c.2013 New York Times News Service

c.2013 New York Times News Service

Remember the vending machines in New York City subway stations, even on platforms? (OK, maybe not, as it was decades ago.) Among the products straphangers could buy were cigarettes, candy and gum; there were also scales proclaiming, “Horoscope and weight 1¢.”

The beauty giant L’Oréal wants to revisit that era in a high-tech way with a project it is sponsoring inside the 42nd Street-Bryant Park station from Monday through Dec. 30. Passers-by will see screens and a mirror that use cameras and sensors to recommend women’s cosmetics bearing the L’Oréal Paris brand name, which can then be purchased.

The project, called the L’Oréal Paris Intelligent Color Experience, is being described by the participants as an entry in the realm of interactive shopping outside of traditional stores. It is another example of a trend known as experiential marketing, which seeks to give brands more tangible form beyond retail shelves.

The goal is a “real-life experience through technology,” said Marc Speichert, chief marketing officer at the L’Oréal Americas unit of L’Oréal. “If this experiment is successful, we might bring it to other places.”

“What’s amazing with the technology is that we’ll have the ability to measure the level of engagement,” he added, based on “the number of people who pass by, the number who interact with each screen, the number who leave their information.”

The project, with a budget estimated at $700,000 to $1 million, was developed by the R/GA Lab unit of R/GA in New York, part of the Interpublic Group of Cos.; R/GA is the digital agency of record for the L’Oréal Paris brand. Also involved in the project are CBS Outdoor, which sells advertising space in the subway system, and the Metropolitan Transportation Authority.

“What we’re trying to find out is whether there is an appetite for something between e-tailing and brick-and-mortar retail,” said Paul Fleuranges, senior director for corporate and internal communications at the MTA.

“We hope to do some market research while this is up and running,” he added, and based on the results, “we may be willing to do other pilots.”

“We have a lot of retail space that is not currently under lease,” Fleuranges said, adding: “If we can find ways to generate revenue from those assets, that’s a good thing for us. If we can add to the passenger experience, that’s a good thing for us. If we can bring new technology into the system, that’s a good thing for us.”

The L’Oréal Paris project will be in a vacant newsstand space in the station, Fleuranges said, on the mezzanine level above the No. 7 line. The installation, 7 feet tall by 14 feet wide, can be stocked with up to 700 items; plans call for 27 types of L’Oréal Paris mascara, eye shadow, lipstick and nail polish. The items will be priced at $5.99 to $9.99 each, and purchases will be made with credit cards.

A passer-by will see on the left side of the installation a full-length mirror. Digital animations will present her silhouette and the colors she is wearing, then ask whether she wants cosmetics to “match” or “clash.”

In the center, she will see under the words “Love the look? Make it yours” product suggestions, among them Colour Riche eye shadow, Voluminous Butterfly mascara and Colour Riche nail polish. She can touch the screen to buy them, and the products emerge from underneath the screen. Or if “Not ready to buy?” as the screen asks, she can “email the look” to herself. The right side of the installation has a screen with photographs and posts from beauty bloggers.

“We looked at a lot of stations with the MTA, I would say 20,” said John Jones, senior vice president and executive creative director at R/GA, before deciding on 42nd Street-Bryant Park, which offered benefits like “the right audience for L’Oréal Paris” and “the best visibility.”

“There are some specific goals and a list of hypotheses” for the project, he added, principally “the connection between an engaging brand experience, a brand halo effect, and people buying products.”

Erin Lynch, group executive creative director at R/GA, said she believed the “element of participation” would “help women unlock their unique beauty potential, which goes back to ‘L’Oréal Paris, because I’m worth it.’”


Lynch said she was pleased that subway riders will use the station to reach major seasonal attractions: the annual holiday shops and skating rink at Bryant Park, scheduled to return Friday.

“We’re creating this underground experience when a lot of experiential is going on above ground,” she added. (Underlining that is a sponsored name, the Bank of America Winter Village at Bryant Park.)

“We were setting up all weekend,” Lynch said of the project, “and people would do a double take, exactly what we wanted to happen as we’re bringing this color, this engaging technology, to an unexpected place.”

During the setup, Lynch said, she tried it out, and as a result would be “wearing matching nail polish” at a media preview scheduled for Wednesday.

Fleuranges said he remembered the original subway vending machines, particularly those “on the inside of columns facing the platform.” The gum machines, which usually had mirrors, “probably went away in the ’70s,” he added.

Those with long memories may recall penny gums sold in the subway, mainly American Chicle brands like Chiclets (two pellets in a tiny box) and Adams California Fruit Gum.