Brand Project: Kiehl’s 


            In American society, there are a plethora of brands for consumers to choose from when they go to make a purchase.  Many brands go to great lengths in order to create a brand community (a “specialized, non-geographically bound community, based on a structured set of social relations among admirers of a brand”) in order to reach, appeal to, and satisfy their targeted demographic of consumers (Muniz and O’Guinn).   They also use a variety of marketing strategies (to promote their products) and different techniques to provide consumers with a certain sense of personal connection to the brand.  Kiehl’s, a cosmetics and beauty products brand, is no different in their goals and the strategies that they employ in order to gain the attention and loyalty of consumers.  The brand, in its long and unique history, has used many interesting techniques to sell their quality products to their targeted consumers, while also creating its own brand community and bettering the world.


Expanding Target Audience


            Originally, the Kiehl’s brand generally sold itself to a very narrow and limited demographic – middle to upper-class women.  The prices and uses of their products generally appealed more to this demographic than others.  The predecessor of Kiehl Pharmacy, Brunswick Apotheke, started up on Pear Tree Corner in the East Village of Manhattan in 1851 (it wasn’t until 1894 that the apothecary transitioned owners and was renamed “Kiehl Pharmacy”)(“Heritage”).  It supplied a wide variety of beauty and skin care products that appealed to the women of the time and for quite some time; these goods were primarily sold to female consumers.  However, in the early 1960s, Keihl’s began to re-shape many of their ideas and expanded the demographic of their targeted clientele beyond the wealthy females it had always typically attracted and appealed to.

            The price of their products remained relatively high, which continued to limit the type of people who could afford to purchase their goods.  By keeping their prices expensive, they avoided the type of people that they might not wish to appeal to or associate with (such as members of lower classes).  Because of this, their products continued to attract almost exclusively to those with higher incomes in the middle and upper classes.

            However, in the early 1960s, they developed a line of products specifically for men (“Heritage”).  This drastically widened the range of consumers that they appealed to.  Kiehl’s no longer selling beauty and skin care products that are exclusively geared towards women; males now make up nearly 50% of Kiehl’s current consumers.  They continue to produce and come up with new products that have a more masculine appeal, which keeps up their male clientele.  In the same way that men are targeted, Kiehl’s produces new lines and products that appeal to their more feminine demographic.

            Another type of consumer that this brand appeals is people who care about the environment and wish to use natural products.  Kiehl’s stands firm in its belief of using only pure and natural ingredients in the goods that they produce.  They use creative remedies that have a strong botanical influence.  Without the use of chemicals or chemically made ingredients, their products are healthier for and easier on consumers’ skin and hair.


Marketing Strategies and Social Awareness


            According to Sarah Banet-Weiser’s book, Authentic™: The Politics of Ambivalence in a Brand Culture, as mainstream media began to educate society on the importance of caring for the environment in the first decade of the 21st century, many brands started to “go green” in order to cater to developing cultural awareness (Bonet-Weiser 149).  This is a part of branding politics, which allows companies to get ahead by discovering and catering to the evolving ethical and cultural priorities of consumers.  So in 2009, Kiehl’s introduced and re-use and recycle program that encouraged eco-friendliness.  They have since taken great pride in their environmental awareness stance when it comes to their products.  In order to increase awareness of their environmental priorities and support, Kiehl’s provides information on their products, as well as throughout their stores and online.

            Kiehl’s does not follow the typical type of marketing (Sullivan).  For decades, they have relied almost solely on advertising through word of mouth from satisfied customers.  In the 1970s, they began to offer free samples of their products.  These generous samples turned out to be a wonderful marketing strategy, as their products were met with instant approval from those who tried them.  Their reliance on consumers working as salespeople by recommending products to others that they interact with is a unique, but solid way to market their products.  According to Celia Lury’s Consumer Culture, using consumers as marketing tools is a relatively common and effective strategy (Lury 156).

            The brand has also gained popularity and recognition through its involvement in charities, communities, and its support of different causes.  As each new store opens, Kiehl’s works to help improve the community surrounding the location.  When it opened a store in the Upper West Side, the company focused on making improvements to a local playground.  They’ve generously provided textbooks and information on their products to several different medical students at Stanford.  They’ve also sponsored events such as ultra-marathons, the International Centre for Missing and Exploited Children, the Waterkeeper Alliance, and the Rainforest Alliance.  By supporting these causes and organizations, Kiehl’s not only spreads word of their company but also makes a difference in the world.

            Although the brand typically sticks with more traditional and conventional forms of advertising, they have also seen the value in social networking and other forms of modern marketing.  They’re on Twitter, Facebook, Pinterest, Instagram, and YouTube.  By adapting and using these mediums, they’re able to reach a younger clientele.  Their Twitter feed and Facebook page give information about current events that they’re participating in and different promotions or products that they’re currently offering.  On Pinterest, they post photos and descriptions of their products, as well as links to purchase the goods.  Their Instagram allows them to post photos of community events, their different stores, products, and other random pictures of the things that they’re involved in.  Their YouTube channel allows them to put up videos of different events, store openings, product promotions, and involvement in events.  By utilizing their profiles on these social media sites, the company is able to reach and inform a larger number of consumers and potential consumers.

            Kiehl’s also uses other forms of digital marketing, including electronic newsletters and promotions sent to their email subscribers and exclusive offers via SMS marketing.  According to blogger Derek Johnson on Tatango, Kiehl’s experienced a 73% redemption rate for a promotion they did about receiving texts to notify customers of different sales or promotions (“Tatango”).  Advertising with in-store signs, email alerts, and notifications through their social media sites, the company offered these texting notifications and nearly 73% of customers agreed to participate.  In a later survey, it was found that a vast majority of the people who signed up for these alerts (nearly 90% of the subscribers) made a Kiehl’s purchase within six months of receiving the advertising texts.


            The demographic of consumers who are forming attachments (or perhaps even mild addictions) to the Kiehl’s brand and its products are, as previously discussed, middle to upper class men and women.  The website conveniently requests those who leave product comments to also provide their gender, age category, and length of Kiehl’s consumption, to provide others with a better understanding of the review.  By looking at the comments and feedback for available products at the Kiehl’s website, female consumers are far more likely to actively participate in discussions and comments involving product purchases, uses, benefits, and downfalls.  The overwhelming majority of women participants (especially between the ages of 30 to 45) suggests that this specific demographic is significantly more involved and attached to these products.  One such user, “Sensitive”, who describes herself as a long-time loyalist to the brand, left the following review for Kiehl’s Powerful Wrinkle Reducing Cream: “I have been using this cream at night for 3 months. I have noticed a marked improvement in my skin. It looks firmer, brighter, less wrinkled. I am 49 and I have taken fairly good care of my skin but the Kiehl’s products really have improved my overall skin and complexion.”  Although middle-aged females tend to be the most active participants, users outside of this gender and age range also actively leave comments and reviews, which hints that many different consumers are buying, using and enjoying Kiehl’s products.

            There are some consumers who tend to flaunt and regularly buy or use Kiehl’s products in order to establish or show off their social status, which is a type of “self-branding” or establish a certain identity by using the product (Hearn).  Because Kiehl’s is known as a high-end producer of cosmetic products, there are some consumers who buy their products solely to add to their image.

            However, most consumers claim that the products themselves really do show results (Kiehl’s).  Many loyal (as well as new-found) buyers have come to realize the outstanding quality of the items that Kiehl’s produces.  Through word of mouth, generous samples, and frequent public reviews, one meaning that is undoubtedly attached to this brand is quality.  It is virtually impossible to find a negative review of Kiehl’s on the internet, or from any reliable consumer of the brand.  Kiehl’s also provides generous samples of products to customers that enter their stores, claiming their faith in the legitimacy of their products will bring samplers back for more (Kiehl’s).  This matches up well to the image that the brand projects by their price range and by the superior, natural ingredients that they boast of using in all of their products.


Engaging Consumers in Various Activities


            Consumers are also highly encouraged to engage in multiple activities that are sponsored or put on by the company.  One such program that is currently taking place is the “Recycle and Be Rewarded” incentive (Lamb).  Kiehl’s has taken their environmental values a step further by involving their consumers in taking action.  With this program, customers are rewarded for bringing back their empty bottles of Kiehl’s products to be recycled.  With every full-size bottle that is returned, one stamp is given out.  After receiving ten stamps, customers are rewarded with a travel collection product (“Recycle and Be Rewarded”).  By providing the opportunity for customers to be active participants in saving the earth, as well as by presenting knowledge of the environmental state, Kiehl’s promotes a much broader cultural awareness that is beginning to become a prominent issue in today’s society.  This program helps consumers to engage not only with the brand, but also with the environment and their community.


            Kiehl’s also provides the opportunity for their consumers to interact with and participate in events for other non-profit organizations and causes.  In this way, many customers have become actively involved in saving other aspects of their communities.  One specific example is their pet adoption program (Vesilind).  Kiehl’s sporadically teams up with local animal shelters to host pet adoptions within some of their stores.  For customers who successfully adopt an animal, they receive an entire gift box of Kiehl’s products, as well as a forever friend.  If consumers are unable to make an adoption, but still give a $10 or more donation to the shelter, then Kiehl’s hands out a single item.  This event allows consumers to involve and participate in community activities, while improving the life of an animal.


            Another famous activity that is put on by Kiehl’s is the annual LifeRide, which benefits amfAR (the foundation for AIDS and HIV research (“LifeRide”) and brings motorcylcle-riding consumers together.  The motorcycle rides, which  usually take place during National AIDS/HIV Awareness Month, cover several states and make stops at multiple different Kiehl’s locations.  Kiehl’s uses the race as an opportunity to raise awareness for the cause, as well as to donate large sums of money to amfAR.  There are often several celebrities who participate in the ride, which encourages everyday customers (as well as other celebrities) to get involved.  Kiehl’s also creates a specific line of products specifically designed to promote this event, of which a certain percentage of the profit is donated to the cause.  Another interesting aspect to this event is Kiehl’s opportunity to team up with other companies and communities, such as Harley Davidson  (“Motorcycle USA”).  This allows members of different demographics to support amfAR, as well as to be introduced to Kiehl’s products when they might not have been in the original demographic that Kiehl’s targets or typically sells to, such as bikers.  This is a good way for the Kiehl’s brand to develop communication and community among different types of consumers.


Brand Community


            Kiehl’s also serves as a basis for communication and community among consumers.  The original Kiehl’s location, which was established in 1851 in New York’s East Village, was on a block called “Pear Tree Corner”.  Peter Stuyvesant, a Dutch immigrant, planted a pear tree in that location in 1647 (“Kiehl’s”).  The tree was destroyed over two hundred years later, in 1857, after a wagon accident.  Kiehl’s petitioned to plant a new pear tree in the same location in 2003 (“The Villager”).  The re-planting of the pear tree was a community event that included Kiehl’s president (Philip Clough), the granddaughter of Kiehl’s founder, as well as several of New York’s government officials, and members of the community.  This event brought many together to talk about and enjoy the re-established pear tree that once again graces Pear Tree Corner.


            The communities around this brand have not shifted over time, but expanded over many smaller communities throughout the world.  Kiehl’s now has stores and communities across the United States, as well as many other countries.  With each location, Kiehl’s reaches out to the communities and cultures around them.  With their growth and development, the brand continues to positively impact the world and its environment.

            Kiehl’s consumers and the participants of their events have contributed to the brand value of the company.  Many of these people share in the values, beliefs, commitments, and communities that the brand stands for, which is what makes up a huge part of the value of a brand (Arvidsson).  In this way, the Kiehl’s community has developed an even stronger base of loyal consumers, who actively pursue and support Kiehl’s.  When consumers feel connected on an ethical or moral level to a brand, they are more likely to remain loyal to the brand.

            Kiehl’s has proven itself, over the course of its one hundred and sixty years, as being the producers of quality and effective beauty, skin, and hair care products.  It’s a well-known and loved brand, especially among its targeted demographic and expanding array of users.  By using personalized, specific methods of advertising, providing service to different communities, and sponsoring certain events, the brand has sufficiently created brand community.




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Vesilind, Emili. “Kiehl’s hosts the first of many animal adoption events on Robertson   Boulevard.” Los Angeles Times 28 FEB 2010, n. pag. Web. 21 Nov. 2013.


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