L’Oréal Exec Dishes on Digital’s Growing Role for Recruitment

It's not business as usual

L'Oréal has hosted an international annual recruitment event called Brandstorm since 1992 where teams of college students develop a concept and marketing plan to launch a new product for one of the company’s cosmetic brands. This year’s event challenged students to flush out a pitch for Kiehl’s (which is known for pushing the envelope with digital) and brought in submissions from 13,000 college students, which culminated in a competition hosted in Paris between teams from 44 countries.

Every September, L'Oréal enlists college students worldwide to pitch a 360-degree product and marketing prototype for the chance at winning 10,000, 5,000 or 2,500 euros.

Once teams—made up of three students—pitch an idea to one of L'Oréal’s campus teams, the brand narrows down the competition to a handful of teams per university and works with students to develop the concept. The idea is then re-pitched to the brand in December, and one team from each university moves on to a national competition that takes place in New York during April each year. From there, one team from the U.S. is selected to compete in the finals, which takes place in Paris.

Sumita Banerjee

Adweek spoke to Sumita Banerjee, vp of talent recruitment of L'Oréal USA about why this year’s submission from a team of college students in Malaysia for a new Kiehl's back acne product won and how digital will play a role for the 2015 program.

This program obviously seems geared towards business school majors, but what other types of students have you seen apply for the program?
We’ve seen a lot of students from a broad group of majors [apply] and primarily we will go to the business schools and invite the business school students. But what’s been important is that we’re also extending invitations to engineering students and science students so that they can all become aware and participate. Because they play in teams of three, some of the best teams come from this dynamic combination of three different majors all participating together to drive innovation differently.

Why was Kiehl’s picked this year?
It’s obviously one of the biggest brands in the global cosmetics market. It has this unique business model—with this generation, it was fantastic to have a brand that appealed with great strength to both men and women—and then as well have this major digital component.

Because Kiehl’s doesn’t do a lot of traditional advertising, per se—it relies on digital tools and other sources—it was great to have this kind of a brand that’s relevant, contemporary and digitally unique to drive innovation and find out what these students would do with it. It was about extending Kiehl’s further into the men’s category.

It always goes back to engaging with the consumer wherever they are and finding ways to connect with them on those new products and product launches in new and unique ways, which absolutely today has to be through digital.

What made the Malaysia’s team stand out and win this year’s competition?
The elements in which [the submissions] are judged include innovation, communication, promotional ideas, actual analysis [of the brand], the strategy that they’re using and how they show up as a team.

What I believe absolutely set [Malaysia] apart was their ability to identify a particular need in the market, back that up with data, present an innovative solution that has a potentially global implication and drive a digital strategy in the process. It was targeted towards back acne, so I would say that it was an innovative idea, they presented it in an amazing way with great energy and confidence.

A primary aspect of their proposal was to leverage the digital connectivity that people have with each other and finding a way to promote this product through usage and giving men an opportunity and a platform to dialog with other men digitally and share their experience with the product.

Is the marketing idea being fleshed out by L'Oréal now?
The ideas that come out of Brandstorm are the students’ ideas. So will this idea actually launch? The answer to that is no, but will this idea inspire a different way of thinking about the brand? Will this help the global marketing team think about the asian male market differently? Absolutely.

For next year, the case is actually going to be the travel retail channel for L'Oréal’s worldwide. Travel retail is the group that handles all the products that are sold in duty-free [stores], cruise ships, airports, those types of outlets worldwide. That changes how you speak to consumers—it means you might not be present in their print media, for example, in their local market. So it actually increases the need to make sure you have more digitally-savvy campaigns geared towards a global or regional traveler.