Beauty insights from cosmetics companies

9 April 2018



Looking good might make you feel great, but there is a whole world of science and insight that directs cosmetics companies to make sure that their next launch is as, or more, successful than the last. Packaging & Converting Intelligence invites leading beauty executives to share their insight on how companies are handling the pressure, and meeting consumer needs and desires.


Jane Lauder is well aware of the weight of legacy and heritage. She navigates her role as global president of Clinique, as well as her grandmother Estée Lauder’s heritage, with remarkably few ripples. “The beauty industry is constantly changing as new trends and influences come and go, but we are in it for the long run and quality will always count,” she says.

“One recent trend is the 20% drop in foot traffic at retail. Stores are closing, but we still have some incredible big businesses, including Macy’s. There are so many ways to shop; Ulta, for example. It’s about being where the shopper wants to be.”

Regarding the role of the department store, she emphasises the importance of sales personnel and advisers. “We’re lucky to have dedicated brand representatives to help women understand how to use different products and services, and respond to questions like, ‘How do I get clear pores?’ So I think our role in department stores is to help customers and give advice. We have online Clinique consultants who enhance consumer relationships. Consumers are four times more likely to come into the store to buy after their online research or online chat. Before, it was about product knowledge. Now, with the rise of premiumisation, it’s about technique and listening to [consumers’] skin concerns.”

Beyond this, there are shifting channels to contend with. “Every market and country we are located in is different and we need to be attuned to this. For example, in China, there’s a new phenomenon known as ‘little fresh meat’, which shows attractive young men selling make-up to women. This was a critically different approach,” she says. “We have to think about what makes us special. Anyone can come up with a make-up brand, but the barrier to quality and expertise is pretty high, and quality never goes out of style.”

Her thoughts on market positioning are equally concise. “You have to think about authenticity and premiumisation. We tell the truth and we exceed our expectations all the time,” Lauder says.

“People shift and go through phases. The new, younger consumer is going more towards quality, so I think it is cyclical. We’re seeing all kinds of changes. People are using all these tools and brushes. I think we’re all struggling a bit.

“It may be more difficult for fragrance, but with Happy fragrance, we’re seeing some connection to the moment. People want to be happy. Happiness never goes out of style.” Happy, launched in 1997, has become a modern icon. It entered the US top ten fragrances in 2017.

Big moves

Although he moved to Shiseido Americas in late 2017, Joe Licari was, for many years, the director of packaging development in Clinique, and responsible for some of the most successful packaging brought to market by the company. When asked if Clinique has a signature or key element that defines its packaging design and development, he says, “The Clinique brand was developed more than 40 years ago as a marriage between the Estée Lauder Companies, Vogue editor Carol Phillips and esteemed dermatologist Dr Norman Orentreich. It premiered as the first allergy-tested, dermatologist-created brand, and the message remains the same today.

“We try to design around the brand’s identity of being allergy-tested and 100% fragrance-free, so our packages have a simple, clean design element that is youthful and elegant.

“Originally, most of Clinique’s skincare packaging was in glass bottles; however, a number of years ago, the brand converted everything to plastics.

“We prefer to use PET for our bottles, because it allows us to maintain a glass-like heritage with thick heavy heels and premium feel. It is also safer, as our products are mainly used in bathrooms with tile floors.

“We pay a lot of attention to how the packages line up as families and on display units, to make it easy for consumers to shop according to colours of the packaging.”

Licari is passionate when it comes to naming the most rewarding project that he had ever worked on. “Hands down, the most rewarding and challenging project I’ve had the pleasure to work on in my career is the Clinique Repairwear Laser Focus Wrinkle & UV Damage Corrector package,” he says.

“The bottle is a special technology starting with an injection blow-moulded bottle, then decorated with inks and hot stamp foils and, lastly, a second resin applied directly over the decorated bottle.

“The technology has been around for a number of years and the cosmetic industry was using it for compact covers. However, we successfully engineered and produced an overmoulded part in a bottle form, with the silk screens and hot stamps on the inner bottle. We spent a great deal of time and effort figuring out how to keep the inner bottle wall straight and the aesthetics, like the hot stamp, smooth. In addition, we designed and engineered a completely custom dropper, which consisted of an original bulb shape, inner cap, plastic pipette, wiper and a metal overshell. Our supply partners were incredible, and I tip my hat to them for all their hard work and for meeting our demands for perfection. The package won a number of awards, which makes all the hard work even more appreciated.”

MAC Cosmetics, of which group creative director James Gager has moved to assume the role of senior vice-president, creative director and brand development at Estée Lauder Companies, is equally focused on the delivery of products that are experiential without losing quality.

“At MAC, we believe that living, breathing luxury brands will have a longer shelf life than those that sit pretty on the shelf,” Gager says. “We aren’t just about the pigment, the formula and the product. We’re about the artistry. We create experiences for people, whether through the make-up lines that are launched as a result of our collaborations, or at our retail events – a physical embodiment, in stores, of our commitment to entertainment. We engage our customers directly and with a sense of fun.”

Gager says that the company enables individuals to express themselves. “This is the art of storytelling – creating narratives and fantasies that enable people to create and live their own lives,” he says. “At MAC, that is our notion of luxury. Ultimately, premiumisation is about us, not goods or possessions. It’s about how we see ourselves and how we want others to see us – it’s about who we are and what we can do with our time, and that means different things to each of us. So before we ask, ‘What is luxury?’, it is useful to step back and ask, ‘What does luxury mean to me?’”

Key vector of design

Philippe Thuvien, L’Oréal's packaging and development director, is steadfast in his belief that packaging holds the key to cosmetics future. “The world of cosmetics is facing increasingly aggressive competition. Attractive designs are a must-have to differentiate new products,” he says.

“With millions of new consumers, emerging markets are clearly beginning to see their incomes increase, allowing them to buy cosmetic products, provided that they are adapted to their needs, culture and purchasing power.

“However, because of the economic downturn, many consumers in developed countries are reducing their expenses. Packaging should thus allow men and women to purchase cosmetics by offering products adapted to their market. For example, we sell a Garnier shampoo in a 400ml bottle in North America, in a 250ml bottle in Europe and in 2.5ml packs in India, the Philippines or some South American countries.”

Because of the economic downturn, many consumers in developed countries are reducing their expenses. Packaging should thus allow men and women to purchase cosmetics by offering products adapted to their market.

– Philippe Thuvien, L'Oréal

Thuvien says consumers’ safety is a requirement and is non-negotiable. “But beyond this prerequisite, they expect our products to have a true added value; that is, more visible and measurable results, and flawless quality,” he says. “In order to achieve this, we are improving the ergonomics of our products by developing new features such as a more practical formula dispenser. For example, Olia provides ammonia-free hair colouring in a bottle that is elegant and easy to handle. Other packages enhance the anti-fatigue effect of the formula – as in Mennen Roll-On Eyes, with an icy massage effect – or thoroughly cleanse the skin, like the ‘Perfect Clean’ of L’Oréal Paris and its massage-like applicator.”

Another concern of cosmetic brands, he explains, is meeting sustainable development issues with more environmentally friendly materials that preserve fossil resources and reduce energy consumption, such as Lancôme's PET tubing, Kiehl’s PET bottles and Biotherm recycled glass jars. “On the whole, our materials will be the same tomorrow as those we use today, with one difference: they will no longer come from fossil energy sources but from bio-renewable, and/or recycled resources,” he says.

“We must also make sure that our folding cartons and paperboards (FSC or PEFC-certified) are sourced in a responsible manner. In addition, we have introduced a policy to reduce primary and secondary packaging, for packaging used between our suppliers and our plants, as well as for our products themselves. And we have committed ourselves to reducing the waste generated by our finished products by 50%, alongside our water consumption and CO2 emissions.”

The cosmetics industry should also anticipate regulatory and media expectations. “For example, we must focus on the ‘fair’ protection of our formulas. The quality of raw materials, the formulation, the manufacturing and packing processes, and the packaging fall within this scope,” Thuvien says. In order to answer all these expectations and constraints, brands must innovate continuously. Packaging is therefore more than ever a key vector of this innovation. “L’Oréal strongly invests in research and innovation, and filed more than 600 patents in 2016, including over 90 packaging patents. Because it is through innovation that the group will manage to achieve the objective it has set: winning one billion new consumers within ten years,” Thuvien says.

Natural beauty

Funlayo Alabi is the co-founder of Shea Radiance, a natural beauty brand dedicated to transforming hair and skin. She agrees that a rise in choice has led to opportunities in natural skincare and cosmetics, offering personal benefits to each individual user.

“Pure oils have been a beauty staple in Africa, Europe and Asia for centuries. In the Mediterranean regions of Europe, olive oil is preferred for skin and hair: Italian women swear by it as the secret to beautiful hair and glowing skin,” she says. “In South East Asia, Indian women apply generous amounts of coconut oil to the hair and skin; in North Africa, argan oil is a beauty staple in Morocco, Egypt and most of the Maghreb. Women in sub- Saharan Africa, known for their ageless glowing beauty, claim that their secret lies in the use of oils and butters like shea, moringa, baobab and marula. This global tradition is finally catching on in the US, as the shift towards natural food and body-care products continues to grow.”

Alabi believes that the US consumer who used to seek “oil-free” skincare is now becoming increasingly comfortable using natural oils and butters. “Oils are rich in essential fatty oils and acids that promote soft, smooth, glowing skin. The shift towards using skincare products with natural ingredients that are good enough to eat continues to grow, amid concerns about the side effects of synthetic ingredients and their impact on the environment.”

While it might seem easier to be the new or smaller player in this enormous market, if it is so over-saturated and competitive, how do the larger companies use packaging to ensure their product is selected by consumers? Paul Howells, vice-president of packaging R&D at Unilever, stresses the need for a holistic approach when designing the ideal cosmetics container.

“The product must be flawless and, where possible, we're looking to exceed expectations through great design,“ he says. “Beauty companies should always be looking to deliver additional benefits with their packaging. We ensure that we have a clear understanding of the functionality that the packaging needs to deliver throughout its life.

“Advance simulations, and the use of materials that deliver this functionality without excess packaging, are the key to ensuring our products are as cost-effective and sustainable as possible.”

We aren’t just about the pigment, the formula and the product. We’re about the artistry.

– James Gager, MAC Cosmetics

Howells' experience in manufacturing and processing at Unilever has made him realise that it is not sufficient to consider just one factor at a time when selecting packaging for a particular cosmetic or toiletry.

The whole process from conception to finished product should fall under what he calls a holistic approach. “This means the brand DNA really informs the design,” he explains.

Sometimes, the smallest innovations make the biggest difference to a consumer. Howells’ favourite example of a well-designed product is Bleu de Chanel, a male fragrance contained in an elegant square bottle of midnight blue.

“There is a piece of 'magic' in the cap, due to the fact that an in-built, yet invisible, magnet always ensures the Chanel logo is aligned to the front of the bottle. It's a gorgeous piece of packaging and well engineered,” he says.

But how do you make the right decisions when designing packaging for a new product on the market? Does this require a different approach? With no history to draw upon, packaging designers are free to create a completely new identity from scratch, but they have to get it right.

“It's perhaps even more important to be clear about what you want to communicate in terms of brand value for a new product, because that will set the standard or the image of that brand for the future," says Howells. “If you get it wrong at the beginning, you're not going to be doing yourself any favours.”

These days, if you don't make the best packaging decisions for a product's launch, your potential customers are bound to find out soon. The surge of blogging and social-media platforms has provided consumers with an easy route for giving instant feedback about their recent purchases to a whole community of internet users.

The public can immediately register their endorsement or disapproval of a new product, and discuss its various benefits or shortcomings. Social media is bound to keep packaging designers on their toes, but also hints at what the modern public requires from a product, and which innovations are currently trending.

“In the past, you have been able to get away with a sub-optimal design. But now, there's a significant lobby that would undermine the brand equity if something doesn't work properly,” says Howells.

Instant feedback

Equally, social media can have a positive impact on a company. If personal-care businesses produce a unique product with interesting packaging, the viral nature of social media can have a massive impact on sales.

“People that ordinarily wouldn't be interested in the product will be encouraged to go out and buy it,” says Howell. “That's the two sides of the coin. I think anyone designing new packaging for products has to bear in mind the threats and the opportunities.”

But, the opportunities will only arise if personal-care companies use packaging to truly engage with their customers. From sustainability to emotional seduction and even social media, a holistic approach should be taken by brands that want to differentiate themselves from the competition. Thinking outside the box is essential for providing the innovations that consumers have come to anticipate.

Philip Tarrant, leader of packaging concept development at Coty, agrees. “To me, innovation can be as simple as changing the consumer experience,” he says. As an example, he cites Coty’s new CoverGirl mascara, produced by Albéa, that was designed with the ergonomics of the user in mind. He says, “It features a bi-injected soft-touch cap for precision and control, along with edge-to-edge hot stamping on the bottle and cap to complete the look.”

Another example is Coty’s Playboy Skin Touch deodorant, which was redesigned from a traditional aerosol valve and overcap, to a premium-looking, lockable spray-through cap. “Not only did this redesign change the consumer experience, but it was also a significant reduction in plastic,” says Tarrant.

Another proponent of the benefits of dispensing to accentuate the consumer experience is La Prairie. Its latest skincare products have correspondingly innovative packaging to match. Greg Prodromides, the luxury brand’s chief marketing officer, says, “Skin Caviar Absolute Filler was designed to answer women’s most demanding needs. Inside, La Prairie has developed an innovative airless pump system that preserves the formula from the environment, and allows it to maintain exceptional quality from the first to last drop.”

Clarins continues to evolve its high-end skincare products and packaging. The brand’s new anti-ageing Double Serum features a ‘Hydric+Lipidic System’ with two separate phases that mix together upon application.

The unique push-button system automatically delivers just the right amount of each phase – two-thirds water-based ingredients and a third of oil-based ones. This lets the user customise the amount of product according to their skin’s needs, the climate or season.

Antoine de Beaumesnil, packaging development manager at Clarins, explains, “For the next generation of Double Serum, we were really committed to developing an exclusive futuristic-shaped bottle, loyal to Clarins’ core value of innovation. This high-tech packaging perfectly embodies Clarins’ philosophy and allows the brand to continue being a leader in the beauty industry.”

De Beaumesnil says that after four years of work, the company is proud to introduce the “innovative and exclusive packaging”. It is also an overall eco-responsible product, he says, using recycled material for 10% of the packaging, reducing the outer packaging, and optimising supply chain steps.

Dispensing that makes sense

After years of what Aveda describes as “innovation in the polypropylene recycling arena”, the company says it has reached “a milestone in sustainable packaging”. The company is a long-time pioneer of post-consumer recycled (PCR) content, and recently introduced a polypropylene dispensing tube closure with PCR. It made its debut in early 2018 and will be phased in as a new package for Enlightener Creme Booster, part of Aveda’s hair colour category.

Following two years of trials and testing, the Enlightener Creme Booster tube will use a dispensing closure with 25% PCR content. After a successful roll-out of this closure in early 2018, Aveda will pursue a closure with higher PCR content, in an effort to “never stop taking things to the next level”.

According to Deb Darling, director of packaging materials and innovations initiatives at Aveda, “determining the appropriate percentage of PCR content to integrate into a dispensing, hinged closure, or any packaging component for that matter, requires time intensive resources, moulding trials and testing”.

She says, “Aveda took on this concentrated goal 100%, because the result aligns with the Aveda mission of caring for the world we live in.

“We aim to commercialise packaging innovations that reflect our high-quality standards, as we strive to set an example for environmental leadership and responsibility.”

Cosmetics packaging is becoming increasingly elaborate.
Clinique has moved its packaging from glass bottles and jars to heavier PET ones.
The Perfect Clean range from L’Oréal Paris contains massaging applicators.
The Shea Radiance beauty range is built on pure oils and butters, ingredients that co-founder Funlayo Alabi says are increasingly sought after.
CoverGirl's Total Tease mascara features an ergonomic design.


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