Adland's highly airbrushed images are no longer cutting it with today's beauty product fans, opening up new opportunities to get under the skin of consumers, says an industry veteran.

Merilyn Havler, 48, who for 15 years marketed the Nivea brand in New Zealand, says shoppers are becoming increasingly sceptical about beauty advertising, relying instead on their own online research.

Quizzing consumers on her online Beauty Review site, which boasts 30,000 users between the ages of 17 and 70, she says most women were as happy to take the advice of an informed stranger as that of a friend or family member.

"What that tells us is influencers, regardless of what they are, are becoming a far more important part of what we call the path to purchase than they were before."


It's worlds away from when the traditionally trained marketer joined Beiersdorf, Nivea's owner, in the mid-'90s.

Back then, she says, there was a formulaic approach to carving up the marketing budget, with TV advertising claiming the biggest slice of the pie.

"That was pretty much how it rolled, probably with us and probably with most of the bigger brands, because TV was where your reach was.

"That's what everybody was doing, sitting down and watching TV."

Havler says by the time she finished with Beiersdorf five years ago - she was by then the country manager for the German firm - the landscape had changed dramatically, particularly in brand loyalty.

Previously brand loyalty was high and it was quite easy for Nivea to transition people through into new products, she says.

Beiersdorf grew its New Zealand arm from a $2.9 million business focused around Nivea Creme, a product launched in 1911, to close to $30 million in sales across 10 categories including sunscreens, deodorant and men's skincare when Havler left the top job.

"Now there is such a proliferation of brands in the beauty space.

"There are so many brands out there that not only is there massively less loyalty to brands, but all the power is with the shopper and with the consumer, but that said there are so many brands for them to choose from they actually get overwhelmed."

Havler's next steps after leaving Beiersdorf were aimed at harnessing the power of the influencer.

First she established the Beauty Review, an online consumer evaluation tool for beauty products available to New Zealand consumers.

The seed of the idea came at a time when reviews were either linked to ecommerce sites or managed by the brands themselves.

Online research has become an integral part of the path to purchase, she says.

"I remember when I very first started. I'd come out of this massive big corporate, hundreds of staff working for me, millions of dollars to spend on market, to actually having an idea and trying to bring it to life."

She mined her industry contact book to gain support for her idea.

"We were showing them screen-grabs. We hadn't even built the website yet.

"To my mind as much feedback as you can get on the journey is good, but I guess one of the things you'll learn is that whatever you put out there is never going to be perfect.

"Don't wait for it to be perfect or you'll never have anything, so get out there with the minimum viable model."

Havler says one of the big lessons she quickly learnt was don't get too fixated on how you think it might all pan out.

The result might be completely different to what you expected but it doesn't make it wrong, she says.

Havler says monetising the site with companies paying to appear was one of the early ideas to fall by the wayside - brands weren't interested in paying for the privilege to appear on a site with limited users and consumers weren't keen to review a limited range of products.

By kissing goodbye to a potential revenue stream, Havler says she was able to build more audience traction.

She's also walked away from site advertising that didn't mesh with the focus on beauty and product placements from outside the beauty category. "I don't want skyscrapers for baked beans sitting on my site alongside a $160 fragrance."

Data generated by Beauty Review users has become a source of revenue but also ideas. The most recent is The Best Beauty Box Ever, an opportunity Havler saw when Beauty Review users were discussing beauty subscription boxes that weren't living up to the hype.

Ditching the subscription model, she has created limited edition gift boxes of products readily available for repurchase on the shop shelves.

It's about influencing the buying decisions, she says.

As for the future, it's all digital, although who knows what that will look and feel like, Havler says.

"There are going to be tools and ideas that we have that we don't even have now and that's part of the fun of finding out, I think."