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CATEGORY DEFINITION: The personal care category includes brands in health and wellness, beauty, and facial, skin, hair and oral care 

Category leaders rolled out programs to connect brands with a higher purpose beyond a product’s functional benefits. The purpose usually involved sustainability
and the welfare of customers and employees.

Factors driving these initiatives included evolving consumer attitudes about
beauty and consumption, the influence of millennials, and the power of social media to strengthen or weaken brand reputation.

By championing a higher purpose,
brands also attempted to differentiate
and avoid commoditization in a crowded and competitive category. Combining commercial interests with a social mission also facilitated expansion in developing markets.

Brands emphasized wellness, naturalness and internal beauty, rather than idealized notions of female beauty. Brands also introduced more products for men, as masculine grooming remained one of the fastest-growing category segments.

However, the personal care category grew just 2 percent in Brand Value, as consumers indulged selectively, and slower economic growth in China and Brazil impacted sales. The luxury segment performed relatively well, driven by the personalization and premiumization trends and the growth of airport sales.

Luxury brand Lanco?me led the personal care category in Brand Value appreciation with
a 23 percent gain. Slower growth in China resulted in flat Brand Value for Este?e Lauder. The 24 percent Brand Value decline of Natura reflected a slowdown of Brazil’s economy and increased competition.

Acting on a higher purpose

L’Ore?al Paris introduced its “Sharing Beauty with All” project, promoting sustainable production and consumption of beauty products, and its “L’Ore?al Share & Care” program to ensure that its employees worldwide have access to healthcare and enjoy social benefits, including work-life balance.

Este?e Lauder added a corporate responsibility function, appointing a high- level executive to oversee progress in several areas, including product innovation, sustainable supply chain and social impact.

Dove, which introduced a more expansive and inclusive view of beauty and womanhood more
than 10 years ago, expanded on
the theme with a focus on building and protecting the self-esteem and individuality of girls. The educational program sparked debate through both print and viral video.

The Dove initiatives are part of Unilever’s corporate mission to grow its brands while reducing their environmental impact, and to make a positive social contribution. As more brands adopt a higher purpose, the challenge for Dove is to retain its differentiation.

Dove again moved beyond functionality when it marketed its Dove products for men in the context of a wider definition of masculinity. Dove Super Bowl ads for Dove Care showed fathers with their infants and grown children, including a dad at the wedding of his daughter, to emotionally convey the tagline that “Care makes a man stronger.” 

Male grooming

The rise in male grooming brought large opportunities and also challenges. The facial hair trend, razor blades available by subscription for home delivery, and the millennial preference for electric razors impacted the long-time leader in male grooming, Gillette.

For many years, Gillette has sent men
razor kits on their eighteenth birthday. This ceremonial passage into adulthood, called the “Welcome to Manhood” campaign, was based on the insight that once men select a razor brand they tend to stick with it. The market has changed, however.

Gillette launched an online razor subscription service. It also introduced an innovative flexible razor as well as electric razors for trimming mustaches, beards and body hair. In its “100 Years of Hair” campaign, the brand cleverly showed the evolution of male grooming, ending with a promotion for Gillette’s body razor. 

In a video series called, “Life Hacks,” Nivea became a life coach for young men, offering fast and funny educational tips for solving problems, such as chilling wine quickly or deodorizing sneakers. L’Ore?al Paris experienced strong sales in China for its L’Ore?al Paris Men Expert product line. The men’s personal care trend is most advanced in Asia, particularly South Korea. 

Premiumization, personalization and ingredients

In a category with so much product segmentation and choice, brands continued to seek points of difference through innovation, premiumization and personalization. Some of the innovation came in the form of products that offered solutions for specific needs, or multiple benefits around a core promise.

Consumers continued to be concerned
about ingredients. Personal care customers increasingly expected to receive scientific reassurance that ingredients were natural or at least not harmful. Hair care brands shifted to scientific language to describe their products in an attempt to build trust and give consumers a reason to believe.

Oral care brands developed apps for monitoring tooth brushing and making it fun for children. Colgate offered apps based around favorite cartoon characters like SpongeBob SquarePants and Dora the Explorer. 


Changing consumer expectations influenced communication. More accessible brand ambassadors replaced remote supermodels. Young TV personality Kendall Jenner for example, is a part of an emerging fashion movement dubbed "Social Media Modelling", and now represents Este?e Lauder. Brand ambassadors were popular
in Asia, where brands also recruit bloggers after they’ve gained fame and followers.

Sampling, an important marketing tool in personal care, became more challenging because of declining customer traffic
in department stores, at least in the US. Brands turned to alternatives like Birchbox, a subscription service that delivers a monthly, curated collection of personal care product samples. This approach can be disruptive because it provides new brands relatively easy market entry.

Several P&G brands, including Gillette and Olay, partnered with LinkedIn on a project called “Face the World,” about preparing college students to present themselves well in the physical and digital worlds.

L’Ore?al Paris developed an app for millennials. It worked as a mobile consultant but also included a product delivery aspect. Clinique opened a flagship store on Alibaba’s Tmall, which is a business-to-consumer e-commerce platform in China. Este?e Lauder also opened a Tmall store. The site helped brands penetrate beyond the major Chinese cities where they have a physical presence. 


1. Define a clear purpose for your brand; one that allows it to play a meaningful role in society and culture. Too many functional benefits alone, and over reliance on promotions, particularly in mass, risk commoditization.

2. Focus on innovation that is true to the brand’s purpose and driven by consumer’s needs, not just brand’s production capabilities.

3. Build an agile organization able to react fast and experiment, while still having long-term focus and direction.

4. Treat your customers as participants in evolving the brand. How they use the products or comment about them can help shape the brand and keep it relevant.

5. Create communications that are relevant, consistent, and differentiating. Consumers are bombarded with information, facts, and marketing messages. Help them screen out the competitive media noise.