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Claims and Promises

Imogen Matthews
  • As consumers seek lower cost yet high-tech, high-claim products, claims have become even more important for brands sold in a self-service environment.
  • Substantiated claims are key to brand retention of consumers, up-selling and attracting new consumers.
  • Affordably priced cosmeceuticals are offering consumers new options and define masstige in a new way.

It all started with Boots Protect & Perfect, the anti-aging serum that shot to fame following clinical trials confirming its efficacy as compared to other, far more expensive, brands. Here was proof that a product worked, and consumers flocked to buy it—and continue to do so. Protect & Perfect set the bar high for other brand launches, making it almost mandatory for them to have clinical evidence that the products really work. But how robust is the data upon which these claims are made?

With so many new launches boasting differing breakthrough technologies, brands are differentiating themselves from others in the market. Janaki Padmanabhan, Euromonitor International* country research analyst, maintains that brand owners are providing evidence of clinical trials to substantiate their claims, rather than just claiming their products do something without demonstrable evidence. “When many competing brands are in a position to produce similar types of skin care products with similar benefits, clinical trials will probably be the way forward for the ones who can afford it,” says Padmanabhan.

One of the knock-on effects of the economic climate has been for consumers to trade down to, for example, masstige brands from premium; therefore, product claims have become even more important for brands sold in a self-select environment (channels without a dedicated sales consultant to spell out the benefits).

“To compete with premium brands such as Lancôme and Estée Lauder, brands such as Olay and Boots No.7 are backing up their products with clinical trials,” points out Padmanabhan. “Some of the advantages with such claims are retention of consumers within brands, up-selling to existing consumers and also attracting new ones. It does put smaller brands that cannot afford to do so at a disadvantage, but historically the cosmetic business has been about brands that have the money from parent companies to do extensive marketing and research.”

According to U.S. independent skin care expert Wendy Lewis,* in the U.S., Olay and Neutrogena are sweeping the category for advanced formulations with a dermatologic heritage. Olay Pro-X Acne, for example, is a newcomer that goes head-to-head with Proactive, Murad and others. “It is positioned to be a huge win for the brand,” maintains Lewis. “These affordably priced cosmeceutical ‘lights’ are offering consumers a new option between prestige or premium brands and the doctors’ clinic—they define masstige in a new way. The R&D these big consumer brands can bring to the skin care arena is second to none. Consumers today need clinical evidence that products really work to buy into the concept and trade up what they are using.”

Lewis notes, too, that the cosmeceutical/high-tech product segment is one in which niche brands will have a difficult time competing because they can be outspent by larger brands for development and testing by a factor of 10 to 1. And consumers will continue to look for claims backed by extensive testing as they grow dubious to loosely backed marketing claims.

The Dove Spa Strength Within Anti-Wrinkle supplement is an example of a brand launch with the full weight of its parent company Unilever’s backing. The brand was developed following five years of clinical research by a team of leading scientists, dermatologists and nutritionists. The efficacy of the product was tested using clinical protocols versus a placebo control, and the final combination of actives were tested in a 14-week clinical trial involving 164 women. In addition, extensive research, backed by the British Skin Foundation, involved 500 women in order to isolate key ingredients that fight against the signs of aging. The ingredients used to formulate the supplement include soy isoflavones extracted from soy beans, lycopene and vitamins C and E.

According to the research findings, the actives within the supplement hit the bloodstream and reach the dermis through its supply of blood. At the product’s recent London launch, Unilever’s R&D spokesperson Gail Jenkins said the supplement is meant to deliver the greatest anti-aging benefits to the face, neck and hands, which are the most vulnerable to aging.

All Things Not Equal

Clinical trials are becoming the norm, but not all trials are equal. Lewis points out that the typical data used to launch a cosmetic may be a study of just 10 people, rather than the broader clinical studies and druglike trials of big pharma. “Most skin care brands do not offer documentation of their claims because they are not required to do so,” she says.

Theresa Callaghan*, president and founder of Callaghan Consulting International, believes the reason companies use so few volunteers is because of cost. “Testing is treated as the ‘sore thumb,’ but should be right up there at the beginning of the product concept and development,” she maintains. “Cosmetic companies should have an idea about the claims they want to make based on consumer need, and so should have up-front dialogue with clinical companies.”

Meanwhile, consumers are left with a sea of claims, and are not always entirely sure which are valid. Many read beauty blogs as a way of validation, knowing that blogs tend to review products on a neutral basis. “Consumers these days spend a lot of time looking at online reviews of any product they buy,” affirms Padmanabhan. “In some cases, online retailers or the websites of store-based retailers put customer reviews about the products on their websites, which is another place they can check out if a [product’s efficacy meets the claim made].”

Beauty experts, doctors and media are all big influencers on consumers too—in addition to other consumers. Lewis says consumers will often look to other beauty product consumers and what they deem as experts for confirmation that a product really works. “The online community of users is very powerful, and is increasing in popularity as a source of information. Celebrity users or testimonials also influence a certain segment of consumers that skew younger,” she explains.

“Ideally, you should take any marketing claim with a pinch of salt,” recommends Padmanabhan. “But unfortunately for some consumers, they have to buy the product and realize that it doesn’t work for them.

*Euromonitor International, Wendy Lewis and Theresa Callaghan will participate in the 2012 In-cosmetics marketing trends presentations, taking place in Barcelona April 17–19, 2012.

Imogen Matthews is a consultant to In-cosmetics. For more information, contact

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