The first time I heard of Kiehl’s was when my dad bought me a giant bottle of their classic Crème de Corps coco butter body lotion for Christmas. It was my favorite lotion and the bottle lasted me for years. Since that introductory, it has become one of my favorite brands for not only skincare, but hair and bath products as well.
Kiehl’s since 1851 is not actually named after the founder of the original storefront, but a pharmacist who bought it in 1894. The original storefront was called “Brunswick Apotheke” in the East Village of Manhattan until John Kiehl renamed it “Kiehl Pharmacy.”
Kiehl’s was taken over by a family by the last name Morse in 1921 and continued to run the company until 2001 after L’Oreal acquired the brand in 2000 as a part of their collection of “L’Oreal Luxe” brands. Other brands in this L’Oreal Luxe category are Lancome, Yves Saint Laurent, and Clarisonic, to name a few.
In my experience, the Kiehl’s storefronts that I shop at are always in interesting locations. If in a mall, the Kiehl’s stores are around higher-end brands that aren’t associated with skincare or bath products. In more independent settings I notice that the storefront still feels like a pharmacy and is even placed where I imagine an independent pharmacy would be. Kiehl’s products are also the brand of choice for all shower and locker room amenities at every Equinox gym in the country.
Every store features a skeleton that is named “Mr. Bones” because the original Kiehl’s store had an actual skeleton that was used during consultations to explain or demonstrate the causes and effects of ailments. The brand explains that they have a skeleton in every storefront to show appreciation for the medical community.
Along with Mr. Bones, the first Kiehl’s store also had a Harley Davidson Motorcycle in the store to lure in men while women shopped. Along this theme, they also have a large collection of men’s products for shaving and other skincare that would appeal to them, in dark blue packaging and usage of words like “fuel” in the product names. Also on every men’s line package is an airplane with a quote that reads “For a Refuel Land at Kiehl’s.” I guess men like feeling like they have a tank that needs to be filled in order to buy skincare. They have another product line is for babies too, which makes the brand overall inclusive for the whole family to use.
So, while the brand is inclusive by having product lines that appeal to the whole family, that’s not the only branding tactic they use. They also use lots of pharmacy and nature keywords that help differentiate the brand. They brand is obviously rooted in chemistry and appreciation for medicine, but they also emphasize that their products are “nature inspired” and derived from plants. To my understanding it is unclear if they paid for any advertising before L’Oreal acquired them. This NYT press release from 2000 states that the brand wasn’t trendy and L’Oreal’s goal was to elevate the roots of the brand.
Recently I’ve been served ads on Instagram for Kiehl’s and there’s a few things I noticed that help the brand stand out from competitors. Their ads don’t feature models and are styled next to the plant-derived ingredients in the product. This opens up the brand to be for men or women and makes the product the hero rather than selling perfect skin or that somebody will fall in love with you. They describe their products as “nature-powered” but don’t claim to be all natural or organic.
The common theme for this brand and the main message that is the reason you might buy Kiehl’s is because it appears that they are trying to sell you the cure for your skincare ailments. Kiehl’s main message is that they are using medicine and nature to deliver the best results to you and cure you.