Perfectly matched – why the future of Private Brand beauty needs to challenge ‘me too’

This special post on Private Brand beauty comes courtesy of our sister site Prêt a Marque the hub of all your exclusive, licensed and Private Brand news and thought leadership. in the guest post  Sophie Maxwell, Insight Director of the international design agency Pearlfisher, presents a fascinating challenge to the future of Private Brand beauty.

Perfectly matched – why the future of Private Brand beauty needs to keep challenging the ‘me too’ culture

Already much talked about – no one can deny the huge significance of the Walgreens and Boots alliance. Not only do they become the largest global pharmacy overnight but the credibility and expertise embodied in, for example, the Boots No7 and Botanics beauty brands, could well change the beauty game in both the US drug channel – and the global brand marketplace.

Walgreens and Boots are bringing different value to the table. Walgreens is the phenomenally successful land of Private Brand beauty but this success is traditionally hailed as coming from acquisitions and providing cheap but efficacious ‘me too’ brands to beat the branded competition. And it has successfully captured a loyal beauty audience with this strategy. But Boots holds equity and brand value in its own offers founded on a unique expertise and authority. And it is this equity that undoubtedly holds the key for the future of the Private Brand beauty landscape.

Private Brand overall has been experiencing incredible growth over the past couple of years with retailers at last waking up to the advantages that owning its environment affords. Target led the way with its integrated visual and verbal messaging – using the stores and its broader communications as an ongoing campaign to establish authority. And although launched in 2009, its ‘Up & Up’ range is still a firm favorite.

Sales success is undoubtedly linked to face value – especially in emotive areas such as food or beauty – and Target’s commitment to the best in design is born out by its continuing success. Private Brands need to find and assert their own – rather than a borrowed – authority and then find the most unique and effective brand and package design strategy with which to express it.

In fact, just prior to the news of the alliance, Boots relaunched its own-label Botanics aromatherapy skin care range. Boots Botanics has a synergistic brand partnership with London’s Kew Gardens to marry the chemist chain’s roots as a herbalist with a quintessentially English – but one of the world’s best known – Botanic gardens. The brand has moved from an earthy look and feel to embrace a pure, bold and more contemporary look. Simple, vital and meaningful.

And although not a new example, Walmart’s GeoGirl was both a major breakthrough for the chain and for beauty in general. Perfectly building on the brand’s environmental credentials, the range not just cornered the tween market but wholeheartedly defined itself by its brand mission rather than target demographic with a design that could more than stand up to any groundbreaking eco offer. The cute floral designs and cardboard outers supported by a clever naming strategy engaging abbreviations that are widely used by today’s youth – with a cleanser called T2G (Time to Go)…

Whilst in Spain, El Cortes Ingles created its own PL beauty brand at the end of 2011. The ‘Oleada’ bath & body range uses all Mediterranean flower and fruit scents reflecting the indigenous environment. The packaging is exquisitely simple but premium looking without the uniformity so often afforded to the design of Private Brands.

This change is stemming from the realization that retailers aren’t simply cheap imitations but bona fide brands in their own right with clear identities, belief sets and brand values and that these are as strong, compelling and ultimately as desirable as the national brands they compete against.

Challenging creativity and changing the language of a whole category is the future for success – to throw down a challenge not just to this category or to Private Brand but to the brand community at large as the boundaries of own-brand and Private Brand are further disrupted.

Sophie Maxwell is Insight Director at Pearlfisher. Contact her at or

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Christopher Durham
Christopher Durham is the president of My Private Brand and the co-founder of The Vertex Awards. He is a strategist, author, consultant and retailer who built brands at Delhaize-owned Food Lion, and lead strategy and brand development for Lowe’s Home Improvement. He has consulted with retailers around the world on their private brand portfolios including: Family Dollar, Petco, Staples, Office Depot, Best Buy, Metro (Canada), TLW (Taiwan) and Hola (Taiwan). Durham has published five definitive books on private brands, including his first book, Fifty2: The My Private Brand Project. In 2017, he will debut his newest book, Vanguard: Vintage Originals, a visual tour of innovation and disruption in private brand going back to the mid-1800’s. Dynamic in his presentation while down to earth and frank in his opinions, he has presented at numerous conferences, including FUSE, The Dieline Conference, Packaging that Sells, Omnishopper and PLMA’a annual trade show in Chicago. Durham lives in Charlotte, NC with his wife, Laraine, and two daughters, Olivia and Sarah.