Once dermatologist offices and medispas reopened after shelter-in-place orders this summer, cosmetic aesthetic company Evolus was riding high.
Like competitors, Evolus saw pent-up demand for its product, Jeuveau, a Botox alternative that costs 20-25% less. In its third-quarter earnings, announced in October, the company reported a net revenue increase of 34% from Q3 2019, to $17.7 million. At the time, David Moatazedi, president and CEO of Evolus, said the sales performance was “above expectations” and also called out that the company had reduced operating expenses by 38% year-over-year. Jeuveau first entered the U.S. market in 2019.
But Evolus was dealt a setback last week: The U.S. International Trade Commission on Wednesday upheld a judge’s finding that Evolus and its partner Daewoong manufactured Jeuveau using a secret process stolen from AbbVie’s South Korean partner. AbbVie acquired Allergan, the maker of Botox, last year. Though the new ruling reduced the initial 10-year ban on importing the product (proposed by the judge) to 21 months, and there is no impact to the availability of Jeuveau in the U.S. yet, its list price is now comparable to Botox. This makes it DTC-like proposition, in both price and branding, less of a draw.
Crystal Muilenburg, Evolus vp of communications and PR, said, “Ideally the case would be behind us, but this is far from over.” She explained that the company will be working for the next 60 days to overturn the decision [through a formal presidential review process] with President Trump (much like President Obama did with the Samsung patent ban against Apple iPhones and iPads). It will also be exploring settlement terms with AbbVie and related parties.
Moatazedi described the brand to me as “mass market,” compared to established challengers. “There’s niche beauty, which may be called prestige, but we’re targeting that younger demographic. A lot of pharmaceutical companies entered cosmetic aesthetics with products that are used for aesthetic purposes, but continue to operate like a pharma company. It’s very traditional, in terms of campaigns and branding, and digital is a total afterthought,” he said.
In essence, Jeuveau is the DTC-esque disruptor when compared to Botox, much like Glossier is to any of the big beauty conglomerates and Harry’s was to P&G’s Gillette. And the idea of masstige, or “better” beauty at a cheaper cost, continues to trend across the industry — especially in a pandemic year — with brands like E.l.f and Cerave finding favor among Gen Z and millennial consumers.
Beyond it’s 20-25% cheaper cost, Jeuveau is positioned like a beauty brand online, to entice younger shoppers. Its site features the product prominently, and before and after images are incremental. For example, four ethnically diverse women are currently shown on the site with images before Jeuveau, after day 2 of being treated, after day 30 and after day 150. Providers are also listed front and center, which allows clients to find the right provider in their area quickly. Michael Jafar, chief marketing officer, estimated that millennials will account for 70-80% of the cosmetic aesthetics market in the next 24 months; thus, Jeuveau’s timing is on point.
“When our consumer sees Botox, they think that’s their mom’s brand, a mature brand. We try to speak to her in a human way, [rather than use] medical speak and words like ‘anti’ or ‘fix,’” said Moatazedi. “[They think,] ‘My mom doesn’t buy Huda Beauty, she doesn’t want the same contouring that I am into, so why should I be given the same treatment that she uses?’” He said that Evolus’s tech and design teams are not tried-and-true beauty or pharmaceutical executives, but those with digital experience. Thus far, the strategy seems to have a stickiness with clients. Moatazedi said 90% of its transactions with its [end] customer base happen on its Atlas app.
“You just can’t teach an old dog new tricks. Millennials don’t necessarily care for the big name, A-list celebrity or bespoke brands anymore,” said Jafar. “They’re into communities, they’re into micro influencers and, really, they’re into folks that act and behave like them.”
While the “wrinkle wars” have raged for the better part of two decades, the elimination of a cheaper alternative to Botox guarantees its Kleenex-like superiority. While Evolus has made a dent with younger customers, it has a ways to go, in terms of brand awareness. Jeuveau has a 81% “Worth It” rating on RealSelf, a health-care and cosmetic aesthetic marketplace, but according to a September user poll on the platform, “Most [readers] have no knowledge of brands outside of Botox.” Still, “8 out of 10 respondents said they would switch brands if they found out key details like the injectable lasted twice as long.” Jeuveau will likely have to succumb to Botox’s verbal and market monopoly if the presidential review process does not go its way.
“We are trying to make this affordable and achievable for the modern woman, it is a benefit to the customer to have options,” said Muilenburg. “Limiting competition is only a good thing for the market leader.” — Priya Rao, executive editor
2021 trends to watch
As beauty and wellness companies try to to tap into the next big thing, 2020 online customer search provides insight on the impact of this ongoing pandemic. Data from Label Insight found that consumers are looking for products to help with their puffy eyes and dark circles in the Zoom era, with searches growing over 800% from the second quarter to the third quarter. Common search terms were “puffy eyes treatment instant results,” “puffy eyes dark circles treatment” and “puffy eyes treatment.” And as hair care and self care continue to see growth and are seen as winners in the larger landscape, Label Insight found that protein will be a key trend in 2021. Searches for “protein hair mask” and “protein deep conditioner” drove a 2,000% increase in Q3. — Priya Rao
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