Avon cutting jobs; can Mark save the day?

Beware, Avon ladies (and men) who actually work on-site for the company: the cosmetics giant announced today that it will shed 1,200 jobs by 2013 in an effort to reduce operating costs.

The news comes in the midst of Avon's full-speed-ahead campaign to attract new independent sales representatives. The company's UK arm has launched an aggressive campaign to attract jobless college graduates to the business - it even asked the government to help promote the opportunity.

And here in the United States, anyone who's watched television in the past six months has probably seen this commercial, which urges women to sign up to sell the product using recession-themed testimonials. "I can't get fired," one woman chirps. "I can't get laid off. It's my business."

That's certainly true -- but it doesn't change the fact that many women aren't in a position to start their own business right now. And if I was an Avon sales rep, I would be a little dismayed to hear that Avon has doubled their recruiting budget since the beginning of the year. Yes, I'd feel bad for the woman down the street who lost her pharmaceutical-sales job -- but that doesn't mean I'd want her joining Avon and crowding my market.

Recruitment efforts aside, here's another thing Avon can do to punch up its flagging sales and cement long-term profitability: ramp up the marketing of Mark (if you don't know what Mark is, then you know they haven't been promoting it well).

Mark is Avon's contemporary-focused brand. It's aimed at teens and twenty-somethings, but the products are high-quality, modern, and appropriate for all ages. They pop up constantly in the pages of magazines like Allure, Lucky and InStyle. But they don't always get the full endorsement of Avon reps, many of whom have been shilling classics like Skin So Soft and Ultra Color Rich lipstick for years.

It couldn't hurt to bring a celebrity face back to the Mark brand -- Avon used Lauren Conrad in its Mark ads a few years back.

But if Avon wants to boost its profile among this generation of cosmetics junkies, it would be wise to zero in on the younger half of their sales force and push them to push Mark.

I'm 24, and I don't know a single Avon lady. But if I did, I'd have a hard time turning down the Mark products - after all, someone's got to get the lipstick indicator back on track.
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