Sometime in 2007 I was surprised to find that “Number 7 British miracle serum’ suddenly become the most popular search term for this website. An avalanche of visitors followed and I realised I was in the middle of a buying frenzy.
I wrote the bones of this article at that time – largely to help the thousands of people looking for a product they couldn’t find. After all the website had no mention of the ‘new’ serum they were all looking for – Protect and Perfect.
Now in 2012 – in the process of reorganising content on the site I was about to ‘retire’ the content as it was out of date and then I thought again. It seems to me the story still stands as a fascinating example of a brand that made itself an international best seller – almost despite the best efforts of the British company that developed it.
Of course – Boots is the company in question – a household name for 150 years in the UK and for most British people the name they think of when you say ‘Chemists’ (drugstore). At the time most people outside the UK had never heard of them and failed to understand the product brand name – Boots No7 – ‘No’ is the abbreviation for ‘number’ in the UK.
The Boots No7 skin care line is the top seller in the UK – it was in 2007 and it is in 2012 – for very good reasons – high quality research, excellent ingredients and value for money. A presence in every high street in the country helps a bit too.
But why was everyone suddenly searching for a British anti aging miracle serum on the internet? The reasons go back to March of 2007 when the BBC put out a very good program about anti aging products. As part of the program the investigator visited a leading British dermatologist – Professor Chris Griffiths.
The Prof had already carried out research on the Boots serum and produced independent cast-iron scientific proof that it repairs photo-aged skin and improves wrinkle damage.
In fact the tests carried out showed that Protect and Perfect serum had the same effect on collagen production within the skin as prescription skin care based on retinoic-acid or Tretinoin which are used to treat severe sun damage.
Everyone except for Boots seemed surprised by this turn of events.
Boots use what it calls ‘guests’ or real live volunteers – often people working in its offices, research labs and shops – to test its products.
Protect and Perfect was originally developed in 2003 by a team of 20 cosmetic scientists in the Boots laboratories – lead by Dr Steve Barton. It was Steve Barton who had first become enthusiastic about the success he had seen with sun-damaged and wrinkled skin when treated with peptides.
Barton developed a serum with a unique anti wrinkle compound. The team ran tests on 100 women and got fantastic results Results with the new serum showed that a large majority of testers had a 50% improvement in wrinkles within a four week period.
The results shown on the BBC program were only what the Boots development team expected from a product they knew to be effective. By the time the program aired in early 2007 the serum was already a bestseller in the UK and sales had been consistently good since its launch in 2004.
What happened next did take them by surprise though. Someone in marketing had simply failed to understand the effects of an authority (BBC) endorsement of their product in a digital communications age.
The morning after the program aired – the British high street went mad. Protect and Perfect completely sold out – not only in the Boots retail stores but online as well. The eBay vultures were soon doing great business selling it at almost five times its recommended retail price.
British women in their thousands signed up to a waiting list at their local Boots store or online.
And then it went viral – probably before anyone in the UK understood what that term meant. The frenzy spread over the Atlantic not long after the ink was barely dry on a marketing agreement for Boots products to be sold in the US. Boots No7 skin care was expected to sell in Target and CVS stores exclusively but both stores sold out of the serum quickly.
Interestingly in the middle of the chaos Boots boffins – unused to the glare of publicity – popped up in leading UK newspapers talking about the brand and trying to tell the world it really wasn’t something to get too het up about.
Steve Barton was quoted as saying: “this is not a miracle cream. It’s not plastic surgery. It will, however, reduce lines and reveal younger looking skin. It does what we tell you it will do: it makes you look the best you possibly can for the age you are.”
As a marketing strategy it could have been a killer but it seemed to work a treat – consumers just wanted it more. Inadequate stocks only fuelled demand – scarcity enhanced the perceived value of the product.
Boots spent vast amounts of money trying to turbo charge manufacturing of the serum to fill the supply gap. Not only had they been completely caught out by demand but they also caused endless confusion by renaming the product in the US market calling it ‘Restore and Renew’.
They may have had their reasons but the change caused maximum confusion at the point of highest demand. Not surprisingly several years on in 2012 – the product has one universal name and is sold on a global basis.
Given Boots strength as a company – they weathered the marketing storm and the virally launched Protect and Perfect serum became a real success story – a flagship brand at the centre of further investment and product development.