The Ordinary – Generic Cosmetics?

The Ordinary - Generic Cosmetics?

Looks Like A Drug – Actually A Cosmetic

Just about every concept has been tried in cosmetic somewhere by somebody, so I don’t imagine the idea behind new brand The Ordinary is entirely new. But it is new to me and is certainly not one that anyone has tried before on a big scale. Cosmetic products typically have quite high margins when compared to the cost of actually making the product. The reason that cosmetics are not especially profitable compared to other sectors is simply that while they have unusually low manufacturing costs they have unusually high promotional costs. So it balances out.

The Ordinary puts this logic on its head. Rather than concentrating their spending on promotion and packaging they produce relatively high cost products but don’t spend as much money on selling them. So they come in plainish packaging and aren’t backed up by massive advertising spend.

There is a sort of similarity to the way some companies produce generic drugs. So rather than buy Nurofen, you can buy identical products containing the same active ingredients at around a third of the price. This is very big business indeed and generic pharmaceutical companies have a big chunk of the pharma market.

So why shouldn’t the same work in cosmetics? It certainly sounds worth a try. It is definitely something that consumers really ought to appreciate. With company’s like L’Oréal spending a third of their turnover on above the line advertising it means that a huge proportion of the money you spend on your skin cream goes directly into persuading you to buy the next one.

So I feel positively inclined towards the Ordinary even though I have yet to even set eyes on the products.  There are couple of possible problems that I can see that they would have to overcome.  For a start the reason that generic drugs can claim equivalence to the branded variation is that the level of the active is public knowledge.  Cosmetic products rarely divulge how much of any ingredient is in it.  You could buy a product and analyse it.  But the consumers don’t know how much of the good stuff is in their favourite products so there isn’t any obvious way you can use that information to persuade them to switch to you.

There is a another more subtle reason why this concept may not work as well as it really ought to.  Branding is a lot more powerful than most of us realise.  Although generic drugs work and are good value for money, they don’t work as well the branded ones.  Everyone knows logically that it makes no difference at all which factory a batch of ibuprofen was made in, or what name  is printed on the packet.  But when people take the tablets, the branded ones have a better effect on the symptoms.  The plain fact is that we don’t have much control over our subconscious, and our subconscious doesn’t have a great grasp of logic.  The nicer packaging and the positive impression created by the branded drug affects our metabolism enough for the drug to work better.

Indeed if logic came into it, branded drugs would never sell a single unit.  The generic drug is absolutely better value for money by any rational assessment.  And yet the branded drugs continue to sell well.

So if that is the case with drugs, and by definition generic drugs have exactly the same pharmaceutical content what about cosmetics?  The logical argument is even weaker here.  Cosmetics do contain materials that have an active effect, but they aren’t tested to anything like the degree that drugs are.  And the kinds of effects they are trying to achieve are a lot harder to define.  So the case for buying a generic version is a lot weaker logically.  The effect of branding on efficacy is however the same.  People will report that branded samples they are given to try work better than ones in plain white packs.  This even works with made up brands created purely for the trial.

So although it makes a lot of sense in theory, I have a feeling that in practice the Ordinary is going to struggle to make their brand work against glossier more highly advertised competitors.

They might get around this by creating positive vibes about their products – though how they will do that without spending so much money on promoition that they have to raise their prices I am not sure.   But it might be possible in these days of turmoil in the advertising world.

It is more likely that they will simply pick up a following amongst people who like the idea of a straight forward brand and not paying so much money for their personal care.  There are probably enough of those folk out there to make it work.  I quite like the idea as well, so I wish them well.




7 thoughts on “The Ordinary – Generic Cosmetics?

  1. Missy

    Deciem is selling The Ordinary as part of their portfolio of brands at several price points. Their products are cheaper than the other simple molecule formulations and oils I’ve purchased from other small companies in the sector. I presume this is exactly because The Ordinary is part of an integrated company. I’ve been happy with everything thus far.

  2. Natasha J

    I am a very sceptical consumer of cosmetics to the point that I am making my own (my own vitamin C 15% + Ferulic Acid 0.5% + vit. E 1% Serum has done wonders to my face and cost less than 1 euro to make (looking at you, Skinsceuticals).

    I don’t have trust in marketeers and in the tendency of cosmetics companies to disclose the amount of the active ingredients. But Ordinaries ar persuasive because of low cost of trying it out. The risk is low, and their products do work. So I use their retinols as this is something I cant makemyself.

    The analogy with the medicine is that they bring no joy (fragrance, texture), but the combo of the Ordinaries + my own sumptuous creams is perfect (and my carbomer has arrived…. can’t wait to test it)

  3. Natasha

    Interesting, that they are not selling through theit own website but send people to Walgreens. Could have saved on the distribution too but I guess it is not so easy to build a cult following. Nivea prices.

    Glad you are back podcasting Perry. I was getting worried!

  4. Jana

    I have the feeling that Ordinary have done a great job at marketing, and probably they do spend money at it (though maybe not as much as L’Oréal). I can even imagine they are ready to lose some money for some time, as the company has other more expensive and probably profitable brands to finance this one. I would also expect them to have some kind of financial support from investors. There is so much buzz around the brand everywhere one looks, that I believe they have the potential to capture their share of the market.

  5. Loren

    The Ordinary is promoting through blogs, the same blogs that have been promoting Timeless skin care, which is very similar. Timeless started out launching a competitive product (the Vitamin C, E and Ferulic) to the very expensive Skinceuticals, The Ordinary is doing the same.

  6. Mrs Jason M. Crawford

    I may not be a typical cosmetics consumer, but I find that the lack of equivalence you mention rather tends toward The Ordinary’s favour. As you point out, I’m not likely to be comparing a generic 2% hyaluronic acid to a brand-name 2% hyaluronic acid in the same way that I compare a generic 200mg ibuprofen to a name-brand 200 mg ibuprofen. Instead, I am comparing The Ordinary’s “generic” 2% hyaluronic acid to a name-brand Magic Mystery Potion. Is the power of branding enough to overcome that? Possibly, if I were already in love with the Magic Mystery Potion. But if I have tried neither and am trying to decide between the two, the generic that tells me clearly what is in it is far more attractive to me than the branded pig in the poke — especially if the latter is eight times the price per ounce.

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