Kao plots the next step in FREEPLUS global expansion with ASEAN launch

By Amanda Lim

- Last updated on GMT

FREEPLUS is set to make its debut in Thailand this September. ©Kao/FREEPLUS
FREEPLUS is set to make its debut in Thailand this September. ©Kao/FREEPLUS
FREEPLUS is set to make its debut in Thailand this September, as part of the Kao Corporation’s strategy to globalise the brand.

The brand will debut in Thailand with 19 SKUs from the moisture care line. The range will be available online and offline. Its main channel will be Japanese drugstores, a quickly expanding retail channel in Thailand with a large consumer base of J-beauty fans.

The Japanese firm said it planned to build on the brand’s strong position in China, where it is positioned as a derma brand for sensitive skin.

According to the company, the launch in Thailand is the prelude to its ASEAN expansion and the next step its globalisation plans.

The company added that it would follow its Thailand expansion by launching Myanmar this October.

Gradually, it plans to expand throughout the ASEAN region as part of the company’s ongoing strategy to accelerate business in Asia.

Marketing strategy

FREEPLUS is one of the eleven G11 strategic brands singled out by Kao to strengthen the company’s presence in the global market. Brand in the portfolio include Senai, Kanebo, Curel and KATE, which have been performing strongly,

The brand was launched in 2001 as a result of Kao’s research into sensitive skin. It expanded in China in 2005 and exploded in the market in 2015 thanks to FREEPLUS Mild Soap, the “product of choice” for Chinese consumers with sensitive skin, said Kao.

In 2017, it stepped up the global marketing strategy for FREEPLUS by signing on Taiwanese actress and singer, Hebe Tian, as its brand ambassador for China.

The company also attributed the success of FREEPLUS to its strong brand message, which portrayed sensitive skin in a positive light.

“The message resonated instantly with women concerned about sensitive skin, driving up sales in the region to record levels,” ​said the company.

Since, FREEPLUS has become one of Kao’s foremost “global strategy brands”,​ with overseas sales accounting for more than 80% of the brand’s total sales.

The success in China prompted Kao to bring the brand back to Japan where it echoed the marketing concept in China with its ‘Love of Sensitivity’ brand concept.

For instance, the company will follow the same branding concept for Thailand. “The promotion materials will place a positive slant on the ‘sensitive skin and spirit’ concept, adding supportive messages both in stores and online.”

Its campaign in Thailand will feature actress Mei Nagano, which Kao believes has helped to drive sales growth in Japan.

Additionally, Kao said it planned to launch large-scale product sampling campaigns and brand information promotion through to capture beauty consumers.

Kao’s cosmetics business performed strongly during the first-half of the year, increasing 9.3% and 10.3% like-for-like. Operating income grew ¥7.4bn ($69.2m) to ¥14.7bn ($137.6m) due to the stellar performance of its brands.

Brands under Kao’s G11 portfolio, such as Sensai, Kanebo, KATE and Curél, performed strongly. FREEPLUS showed especially strong performance, growing 50% thanks to solid sales in China and Japan.

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