Cosmetic enhancement

'AVON calling!" is their war cry, the streets their battlefield, and lipsticks, mascaras and blusher their weapons of choice. This is Avon's army of sales ladies: a crack squad of beauty commandos who are about to be sent forth, spreading the word that the make-up brand with the mumsy image has had a multi-million pound facelift.

Their 1960s' advertising slogan, "Ding dong... Avon calling", may still be firmly entrenched in the public's psyche but, let's be honest, Avon hasn't been ringing bells for a number of years. It's not that the products are unpopular - one in three British women are Avon customers, and more women wear Avon nail enamel than any other brand in the world - but the brand's unsexy image means few of us are likely to shout about our beauty buys. The perception seems to be that Avon is unfashionable and outdated.

The effect this is having on its profits is something CEO Andrea Jung is making a huge effort to turn around. Sales have stalled in Avon's key markets, including Mexico and the US. In 2005, The Avon Cosmetics Ltd year-end report showed pre-tax profits in the UK had slipped to 4,610,000, from 21,348,000 in 2004.

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Cue Avon's new 2007 spring advertising campaign - the biggest in its 120-year history - called Hello Tomorrow. Designed to reintroduce the brand to an indifferent consumer base, one of the world's oldest beauty companies is boldly facing up to the future with slick packaging and billboard shots in shades of pink that are impossible to ignore.

Also new to Avon's armoury is that staple of the 21st-century beauty brand, a celebrity face. Salma Hayek (who co-stars in produces Ugly Betty) is the added ingredient that Jung hopes will help end the company's association with the type of customer who chooses a lipsticks to match her cardigan.

In addition, Avon's shopfront - their catalogue (the firm produces 600 million of them in 12 different languages) - has also been given a new look and, outside the UK, a massive drive to recruit more sales people (they're aiming for 399,000 in China alone) is underway.

This is the Avon way. When American door-to-door salesmen David McConnell set up what was then The Californian Perfume Company in 1886 and employed a New Hampshire housewife named Mrs Albee to sell his range of floral fragrances, he became convinced of the power of female entrepreneurship.

He was proved right: these persuasive homemakers - looking for a way to make friends in their neighbourhood and earn some extra money - (today Avon ladies buy the products at 20-25 per cent less than the retail price to sell on to customers and profit from the difference) - pioneered the directselling approach. By 1903 there were more than 10,000 agents servicing a million customers in the US. By the 1960s, Avon Ladies were working all over Europe. Even though Avon became one of the first major beauty companies to sell online in 1997, Avon customers seemed to still prefer the face-to-face contact that is their unique selling point.

CEO Andrea Jung knows, therefore, that her forces on the ground - which currently number five million globally and operate in 100 different countries - will play a pivotal role in conquering the emerging markets of China and the Far East, as well as changing perceptions here in the UK.

Hawick-based Avon lady Jedda Hindmarsh is exactly the type of person in whom Jung is placing her faith. This curvaceous 34-year-old brunette is a natural salesperson. In just over a year of selling in one street of this Borders town, she has joined the top 7 per cent of Avon sales agents in the UK (generating almost 7,000 worth of sales in her first nine months while working at it part-time last year).

"You need to love talking to people and believe in the brand," she says. "Over the past year, many of my customers have become friends and I have managed to persuade my clients that what's on offer is no longer just a blusher in a suedette pouch!"

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Hindmarsh says that the way she looks certainly helps her sales figures. "I definitely don't look like your stereotypical Avon lady," she says. "I am a young career woman, as opposed to a housewife. That surprised people at first, but I think also helped them to realise that Avon isn't just for grannies!"

While a slick sales pitch from a young, vibrant salesperson will certainly help convert some to the Avon way, to really change hearts and minds the new a campaign is going to need to convince more than one generation of women. It won't be an easy job.

"Avon is facing a difficult task because of the breadth of its target audience," says Claire Wood, part of Edinburgh-based advertising company The Leith Agency's strategic and brand consultancy team. Unlike Rimmel, who - as Wood points out - re-launched with Britain's most stylish young woman, Kate Moss, as its public face to engage a core audience of 15 to 25-year-olds, Avon's progress won't be quite so straightforward.

With the majority of its customers falling in the 18-45 age bracket, it will instead have to "do a Marks & Spencer" by winning over, well, just about everyone. "M&S reinvented itself by appointing different icons - such as Twiggy and Lizzie Jagger - who appealed to the different types and ages of customer," says Wood.

Avon has more in common with M&S than just a large customer base: both are historic brands known for quality, affordability and good customer service. What Avon has to do now, says Wood, is try to reignite the public's latent affection for the brand, while at the same time giving it a new edge.

Again, this is not going to be simple. "Avon products are actually very good," says Craig Alexander Wilson, a Scottish make-up artist who has worked with celebrities such as Gail Porter. "I love their SuperFull mascara, and there's a really impressive colour range of eyeshadows that I carry around with me. People are always surprised when I use an Avon product. They think that because it's catalogue shopping, the products will be inferior to what you find on the high street, but that's not the case at all."

Wood agrees that a lot needs to be done to sex up Avon's image. "The problem with the existing catalogue is that there is a special offer on every other page, which cheapens the brand," she says. "When M&S launched its latest advertising campaign it also spent a huge amount of money on the in-store experience, bringing in new designers. Avon will need to keep pace with what their ad campaign is saying, too."

Avon's new multi-million pound research and development laboratory in New York has helped Avon get 2007 off to a good start, with the launch of Anew Retroactive + Day Defence Cream, 24. Proving Avon can talk science along with the best of them, this is a beauty "first", using what it says is Nobel Prize-winning research in an attempt to reverse the signs of ageing. Sleek black packaging has been introduced for the range and, although details are being kept under wraps at the moment, there are plans to launch a further 623 products this year.

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"The products have definitely got trendier, which really helps back up what we're saying," adds Hindmarsh. "Our colour trend range is full of young, bright fashion shades for teenagers. Then there's our anti-ageing Anew clinical range, which has all the latest "buzz" ingredients. It's really true that Avon makes something for everyone. In fact, I'd challenge anyone not find at least one thing they would love to try."

It's difficult to argue with such confident enthusiasm - and that's exactly what Avon is hoping for.



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ONE of the first leave-in conditioners on the market, this detangling cream was discontinued in 2000 and replaced by a liquid spray. However, it soon became Avon's most requested bring-back product (at 2.50 for 250ml, it's no wonder) and it made its comeback in 2005.


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