In the last few years, celebrities have gone from merely endorsing or collaborating with outside beauty brands to launching their own full-fledged lines. These brands — including Rihanna’s Fenty Beauty, Pat McGrath Labs, Kim Kardashian’s KKW Beauty and Madonna’s MDNA Skin — dominated the conversation last year, and they’re set to transform the industry further in 2018.
“People already feel like they have a connection with celebrities, which sets these brands up for success,” said Helene Heath, a senior editor at visual intelligence platform Dash Hudson.
But, now, they’re moving beyond simply slapping their names on a product to offering innovative products and expertise, said Larissa Jensen, NPD’s beauty analyst.
“The performance of a brand like this is more sustainable [than previous versions],” she said.
Indeed, while all of these brands may have gotten a head start from the rabid fanbases of their founders, they’ve also succeeded by tailoring their products and business models to the needs of consumers today: relying on the buzzy drop model for launches, altering the traditional social strategy and voice of beauty brands, and making diverse product options a priority.
All of this comes at a time when their older counterparts, like Covergirl and Almay, are trying to change their tone and diversify the ways they communicate to better appeal to today’s consumer.
One of the most anticipated launches of the year, Rihanna’s Fenty Beauty, debuted in September, with Sephora executives calling it “the most inclusive beauty brand in the world.” They weren’t exaggerating: The brand was dubbed an “Invention of the Year” by Time for offering 40 different foundation shades, far more than any of its competitors.
“Some [women] are finding their shade of foundation for the first time, getting emotional at the counter,” Rihanna told the publication. As a result, the line’s darkest shades quickly sold out, which many attributed to the lack of other options on the market. Another product, its Gloss Bomb Universal Lip Luminizer, was marketed as a lip gloss that looks good on everyone.
Clearly, what customers require from beauty brands is changing, and fast enough to impact other young brands that were once celebrated for turning the industry on its head.
After one such brand, Kylie Cosmetics, used the eve of Fenty Beauty’s launch to promote one of its older Brown Sugar palettes — alleged to be its only lip kit suitable for darker skin tones — the brand received flack for its overall lack of diversity.
But Rihanna did follow one lesson from her forbear, Kylie Jenner, choosing to rely on the drop model to drum up hype for new products. Fenty Beauty teases each new launch with consecutive posts on both the brand’s and Rihanna’s personal Instagram accounts, always mentioning the release date and where it will be available. Most recently, the artist used the platform to announce the December 26 launch of her Mattemoiselle lipsticks a week before they began selling online and in store at Sephora and Harvey Nichols. Jenner first popularized this approach when she announced product drops and showed off new shades of her Kylie Cosmetics Lip Kits to her Snapchat followers. The Lip Kit launches were known to crash her site, the only place they were sold.
“It’s smart marketing, promoting the idea that an item is highly coveted and limited-edition,” said David Yi, the founder of the beauty website Very Good Light. “That, in turn, creates hype, because those who do nab an item are able to tout it online and gain some social cachet.”
Pat McGrath has been pushing that model since 2015, when she started releasing limited-edition makeup products, like her Gold 001 eyeshadow, which sold out in six minutes that October, even with an unexpected site crash. But this past August, the famed makeup artist expanded her line to include a permanent range of color cosmetics sold exclusively at Sephora (in-store and online) and on the brand’s own website. Since then, she’s also continued to announce new products on Instagram, including her Liquilust007 liquid lipstick and, just yesterday, her Lip Fetish lip balm. Like Rihanna’s lip gloss, it’s said to look good on everyone.
Social media — Instagram, Snapchat and Twitter, in this case — is also where Kim Kardashian announced the launch of her KKW Beauty line in June. The first products, a range of highlighting and contouring sticks, sold out twice in a matter of ten minutes.
“With built-in social media followings, these celebrities no longer need to give exclusives to magazines or news outlets; they’re breaking news themselves,” explained Yi.
It’s not shocking that a Kardashian or Rihanna can sell out a new makeup line using their social media followings. But these new brands’ overall social strategies differ from those of traditional beauty brands, as well.
Together, they post more often, at roughly three to six times a day; regularly repost influencer content, which features their products; use hashtags for all product names to drive product-centric communities; and run regular competitions, like a recent ask by Pat McGrath for followers to guess the name of her latest product in order to win a set for free.
The voice of these posts are often more fun and theatrical than that of older brands, and are heavy on capitalization and emojis. Pat McGrath, who uses her own accounts to promote her line and is known to her fans as “Mother,” describes one of her eye shadow palettes, the Mothership I, as follows: “STUN them into SUBMISSION with this VICIOUSLY VIVID azure eye, divined by the DECADENT #MOTHERSHIP I.” Similarly, Fenty Beauty advises fans of its Stunna Lip Paint to “Stunt all day everyday” and, amidst a product restock, to “Go get yours hunntyyyy!”
That unique tone is perfect for today’s consumer, who “identifies with people who unlock their creativity and put their personal stamp on things,” said Faith Popcorn, the CEO of the BrainReserve marketing consultancy. This could continue to pose problems for one-time stalwarts of the industry, she said.
“Women would rather buy from Rihanna or a Kardashian, and get a taste of that person’s perspective and energy, than buy into a big, monolithic brand.”