Laermer offered:

After decades of inspirational posters telling us to do better, try harder, break rules, and innovate, now you should follow in others’ footsteps. We can live better, saner, more successful lives by jumping on the bandwagon, not trying to blaze trails.

One might infer from those words that new successes, in a great many cases, are best achieved by building on earlier, proven successes. Innovation doesn’t have to mean reinventing the wheel. Refinements and new ways of approaching a product or process may open a world of possibilities and fiscally enviable results.

Cosmetic pencils and pens are telling examples. The basic, underlying technologies are time-tested, and the results are consumer-proven. In fact, they are so successful and commonplace in such a bevy of applications that it’s difficult to think of pens and pencils as “technologies.”

From Simple Writing Tools
Schwan-STABILO, manufacturer of writing pencils since 1855, decided, in 1927, to build upon its own expertise by entering a completely new sector, cosmetics. With the launch of its first eyebrow pencil, the company retread its own footsteps to forge a new avenue for future growth. Writing pencil to brow pencil to mechanical powder shadow to skin care products with active ingredients applied by a cosmetic pen—building, over time, upon previous successes earned the company’s cosmetic division €183.3 million in profits in fiscal year 2007.

“The market for pens and pencils, in general, gained recognition due to increasing demand in practical, easy to apply products,” says Sabine Stadlbauer, executive director, sales and marketing, A.W. Faber-Castell Cosmetics GmbH, citing the combination of market and product evolution. “The variety of technologies, materials and formulas developed within the pen and pencil market increased as well, with mechanical pencils becoming more popular and important new categories emerging—such as liquid click pens.

“The main advances in the last 10 years related to developing solutions for nearly all makeup applications in the pen and pencil format, covering nearly all of the classic formula technologies and effects used for makeup—from waxes to powders and liquid pens. Pens and pencils further started to appear in other categories such as skin care and nail application, leaving enough open potential for expansion. This development implies that the ease of use of pens and pencils is combined with the appropriate mechanisms and tips to apply the products.”

Pencils: Strengths and Opportunities
According to Stadlbauer, pencils’ inherent strength in holding and protecting the bulk of a product within the pencil body—providing stability and protection—has allowed the development of extra creamy and longer lasting formulas for a variety of applications. In turn, the variety of packaging and subsequent advances in formulas intended for pencils have allowed brands to better target individual consumer needs—delivering both trend-responsive products, such as those that contain glitter and gloss, and basic products that meet the needs of consumers looking for higher performance. This symbiotic relationship of pencil ingredients and formulas allows both to continue to advance in elegance. For example, more resilient/elastic pencil leads have been formulated to resist cracking and smudging upon application and lend themselves to more automated pencil assembly technologies, says Charles Neuner, executive director, corporate packaging innovations, The Estée Lauder Companies.

Ease of use, practicality and precise tips for accurate application are pencil advantages that connect immediately with consumers and contribute to other underlying consumer benefits that reinforce the connection to these products. “By sharpening a pencil, consumers have the sensation of reactivating the product for fine and broad application and a hygienic tip,” said Stadlbauer.
The shortcomings of pencils—both in limitations of delivery and in choices for basic cosmetics—are also worth addressing as lines launch or expand, and understanding shortcomings and consumer dislikes in a segment (in addition to their attachments) can be a powerful propellent for advancements that better serve consumers—strengthening their bond to a brand or product. As noted, ease of use is a strength, but Neuner cites the increase in larger-diameter pencils and ergonomically shaped pencils as an advancement in Lauder brand pencil offerings.

“Cosmetic pencil chemists are concentrating more on the eye area, combining beneficial ingredients with fashionable colors,” says Linda Eisner, founder, pencil me in cosmetics, in speaking of looking for places to improve and pushing those advancements. “In the past, color was the primary concern and choices were limited. There was a time when I had to heat up my eyeliner pencil tip with a match to get an application of strong color.”

To that end, Eisner concentrated on developing a pencil brand with creamier formulations—to avoid point breakage and allow immediate “out of the box” application—and a wider range of effects and available colors to address more skin shades and tones. “These additional choices have enabled the consumer to further develop their individuality,” she says.

Pens: Advancements and Collaboration
The technology for manufacturing economically feasible (from a consumer standpoint) cosmetic pens was solidified in the 1980s, and flow-through pens and the re-imagining of applicator designs and options opened possibilities for
a wide variety of products, including cream eye shadows, liners and concealers.

As with pencils, cosmetic products are very adaptible to liquid-pen packages, particularly for eye products and spot-treatment products, according to Neuner. “Clinique currently has a pen-like liquid delivery system on the market, and several of [The Estée Lauder Companies’] brands are developing [a] similar package as well,” he says.

The success of pens, like pencils, owes much to the flexibility of applications, ease of use and consumers’ acceptance of the format—but development was not without its hurdles due to formulation interaction with complex mechanisms. Clearing those hurdles required the collaborative efforts of formulators and packagers, and allowed cosmetic pens to proliferate and better serve consumers at the same time.

“Mechanically actuated and flow-through pens for liquid eyeliners were once relatively unusual but are now very common,” says Neuner. “Conventional inkwell-design eyeliners have also changed in that most successful designs have a reservoir feature to allow lines to be made in one pass. The goal for all these developments has been to allow the consumer to apply eyeliner with accuracy and to do so in a single motion without needing to re-dip and continue the line. Such performance is a basic expectation in today’s market, but was virtually unheard of a decade ago.

“From a formulator’s perspective, viscosities and package compatibility issues have been addressed to allow liquid eyeliners to be stored and delivered with the packaging mechanisms and materials currently available. Eyeliner pigments have also been developed to create the opacity and depth of color required while resisting being filtered out of the formula by the applicator tip. This is particularly important with flow-through package designs which often use filter-like tip materials.”

Applicator tip technology has advanced, according to Neuner, from fine-tipped hair and fiber brushes to sophisticated elastomeric resins, some with a variety of surface treatments to enhance product delivery and line quality, and formulas have evolved to exploit the performance of these tips, using, for example, new pigment technologies and bases for better line definition and wear.

The continuation of advancement in the segment lies in the collaboration of marketers and suppliers—Neuner cites the development of new technologies across Lauder brands in partnership with its suppliers—and building upon the paths already laid is integral to competing for consumers, meeting those consumers’ expectations, beating those expectations and forging nearly limitless new options.

“As the need for differentiation increases, advances will have to be made in new application techniques, materials and customization options,” says Neuner. “Consumer expectation grows with every new advancement; manufacturers respond with new technology, and there are no limits to either. Provided the application brief can be met with a volume of product normal to pen geometry, virtually any color or treatment product could be delivered with the right pen design.”

For supplemental and complementary material provided by Rebecca Goswell, global creative director, HCT Group, click here.

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