L’Oréal: The Beauty of Intangibles

1 minutes reading time
Published 8 Mar 2024
Reviewed by: Kasper Karlsson

L’Oréal has charted an extraordinary course to become the world's leading beauty company. Its strategic focus on research and development, combined with aggressive marketing and acquisition strategies, have all significantly contributed to the company's remarkable success. This article provides an in-depth exploration of the key drivers that have catapulted L’Oréal to the forefront of the global beauty industry, redefining standards and consistently generating significant value for shareholders in a highly competitive market.

Key Insights

  • Foundation in innovation: L’Oréal's foundation is deeply rooted in scientific research, beginning with its first product, which was developed by a young chemist in Paris in 1909.

  • Strategic acquisitions: The company has expanded its portfolio and global presence through continuous acquisitions of brands across different market segments, including luxury, consumer products, professional, and active cosmetics.

  • Sustainability leadership: L’Oréal has been a pioneer in integrating sustainability into its business model, from product formulation and packaging to manufacturing processes.

Founding Story

At the heart of L’Oréal's inception was the young French chemist Eugène Schueller, who developed the first synthetic hair dye in 1907. Named "Auréale," a word suggesting a halo of light, this innovation marked the establishment of L’Oréal in 1909. Schueller's modest beginnings, formulating and manufacturing his invention in his Parisian apartment and selling it to local hairdressers, set the stage for a global beauty revolution.

Eugène Schueller was not just a scientist but an entrepreneur who believed that research and development (R&D) were the keys to innovation in beauty. This belief has remained a core tenet of L’Oréal, guiding its substantial annual investments in R&D to this day. By 1912, L’Oréal had already begun its expansion beyond France, reaching markets in Austria, Italy, and the Netherlands, laying the groundwork for what today is the largest beauty company worldwide.

Initially focusing on hair dye, Schueller quickly diversified L’Oréal’s offerings to include haircare, skincare, and makeup products by the 1920s, thereby setting the stage for the company's future as a comprehensive beauty brand. During World War II, L’Oréal played a role in the French Resistance, adding a layer of historical significance to its corporate history. It continued to innovate after the war, introducing the first mass-market sunscreen, Ambre Solaire, in 1936.

In 1973, the company officially adopted the name L’Oréal Paris, a nod to its French origins and its aspiration to bring Parisian beauty and elegance to the global stage. Schueller's entrepreneurial spirit also laid the foundation for L’Oréal's growth strategy through acquisitions, starting with Lancôme in 1964. Today, L’Oréal's portfolio includes over 40 brands, including L’Oréal Paris, Garnier, Urban Decay, and Maybelline.

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Strategy of Innovation and Acquisitions

Innovation sits at the heart of L’Oréal's ethos. The company's commitment to pushing the boundaries of beauty through science is evident in its extensive global R&D network. This network enables the company to draw on diverse scientific expertise and consumer insights, creating products that cater to the specific needs of various markets around the world. L’Oréal's position as a leading patent holder in the beauty sector underscores its dedication to innovation, especially in areas such as hair color, skincare, and makeup.

As stated above, acquisitions have also played a pivotal role in L’Oréal's strategy, allowing the company to diversify its portfolio and penetrate new markets. The company's acquisitions are strategically chosen to align with its vision and values, ensuring seamless integration into the L’Oréal brand family. Brands like Kiehl’s, Urban Decay, and IT Cosmetics have all been brought under the L’Oréal umbrella.

These acquisitions have not only enhanced L’Oréal's portfolio but have also facilitated its foray into rapidly growing markets in Asia and Africa. By incorporating local brands with a strong regional presence, L’Oréal taps into new consumer bases, offering products that resonate with local preferences and needs.

Visualizing L’Oréal's growth and most notable acquisitions

L'Oreal's growth and acquisition history
Visualizing L’Oréal's growth and most notable acquisitions

L’Oréal: One of the Largest Advertisers in the World

L'Oréal stands as one of the largest advertisers in the world. From its earliest days, the company recognized the power of advertising to create an emotional connection with its customers. The founder, Eugène Schueller, was a pioneer in using media to promote his products, employing newspaper ads as early as the 1910s. This innovative spirit has carried through to the modern era, with L’Oréal leveraging digital platforms, television, print media, and outdoor advertising to reach its audience.

L’Oréal's advertising strategy is as diverse as its product range, tailored not just to a global audience but finely tuned to resonate with local cultures and tastes. This dual approach allows L’Oréal to maintain a strong universal brand identity while also embracing the uniqueness of each market. For instance, its tagline, "Because you're worth it," has been adapted into various languages, becoming a universally recognized slogan that empowers consumers worldwide.

L’Oréal Paris: Ads throughout the years
Notable L’Oréal ads throughout the years

The Beauty of Intangibles

A small tub of L’Oréal's Lancome Visionnaire anti-wrinkle face cream retails for $90, which is five times the price of mass-market rivals such as Nivea. This significant pricing power deserves further examination. One major factor is L’Oréal's branding efforts. As previously mentioned, L’Oréal stands as one of the largest advertisers globally, maintaining this status for an extended period. A key insight is that L’Oréal cultivates customers' trust and establishes emotional connections with them through products applied to sensitive areas like eyes, lips, and skin. Such pricing power likely stems from intangible factors that are unquantifiable, unlike the elements necessary for achieving pricing power in commercial and industrial products.

It's also interesting to note that while consumers of many goods, ranging from automobiles to snacks, have a limited consumption capacity, the potential for cosmetics consumption seems almost boundless. For instance, a recent study revealed that the average Korean woman utilizes 11 beauty products and dedicates 40 minutes every day to her beauty regimen. Few sectors offer such an opportunity to sell more products to existing customers. Numerous consumer surveys suggest that the beauty regimen is one of the last areas to be reduced, even in challenging economic times. This resilience explains why the cosmetics market is less discretionary than it might appear: demand rises during economic expansions and tends to remain steady during contractions.

L’Oréal attracts customers by offering a wide range of cosmetic products and dominates across various channels, price points, categories, countries, and brands. It typically gains share in each area, demonstrating sustained consumer trust, which is driven by two primary strengths. The first strength is its scientifically based product development, underpinned by the company's vast scale and the effectiveness of its R&D program. L’Oréal has introduced a significant proportion of new chemicals into the industry, many of which remain critical components of its products today. The second strength is its prowess in disseminating information to consumers: L’Oréal ranks as the world's third-largest advertiser, trailing only behind Amazon and ByteDance (the parent company of TikTok).

L’Oréal's pricing power is evident in its high gross margins, which exceed 70%. When combined with strong cash generation, impressive returns on capital, and a steady trajectory of top-line growth, these margins contribute to a virtuous cycle that has enabled the company to maintain its market leadership. This success is not only longstanding but also shared with shareholders: L’Oréal boasts a history of regular dividend increases for the past 50 years, including a 12% CAGR over the last 22 years, ranging from 2001 to 2023.

L’Oréal Today

Today, L’Oréal operates worldwide, with a presence in over 150 countries and a portfolio that includes many of the most prestigious and beloved beauty brands globally. As of the beginning of 2024, the company's market capitalization exceeds €200 billion. This impressive valuation results from a 7.1% annualized revenue growth and a 10.1% EPS CAGR since 1989, coupled with consistently high returns on capital.


By continually challenging industry norms and setting new standards, L’Oréal has not only transformed how beauty products are developed and marketed but also how the beauty industry operates. Its blend of scientific research, strategic acquisitions, and sustainability initiatives has created a unique competitive advantage, making L’Oréal a case study in how to thrive in a competitive and rapidly changing market. As L’Oréal looks to the future, it remains dedicated to its founding principle that "beauty is for everyone," continuing to innovate and inspire in the world of beauty.

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