MAKING MILLIONS ON WOMEN OVER 30 The aging of the population opens a marketing opportunity for Noxell, the leader in mass-sale cosmetics. Customers with sensitive skin are heeding the call to Clarion.
By Faye Rice REPORTER ASSOCIATE Barbara C. Loos

(FORTUNE Magazine) – A COMPANY that has made millions from the skin game now has a new wrinkle. Noxell Corp., producer of Noxema creams and the Cover Girl line of makeup for younger women, is cashing in on the aging of the population. The company has introduced its Clarion line of cosmetics for Cover Girl's older sister, the woman who is over 30 and has sensitive skin. And in an enormously successful marketing ploy, Clarion is using an in-store computer that helps customers select the most becoming shades of makeup. Computers have long lent that touch of ''science'' to the expensive lines sold in department stores, but Clarion is the first mass distributor of medium-priced brands to marry makeup and the microchip. The erasable, programmable 16-bit computer works like a cash machine. A customer punches in the color of her eyes and hair and the type and the color of her skin. The machine immediately displays the base, blushers, eye shadows, and lipsticks she should dab on. Clarion's computer has been a hit with customers, giving them confidence that they are selecting colors that enhance their looks and capitalizing on the color analysis trend popularized in the book Color Me Beautiful. In the crowded cosmetics firmament, where higher-priced brands like Coty and Charles of the Ritz are fading fast, Noxell glows like the skin of the pretty models who adorn its ads. Its Cover Girl line helped the company overtake Revlon and Maybelline last year as the leader of the industry's $2.6-billion- a-year mass-market segment. Mass-market cosmetics are sold in grocery, drug, and discount stores. In the past several years, Noxell's sales have risen about l4% annually, to $439 million, and profits have been growing at an average 17% rate, to $37 million. Introduced in September, the Clarion line rang up a remarkable $25 million in sales in the last quarter of 1986, and security analysts reckon the total will climb to $70 million this year. While the makeup is designed for women who are a bit more mature and for those who are often allergic to the ingredients in many cosmetics, the real reaction has come from Wall Street. ''Clarion has the biggest potential of any new brand that we have seen in the cosmetics business in more than a decade,'' says security analyst Brenda Lee Landry of Morgan Stanley. She expects that in two or three years, Clarion will boost Noxell's share of the mass-market cosmetics business from the current 21% to as much as 30%. Clever marketing has been the foundation of Noxell's success ever since 1914, when George Bunting whipped up the first batch of Dr. Bunting's Sunburn Remedy in his Baltimore pharmacy. Soon, a customer who tried a free sample exclaimed that it had ''knocked my eczema,'' and Bunting promptly renamed his concoction Noxzema. Advertising and promotion helped him cultivate an image for it as a multipurpose cream to soothe tired feet at the end of the day, soften chapped hands, and take the sting out of kitchen burns. In one early ad, a nurse called the ''Angel of Mercy'' extolled the product's many medical uses. Seventy-three years later it is still the country's top-selling sunburn remedy and medicated facial cleanser, and Noxema shave cream is also cleaning up. Today, under the third generation of the Bunting family and located in suburban Hunt Valley, Maryland, Noxell hasn't changed its formula much. The company still produces high-quality, moderately priced products that it sells for a third to half the price of department store cosmetics. It advertises heavily, using easily recognized, fresh-faced superstar models like Carol Alt, Christie Brinkley, Jennifer O'Neill, and Cheryl Tiegs. Tiegs has been the Cover Girl for an astonishing 19 years, and O'Neill began her relationship with Noxell 23 years ago. Noxell allots 20% of sales to advertising, consistently outspending Revlon and Maybelline. ''Unlike some of its schizophrenic competitors, Noxell scores well on every part of the marketing equation,'' says analyst Nancy Hall of Smith Barney. When Maybelline recently changed the color of its packaging from yellow to blue, Hall notes, it did not make a complete changeover in the stores. Some of the packaging on the racks was blue, some was yellow, and customers were confused. ''Noxell doesn't do things like that,'' says Hall. Display is sufficiently important to Noxell that the company since 1980 has been producing its own modular, translucent black racks to showcase its cosmetics. The fixtures are so eye-catching that many retailers order them to display all the cosmetic lines. When launching Clarion, the company dusted off the basic plan that was devised 25 years earlier for Cover Girl's debut. In 1980, having thoroughly researched the market to determine the need for a reasonably priced makeup line for sensitive skin, Noxell called in its advertising agency, SSC&B. The assignment: Build an image around a new group of products designed for the growing group of women beyond 30. Over the years Noxell had tried to crack the older market by bringing out such Cover Girl line extensions as Moisture Wear and Replenishing makeup and allowing its models Tiegs and O'Neill to age gracefully. The formula never worked. Cover Girl had been all too successful in appealing to consumers in their teens and twenties, and older women did not feel comfortable using products with such a youthful image. Meanwhile industrial designers were busy working on the computer. The brand managers who conceived of it realized that customers would get no sales help in self-service drug stores and supermarkets. Women would be on their own, trying to figure out what colors they should buy and reluctant to try products they weren't sure would work best with their skin tone and hair color. The computer would be a surrogate salesperson, advising the customer on what she should wear.

Last fall, five years after its development began, Clarion hit the market with a thunderous $20-million TV ad campaign. Fans of Cosby, Moonlighting, and Dynasty heard the pitch: ''Clarion is beautiful makeup with a sensitive touch.'' It was delivered by an almost clinical female voice while an attractive brunette model stroked on makeup. Not all of Noxell's adventures in the skin trade have been as successful as Clarion and Cover Girl. In 1974 Raintree, a moisturizing lotion, arrived in drugstores bolstered by an ad campaign that showed a model on horseback riding through a desert. ''The ad didn't make sense because a parched desert did not relate to moisturizing your face,'' recalls industry consultant Allan Mottus. Not surprisingly, Raintree sales dried up. Now that Noxell has finally found a winner in the over-30 market, it is working on a product specifically for aging skin. Treatments for aging skin are the new frontier in the millenniums-old cosmetics trade, and they are growing faster than any other part of it. But the Food and Drug Administration has warned manufacturers about claiming their products have any effect on the aging process. So far all of the action is at the top end of the market, where the price tags are a jaw-sagging $60 to $100 an ounce. Noxell hopes to have a product by 1988 that it can sell for around $7 a bottle, or about 10% of the cost of the high-priced spreads. Chairman George Bunting, 48, a low-key, friendly man who roars around northern Maryland on his 1,000-cc silver BMW motorcycle in his leisure time, dismisses the prospect of entering the haughty, upscale cosmetic market. Noxell's skin treatment products will continue to be moderately priced and distributed to drug and grocery chains. Why spend money on commissions to outside salespeople or leases for counter space, which companies must do to merchandise cosmetics in department stores? Completely at home in the mass market, Bunting says firmly, ''We've studied the top end, but we don't feel we know it.''