China Consumer

Too familiar

German cosmetics brand battles boring image


No-go for Nivea

Last August, German skincare label Nivea announced that Rihanna would no longer serve as the public face of the brand, dropping the singer only a year after signing her to endorse its products.

As Stefan Heidenreich, incoming chief executive at Beiersdorf which owns the Nivea brand, then put it, the Barbadian pop star had developed “a no-go” reputation.

“I do not understand how Nivea can be brought into association with Rihanna… Nivea stands for trust, family and reliability,” he added, rather austerely.

A look at a few of Rihanna’s Nivea ads may help to shed light on the matter. In one commercial a family is seen moisturising with Nivea lotion while Rihanna’s sultry hit California King Bed plays in the background. The original pop video for the song featured the star in lingerie, writhing in bed with a male visitor. Not quite the association that Herr Heidenreich has in mind, perhaps.

But in the Chinese market, Nivea might benefit from a slightly racier image. Growth there has been slowing, with sales last year up by 11%, less than in earlier years.

“The good old days of making easy money are long-gone,” Nivea’s newly appointed general manager in China, Pan Yufeng, told 21CN Business Herald.

Perhaps that’s not so surprising for a brand that has been in China for almost a century, arriving long before competitors like L’Oreal and P&G. The German firm sent its sales representatives from Hamburg to sell its products as early as 1914. But the fact that it was such an early player in the market can mean that Nivea struggles to excite some of China’s local consumers. Like many German consumer brands, says Pan, the problem hasn’t been a lack of brand recognition. The real challenge is that some shoppers have found the brand “boring”, Pan admits.

At present, China contributes about 5% of Beiersdorf’s revenue. But it wants China to be a larger part of its global business: in five years, the goal is for the percentage to reach 10%.

To achieve that target, Nivea has its sights squarely set on men’s skincare and to generate more of the ‘cool’ factor it has hired Taiwanese actor Ke Zhendong as the spokesperson for its men’s skincare line. The move was designed to appeal to a younger demographic, although Pan admits it was controversial at head office, with his German bosses reluctant to sign up new celebrity endorsers after their recent experience of parting company with the anything-but-boring Rihanna.

The China team has also changed the wording of Nivea’s local tagline from products made for “successful businessmen” to “those who challenge the stereotypes”.

Asked why he is prioritising growth in men’s skincare instead of products for women, Pan replies: “The reason is very simple. The fact is, female consumers are much harder to predict.”

Although women account for the majority of cosmetics purchases, skincare for men is also growing rapidly in China as male customers get more concerned about looking good and fighting the effects of ageing. Sales of men’s health and beauty merchandise have now surpassed $1 billion annually, according to Jing Daily.

Nivea’s competitors like L’Oreal are also moving into the male market, crafting products exclusively for Chinese consumers.

For example, L’Oreal has introduced a cosmetic balm especially for Chinese men. Its purpose: to mask blemishes with skin serums using traditional herbal remedies such as cordyceps, a parasitic mushroom (see WiC139).

Nivea has also been working to beef up its one-on-one marketing message, by boosting its team of beauty consultants, the women at department stores who advise consumers. It now has more than 14,000 beauty counters nationwide. “Even so, the number we have is less than one fifth of the total number of sales counters in China,” Pan says, indicating the future growth potential.

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