Proactiv Advertising – The Guthy-Renker Approach


According to Guthy-Renker’s own publicity, the direct marketing agency discovered that consumers were ‘clamouring for a successful acne treatment solution. Two Stanford-trained dermatologists create a revolutionary system…’ and the rest is the stuff of marketing legend.

Bill Guthy and Greg Renker’s company, Founded in 1988, is the largest of its kind, excluding shopping channels such as QVC.  Proactiv® is one of Guthy-Renker’s biggest revenue generators – the figure for 2010 was around $800 million.

Their trademark has always been the long infomercial, up to 30 minutes at a time, featuring celebrity endorsements. The first was Judith Light, who at that stage, had just finished filming popular sitcom ‘Who’s the Boss’. She appealed to teens and adults alike, and her authoritative voice was considered a great success.

Does Proactive really work? According to their own hype, yes. In recent years, it is clear, though, that consumers are turning away from the infomercial. With the Internet and social media in practically every home, the consumer is running low on patience for such things. It was clear that Guthy-Renker needed to embrace these new media. But how to do so, without losing the astronomical sales that they had delivered previously?

One of the key principals for Guthy Renker was to try new concepts, make small changes to the format, and crucially, keep a close eye on exactly what worked. Since (in the early days at least) airtime was relatively cheap, the infomercial could be used as a test, and the number of sales at any given time was monitored closely. They killed anything that wasn’t so successful, and ran with anything that was.

In the face of traditional marketing, Gunthy-Renker never looked to win awards or gain respect in the market. They did what it took to sell Proactiv®.

They now have a major presence on YouTube, with their own channel. Its content is vast. From product information, videos of celebrities discussing Proactiv®, fan reviews, and even bloopers from the TV commercials.

Their Twitter feed is a busy one. Often informal, the operators engage in personal conversation, and it features things like competitions to keep its followers attention. Social media is a particular boon if you believe that all publicity is good publicity.  Since these mediums are largely unregulated, the horror stories have the potential to spread as fast as the good news. Yet this doesn’t seem to cause too much harm to the brand. Ultimately, an organized message to the masses, with significant funding behind it, will always eclipse a few dissenting voices.

When moving away from the infomercial, one of the original disadvantages would be that, whereas the infomercials etc have an associated 1-800 number, meaning it was easy for the advertiser to monitor which ads produced more revenue. Nowadays, with the message being broadcast 24/7 across various media, it often isn’t so easy to quantify where the money should be spent, particularly if you tend to sell via third party retailers. However, Guthy-Renker has countered this by ensuring that all portals through which you may come across Proactiv® online, link back to their website. In fact, they even go as far as to ensure that users won’t be able to avoid being directed to the local Proactiv® site for their region. There can be no buying cheaply from other territories.

In the digital era, one thing hasn’t changed. Guthy-Renker still feels that the investment in celebrity endorsements is worth the money. 30 seconds of Justin Bieber visiting an unsuspecting fan during a television ad break is one way to get your message across. But another great advantage today is that when these ads get talked about, it is online. Public, for all to read.

YouTube and Facebook comments, Twitter hashtags – the message is always out there, seen by many, all in the right peer-groups. There are many Justin Bieber fans, and they are guaranteed to talk online about anything he does. If that involves skincare brands, then all is well in the Proactiv® camp.

The Proactiv® product consistently receives mixed reviews. There are many similar products, many at lower prices. It is clear that its success is in no small part a reflection on the marketing skill of Guthy-Renker.

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