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Liz Claiborne Effort Comes Out Smelling Like a Rose

Liz Claiborne has scented success with direct marketing.

A campaign for the New York apparel and accessories manufacturer's new Spark fragrance attracted 44,000 unique visitors, 700,000 hits to a dedicated site and 5,000 new names for the database. It marks the company's first direct order purchase effort in cosmetics.

“This is the way we'd like to build the business, and going forward we want to utilize the database and grow it and stay in touch with our consumers as we develop new programs and offers,” said Art Spiro, president of fragrance and cosmetics at Liz Claiborne.

The integrated campaign by Baltimore marketing services firm Vertis aimed to build a buzz and test response for Spark before it debuted Aug. 29 nationwide in department stores. Another objective was to acquire new customer contacts for Liz Claiborne fragrances.

Spark, an oriental fragrance for men and women ages 25 to 40, debuts in the same year that Ralph Lauren introduced Polo Blue for women and Estee Lauder its Beyond Paradise perfume. Keeping the competitive environment in mind, Vertis devised a multichannel strategy and tactics for a pre-store launch.

So, the firm placed scented magazine inserts in subscriber-only July issues of Lucky, InStyle, GQ and Self magazines. About 250,000 e-mails pointing to Web and phone were sent to the magazines' subscriber lists. A site at www.sparkfragrances.com sold limited-edition 1-ounce bottles.

In addition, a toll-free line at 1-888-My Spark was launched for round-the-clock order taking.

Visitors flocked to the site during the promotional period of June 2 to Aug. 28. Orders for Spark rose fivefold after an e-mail blast to Self magazine subscribers. Three-fourths of all sales across channels were from women buying for self and men. And many opted in for updates.

The challenge was simple to Janice Mayo, senior vice president of national sales and marketing at Vertis.

“How can we utilize the other tools that are nontraditional in the cosmetics industry and create a branding experience to be able to deliver to consumers?” she said.

Direct marketing helped Liz Claiborne address a classic quandary faced by manufacturers: How to develop a relationship with end customers without alienating its retail channel?

Launch timing and packaging were key to sidestepping that issue.

Historically, companies ship fragrances in August for sale the following month in department stores, eyeing back-to-school and fall. Spark pre-store-launched in June. Few cosmetics marketers advertise fragrances in that month, so there was little clutter.

The packaging, too, was unique. The special-edition 1-ounce version cost $28.50. Department stores charge $39 and $59, respectively, for 1.7-ounce and 3.4-ounce bottles. Spark sells in Federated, May, Dillard's and Belk's stores.

“Direct marketing was used as a teaser and introduction of the brand before it was introduced in the store,” Spiro said. “Once we've introduced a fragrance to the retailer, we keep clear with that distribution. In the future we may go online and offer consumers products on the Web.”

Brands like Liz Claiborne may have no alternative. The cosmetics industry collected $1.9 billion from women's fragrance sales and $953 million on men's, according to 2002 data, the latest available. But sales have been flat for a long time, and may even dip this year.

“The category, unfortunately, is not growing,” Spiro said. “We're all taking market share from each other. There's a general concern about the growth of the category. [But] my belief is that fragrances are still under-penetrated in the United States.”

Part of the problem is department stores, the largest contributors to fragrance sales. Discounters like Wal-Mart Stores Inc. and Target Corp. are gaining popularity with price-sensitive consumers. Department stores obviously cannot go head-to-head on price — not with prestige-brand clients.

Moreover, even within the department store, fragrances now compete with items such as cashmere sweaters and leather gloves as gifting candidates. They are available at equally appealing markdowns.

Not surprisingly, the pressure is telling. Where fragrance sales traditionally started after Christmas, now they begin before Thanksgiving.

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