Fujifilm launched its skincare business in 2006. At first, quite a few people in the industry had their doubts about Fujifilm’s chances of success. Yet, by the year 2010, Fujifilm’s key brands in the industry were logging total annual sales of over 10 billion yen, and skincare had become a major element in Fujifilm’s business portfolio. Expanding beyond Japan, Fujifilm also successfully marketed its skincare products in Asia and other regions, establishing itself as a global skincare brand. How did Fujifilm as a completely new player quickly develop competitive skincare products and succeed?
For many decades, Fujifilm was a leader in the development and marketing of photographic film, but the rise of the digital camera changed the market drastically. Sales of film peaked in 2000, and then demand rapidly declined. Imagine if automakers faced a world in which people simply no longer required cars. Fujifilm could see that soon only a tiny fraction of its main business would remain. In order to survive as a company, Fujifilm would need to create entirely new businesses, and fast.
Since its foundation, Fujifilm had developed a vast array of original technologies. Now was the time to take inventory of them. One idea that arose was to leverage key photographic film technologies to develop original skincare products.
At first glance, photographic film and skincare products might seem to have little in common, but, surprisingly, they do. For example, collagen is a crucial substance in both photographic film and human skin. Collagen gives skin resilience and a healthy, hydrated appearance. Fujifilm’s photographic film technologies also proved to be quite applicable to skincare: antioxidants and nanotechnology could have a variety of skincare benefits.
The more Fujifilm looked at its portfolio of photographic film technologies, the more the future seemed to shine with potential. In fact, Fujifilm researchers working on this initiative envisioned skincare products with entirely new functions and benefits. Encouraged by the foreseeable opportunities, they made rapid progress in R&D.
The first order of business for the team was selecting ingredients with advanced skincare potential, as ingredients are key to success in skincare. Established through decades of photographic film R&D, Fujifilm’s database of antioxidants comprised some 4,000 different compounds, and the team examined them one by one. As they progressed, one substance jumped out as particularly interesting: astaxanthin, a red compound naturally found in salmon and shrimp that possessed 1,000 times the antioxidant power of coenzyme Q10, which is one of the most popular antioxidants for skincare use.
The potential of astaxanthin was well understood in the skincare industry, yet its practical application was limited by a range of technological hurdles. The compound is sensitive to both light and heat, and it oxidized easily. Further, it was difficult to maintain in the form of fine particles, and even dissolving it thoroughly and evenly in water was no easy task. At the time Fujifilm was performing its exploratory research, astaxanthin showed little potential in skincare.
The Fujifilm researchers understood that one key and very difficult challenge would be to produce nano-level astaxanthin particles and maintain them in a stable form. They were more than ready to take this. Whereas only a few companies had a substantial presence in the photographic film market, thousands of firms vied for a share in the highly competitive skincare market. As a new player, Fujifilm would have to offer unprecedented value to be noticed. Bringing to market a highly desirable but extremely difficult-to-use compound could provide this value, so they proceeded in their work with enthusiasm.
Leveraging Fujifilm’s strengths in antioxidants and nanotechnology, the team focused on developing the requisite astaxanthin processing technology. The smaller the particles they created, the greater the ratio of the particles’ surface area to their volume. This greater surface area made the astaxanthin particles more susceptible to reacting with oxygen and thereby degrading. The Fujifilm researchers overcame this difficulty by optimizing the formula’s emulsifying agents, which help compounds mix together smoothly and completely. They also discovered additives that could help prevent oxidation of the astaxanthin particles.
The initiative led to an important success. the development of a formula that preserves astaxanthin nanoparticles in a stable state while protecting them from both light and heat. This formula allowed high-density astaxanthin to penetrate deep into the skin, providing multiple benefits. Featuring astaxanthin as its key ingredient, Fujifilm’s ASTALIFT series of products was born.
Fujifilm had leveraged its unique technologies to make a difficult-to-use ingredient usable. ASTALIFT became the first in a series of products in which Fujifilm exploited the potential of such intriguing skincare compounds.
Fujifilm had succeeded in using its R&D and manufacturing technologies to make a splash in the skincare market. And the company’s approach to skincare marketing was equally unique.
Instead of creating a separate brand for its skincare line, Fujifilm boldly used its own name, making advanced technology a key selling point. Many within the company were convinced this wouldn’t work, since Fujifilm was known as a photographic film company. Surely the appearance of the Fujifilm brand in this market would be puzzling. Fujifilm decided to turn this into a plus. People would question why Fujifilm, of all companies, had entered the skincare market. Doubt would lead to curiosity, and Fujifilm would respond by demonstrating how advanced technology born of photographic film could make a difference.
TV commercials based on this original strategy had a big impact in Japan, effectively promoting both Fujifilm’s brand and technology in the skincare market. The company correctly perceived that consumers were now more interested in genuine skincare results than buying an image. Presenting them with the new option of skincare based on solid science resulted in marketplace success.
Further, whereas white or otherwise light-colored packaging predominated in the skincare market, Fujifilm went with a bright red design. This packaging made a big impression, emphasizing the natural red color of astaxanthin and increasing awareness of the Fujifilm brand.
Since entering the skincare market in 2006, Fujifilm has developed many original formulations that bring out the full potential of ingredients, including human-type nano-ceramide, nano-lycopene, nano-AMA, nano-oryzanol, and nano-vitamin A. Fujifilm has built an extremely strong skincare business by delivering to consumers products that are backed by careful scientific research. In addition to Japan, Fujifilm has successfully marketed its skincare line in China, South Korea, Southeast Asia, and other regions, developing a brand that is global in scope.
Despite being a new player in an already crowded and competitive market, Fujifilm has been able to build a substantial brand presence in a very short period of time. It’s yet another example of how Fujifilm has thrown off the limitations of the label “photographic film company” and succeeded in an entirely new business.
Having tasted the success of their efforts, the skincare researchers and marketing professionals at Fujifilm continue to be highly enthusiastic about their mission of introducing original skincare products to consumers interested in enhanced health and beauty. While accelerating the pace of developing skincare products backed by science, they seek also to communicate Fujifilm’s technologies more effectively and build an even stronger brand.
Transcending its status as newcomer in the skincare market, Fujifilm is looking to the future. Going forward, the company will continue to leverage its photographic film DNA and develop unique skincare products that make a difference in people’s lives.