L’Oreal experiments with YUL-Lab

The cosmetics giant tests out a new media mix - and a campaign starring real women - using the Montreal market as a test lab. 

The Canadian branch of L’Oréal Paris is sharing more than just its beauty secrets with Montreal, as it runs a series of one-minute advertorials called “Mes Secrets de Beauté” on TV and online. It’s previewing an idea that could go national or international, depending on its performance in Quebec.
The campaign was launched in conjunction with YUL-Lab, an initiative of the Association of Quebec Advertising Agencies (AAPQ) that helps global brand teams use the Montreal market as a test lab for new advertising models.
Yanik Deschênes, president of AAPQ and YUL-Lab, explains the appeal of the program: “You can experiment and try new things here in Montreal and not put your brand at risk globally.”
Montreal has the advantage of providing a controlled environment with its own media, its own star system and little spillover to or from the U.S., he says. And YUL-Lab participants get special benefits and incentives, which may include media discounts, access to research or increased production capabilities.
Montreal-based L’Oréal Paris was the first brand to sign on with YUL-Lab when the concept was announced in August 2009, and now it’s unveiled the first partnered project. (A second global brand partnership is in the works, with details expected shortly.)
Airing on French-language channel TVA, the 60-second “Mes Secrets de Beauté” advertorials feature pairs of women selected through an open casting call, who speak in their own words.
“They tell us about who they are, what they really like in themselves and we see them using our [makeup] and commenting on it,” says Sonia Lassoued, group manager, cosmetics, L’Oréal Paris.
The TV spots first appeared in March, with a 10-week run to test the format. Initial results were good, with Quebec seeing higher sales growth than the rest of the country, but small adjustments were deemed necessary (such as changing the way products were displayed and relocating the shoots to a glamorous hotel).
The real push behind this campaign began in August, when L’Oréal used radio to announce a casting call. Two hundred women auditioned, with participants selected based on their on-camera chemistry and relatability to L’Oréal Paris’s target demo of 25- to 50-year-old women.
The new episodes launched mid-September, promoted on radio and via a homepage takeover of the Quebec-based Canoë portal. The 17 spots were jointly created by L’Oréal’s AOR Marketel and production company Match Prod, with a supporting web campaign handled by digital AOR Nurun. Airtime was arranged directly with TVA, with assistance from YUL-Lab.
As the TV spots wrap up this month, the focus shifts more strongly to online, with another Canoë homepage takeover launched at the end of October inviting consumers to visit the “Mes Secrets de Beauté” website, watch the videos online and vote for their favourite.
For a brand represented largely by celebrities, the decision to feature real women is a significant departure. The same could be said for the use of digital and radio, as L’Oréal’s typical media plan tends to lean heavily on TV commercials and fashion magazines.
“It’s a way to test a different media mix,” Lassoued says. “Everything is evolving. We are all changing the way we consume media.”
This is exactly the reason YUL-Lab was created, Deschênes says.
“CMOs are facing a big dilemma and it’s how to deal with media fragmentation,” he says. “Before spending big money on a global campaign, you might want to experiment in a smaller environment that will cost you a fraction of the budget.”
YUL-Lab has teamed up with Ipsos Descarie to develop metrics that will measure the success and transferability of new projects. Naturally, these are numbers Lassoued is keen to see, though she notes it’ll take some time to feel the full effect of the campaign. 
“Women react very differently to that kind of advertorial than they react to a TV ad,” she says. “It’s more subtle and you need to wait for the build-up to happen before seeing sales results.”
While it’s too soon to measure the results of L’Oréal’s experiment, Lassoued is hopeful she’ll have good news to share with her international team, sparking similar campaigns outside of Montreal.
“I’m really going to work to make it happen,” she says. “I would see it as a success not only for L’Oréal Paris but also for YUL-Lab.”