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Insight: Social Media Breathes Life Into Shelved Products


( From The New York Times, May 1, 2012 ) IT started with a Chanel lip gloss. After learning that her favorite shade, a light golden brown called Brick, was being discontinued, Jennifer Fisherman-Ruff bought up the remaining 37-piece stock of the product at Henri Bendel. That was a little more than 15 years ago. Since then, Ms. Fisherman-Ruff, 42, a publicist in Manhattan, has stockpiled a variety of products, including a discontinued eye shadow (also Chanel) and a custom-blended Prescriptives foundation, seven bottles of which currently reside in her refrigerator alongside the butter and cheese.

“When I really like something, I get nervous I’m not going to be able to have it anymore,” said Ms. Fisherman-Ruff, who still scours the Internet for ARTec, a L’Oréal shampoo that the company stopped making in 2009.

Many women spend a lifetime in search of the perfect shade of lipstick, the ideal moisturizer or the prettiest perfume, only to watch their hard-won favorite go the way of the dodo. Until recently, these consumers had little recourse other than to register complaints with manufacturers’ service centers, but now, thanks to social media sites, as well as company-run Internet chat lines, beauty companies are keeping closer tabs on which products their customers want brought back and responding to that demand with reissues, albeit in limited quantities and through select channels.

“It’s literally reshaping how the market is driven,” said Karen Grant, a senior global industry analyst with the NPD Group, a market research company in Port Washington, N.Y., speaking of social media.

In January, for example, Pantene, a division of Procter & Gamble, brought back three hair-care product lines that had been discontinued — Anti-Dandruff, Ice Shine and Silver Expressions — with a “Back by Popular Demand” marketing campaign that included a 1980s-theme video(made in collaboration with the humor Web site Funny or Die) and a Facebook giveaway.

Likewise, Bobbi Brown Cosmetics and MAC Cosmetics, two brands owned by the Estée Lauder Companies, recently ran Facebook campaigns called “Bobbi Brings Back: Lip Color” and “MAC by Request,” asking fans in various countries to vote on their favorite shades of discontinued products. “The response was even higher than anticipated,” said Alicia Sontag, the senior vice president for global marketing at Bobbi Brown.

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