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When it comes to branding, The Ordinary broke all the skincare product rules. There were no celebrity-led campaigns selling a lifestyle rather than product or opulent layers of packaging with an ambiguous explanation of ingredients.
Instead, the Canadian company kept the atheistic simple and functional with a scientific edge, with customers left to choose each element of their skin care to fit their individual needs. This was revolutionary when it launched in 2016 and certainly a risk, but one its leaders committed to and are now celebrated for.
“The initial reaction to The Ordinary was quite skeptical,” says Nicola Kilner, CEO and Co-Founder of The Ordinary by DECIEM. “People were intrigued by the very scientific and apothecary-like design of our products, but when we pitched it to some major retailers, they thought it would fall flat, or fade away among competitors.
“We happily discovered that our science-backed approach to skin care, minimalistic packaging and esthetic ended up feeling polished and actually very unique despite initial worries,” she tells The CEO Magazine.
As a brand, The Ordinary had a clear mission: to highlight the lack of integrity around pricing and communication in the world of beauty. Products would also be gender-neutral and accessible to all. And this honest, transparent approach resonated with consumers.
Kilner and her team appreciated that this was a new way of working, and it would take customers time to understand the message and the ethos, so education was key.
“We wanted our audience to feel well-educated but also have the tools to be able to make informed decisions on the ingredients they need.”
“As a science-first brand, leading with education was important for us, as we wanted our audience to feel well-educated but also have the tools to be able to make informed decisions on the ingredients they need for specific skin concerns,” Kilner explains.
“Our website and Instagram page are full of ingredient education and guidance on how to build products into a regimen. We don’t shy away from providing our audience with detail on formulations and ingredients, and it’s something that has been well received.”
Using social channels, its website and in-person shops and outlets, the education has continued. Products sell globally through its website and are available in 45 countries through retail partnerships.
As well as being good for customers, The Ordinary has disrupted the industry with many more brands now offering a transparent and tailorable approach. Kilner says she’s thrilled that others have seen its success and followed.
“We took steps to democratize the beauty industry, making quality products accessible for everyone and showing that price points should not be considered as a reflection of efficacy,” she says.
“To see other brands following suit is an indication of a change in the way brands communicate with their audiences. It’s heartwarming to see that our intentions have been well received and are a force of change in the beauty industry.”
“It’s heartwarming to see that our intentions have been well received and are a force of change in the beauty industry.”
In 2021, Estée Lauder Companies announced it would increase its investment and stake in The Ordinary’s parent company, Deciem Beauty Group, which was valued at US$2.2billion.
There is no doubt the way in which consumers buy skincare products has changed in the past decade, with a notable increase in the knowledge and research shown by customers and a generational shift in desire with younger consumers wanting to know exactly how a product is made and what the benefits will be.
“It’s empowering to be able to pick up a product, have a glance at an ingredient list, and feel like you know what that specific product can do for you,” Kilner says. “The power of social media also allows for exploration and research into ingredient functions and concern targeting.
“Our social media team respond to all social media questions, both DMs [direct messages] and comments, to help guide our audience to the products they’re searching for. This not only provides further education but builds a community that feels heard and valued.”
And they clearly do, as the company sells a product every second globally.
With higher concentrates of active ingredients than some premium brands, The Ordinary could have easily used this as a reason to market at a high price point, but this goes against the ethos of the brand.
“We set out on a mission to democratize skin care and make quality skin care accessible to everyone, therefore it was really important to us to provide high-quality skin care at honest prices,” Kilner says.
“With multifaceted formulas, it’s often difficult for consumers to know which ingredient their skin is benefiting from. However, single-ingredient offerings allow people to target specific concerns or slot ingredients in seasonally.
“Our transparent approach is woven throughout our business.”
“The accessible price point also allows for exploration, as does the wealth of information available for such ingredients. The price point offers the option for customers to try new products and experiment with ingredients and percentages they may not have tried before.”
Where previously it seemed customers were not trusted to experiment and find their best skincare routine, The Ordinary took the stance that everyone had the right to access specialist products and find their perfect fit.
One of the key products which revolutionized the way skin care was spoken about and used was hyaluronic acid.
Prior to the inception of The Ordinary, hyaluronic acid was not a common term in product naming or marketing, yet now it’s viewed as a hero ingredient and something to shout about across the board.
“As we began leading the charge with this product and educating consumers about the benefits, others followed suit,” Kilner says. “Now, the average customer is familiar with the term and its function within a skincare product. If you go into a beauty hall, you’ll see a multitude of hyaluronic acids, spanning various price points, with TV adverts now promoting its benefits across skin, hair, and body care.
“Hyaluronic acid has been an integral ingredient in skin care for many years but has seen a spike in searches due to consumers being more familiar with the ingredient.”
Transparency and honesty have allowed the company to pick up a dedicated fanbase worldwide, and Kilner recognizes how important sticking to your principles is everywhere.
“Our transparent approach is woven throughout our business,” she says. “For example, on our sustainability pages, we claim that we might never be a sustainable beauty company, but are working hard to do everything we can to be as sustainable as possible.
“Taking clear consumer dialect and brand trust is what has helped our brand grow and having an engaged community of loyalists is something we’re truly thankful for.”