"[The skin of Latinas] is different, their coloring is different; they are definitely looking for products that work for their skin types," says Kim Hsieh, senior vice-president at Promotional Management Group, a Hispanic marketing firm that helped launch Unilever's U.S. ad campaigns. "Everybody – MAC, L'Oreal, Revlon, and Cover Girl ... almost all the major cosmetic brands – are addressing this consumer."
In the last 18 months, L'Oreal, which owns Maybelline, has signed multimillion-dollar contracts with Spanish actress Penelope Cruz and Mexican-American actress Eva Longoria to represent their Hispanic beauty ideal. L'Oreal followed behind Avon and Revlon, which hired Mexican actress Salma Hayek and Cuban American Eva Mendes, respectively, as spokesmodels.
To help push its skin and hair care products, California's La Bella last year hired its first celebrity endorser, Sissi, a model and former variety-show co-host on Univision's Sabado Gigante.
MORE THAN MODELS
Still, some beauty industry experts say that featuring Hispanic celebrities in ads is not enough to meet the beauty needs of this consumer. Developing the right products for Hispanic women is key. Many of the cosmetics available have the wrong pigments, beauty industry experts say. They work well for tanned Caucasian complexions, but not for Hispanic women who have yellow and brown undertones.
"I walk into a pharmacy and walk out with three or four bottles and mix and match because the range of colors aren't very good. Latinas go from white to yellow to really dark," says Fabiola Aranciaba, a New York makeup artist who has worked on Eva Mendes and other Hispanic celebrities. "The closest thing is Giorgio Armani's luminous foundation, but it's $55 a bottle. Not a lot of people can go out and spend that much money on foundation."
To help consumers find the makeup that blends with their skin color, Maybelline this year introduced the "Color Advisor." Customers can follow the step-by-step in-store guide to find their match. The color advisor is also available in Spanish at some stores.
In the early 1990s, drugstore brands began introducing new cosmetic lines for black women that also worked well for some Hispanic women, but again the choices were limited. Several cosmetic companies have recently introduced products for women of color. L'Oreal's "True Match" offers a wider range of colors.
Avon, Inc., a company that for many years has courted the Hispanic woman by hiring Hispanic representatives to sell their products, says it does not tailor its makeup to any specific ethnic group.
"Our shade pallets are pulled together to work with a wide range of skin tones and colorations," says Amy Miller, an Avon spokeswoman. "Our goal is to ensure that there is always something for everyone, regardless of skin color or tone."
BIG AND SMALL
Developing products exclusively for ethnic women is something major beauty companies have done on and off for years with mixed results, but it's a niche La Bella's founder has turned into a multimillion-dollar business.
La Bella, a division of Newhall Laboratories, began as a vitamin company and in the early 1980s began making hair care products. The company's first big seller, "Rebound Activator Gel," was wildly popular among young African-American males. What followed were shampoos and conditioners for Hispanics.
The company's owner, Al Rodriguez, says he creates products formulated to work best with the skin and hair types of the Hispanic consumer and includes ingredients that resonate with this demographic. La Bella's "Placenta" shampoo lists among its ingredients, for example, sheep's placenta – a sought-after product in Mexico.
"I found the placenta shampoo in the El Paso border," Mr. Rodriguez says. "That was our first."
There's also La Bella's chamomile and lavender-based shampoo and conditioners – ingredients found in Hispanic hair brew recipes passed down from generation to generation. The shampoos come in large economy-sized bottles and retail for under $5.
La Bella's hair care line is its strongest seller, making up 65 percent of the company's more than $25 million in annual sales last year. La Bella Hair Gel ranks among the top-selling gel products in the country. This year, La Bella will introduce its first collagen face cream and its priciest product to date at $25 a jar.
Why an anti-wrinkle cream?
"The timing is good," Mr. Rodriguez explains. "The Hispanic consumer is maturing and their disposable income is increasing."
Mr. Rodriguez, a psychology major in college, does his own research and marketing studies with a staff of eight. He and his team will occasionally visit stores and parks where they are likely to find their target consumer and quiz them about the hair products they use.
"We're very, very connected to our consumer," Mr. Rodriguez says. "We spend a lot of time talking with them."
When he asked customers why they bought La Bella products, they replied "Es lo nuestro" or "It belongs to us."
"They've taken ownership," he said.
A similar note is sounded by Miami-based Activate Beauty. It sells a hair care line billed as being designed "by Latinas for Latinas" – four women from Mexico, Puerto Rico, Colombia, and Cuba launched the company in 2005. Its products are sold at various drugstore chains, including Rite Aid and Walgreens.
Companies such as La Bella and Activate, however, are the exception, not the rule, in an industry dominated by major brands that are increasingly vying for the same consumer.
"It's a very, very competitive category and it's a tough place to compete in," says Ms. Hsieh at PMG. "What people have to think about, if they're interested in getting in this industry, is that they need to be able to stand on something; they have to have products that perform, not only have the right marketing."
For Ms. Picaso it was the marketing, not the product, which made her nervous about taking a gamble on her own makeup line.
"I thought, 'If there's not one Latino [cosmetic] line being promoted, how am I sure it will work for me?'"
Now that one of the world's largest retailers is carrying her cosmetic line, the Mexican-American mother of three says she can now focus on getting Suzi Q cosmetics to the consumer that needs it the most.
"I want everyday Latin women to know the product is there for them."
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