In late August, 2-year-old Merit Beauty launched its first eyeshadows.
“It was the most requested product, but it’s the least worn product by our community,” said Aila Morin, Merit’s svp of brand, growth and innovation. As such, the brand felt there was a gap in the market for an eyeshadow that was “impossible to mess up” and “something you’d wear every single day,” Morin said. The result, Solo Shadow, is a matte cream eyeshadow in a pot that comes in eight shades ($24 each).
Unlike many of its contemporaries in the “clean” makeup space, such as Saie and Kosas, Merit does not focus on Gen Z. Its primary demographic is “pretty firmly” millennial and Gen X, Morin said. And this informs its product development. Some may consider Solo Shadow a direct response to the eyeshadow palette boom kicked off by Urban Decay’s Naked Palette in 2010. “I remember the era of 50-shade palettes. [Often] 48 were never touched,” Morin said. As the name suggests, Solo Shadow’s shades are only sold individually.
To hype Solo Shadow’s launch, Merit posted a TikTok video on August 21 stating the product’s manifesto: eyeshadow the user will actually use until it runs out. In the first 24 hours, the post had 1 million views and 175,000 likes. It now has 1.5 million views and over 225,000 likes, with no ad dollars behind it.
The post shows hands paging through a binder of inspiration. A voiceover says, “We’ll be the first to admit, we stopped wearing eyeshadow. The maximalism of the last decade made it so overwhelming and complicated that it fell out of our routines completely. But years after abandoning it, we asked ourselves what it would take to make an eyeshadow we’d actually finish. Because honestly, when was the last time you hit pan?” The post received more than 1,200 comments. One commenter wrote: “10/10 marketing I’m dumping all my eyeshadow palettes and going to Sephora right now.” Another stated: “If your marketing team is hiring let me know bc this is gold.” Speaking to Merit’s aforementioned demographic, another commenter wrote: “This absolutely yells the glossier girl who grew up and graduated college…and I am so here for it.”
The product’s pre-launch was successful on Instagram, too. A series of six teaser posts garnered over 15,000 likes and 700 comments in the first 24 hours. Eventually, 18 posts went live, reaching upward of 50,000 likes and 2,000 comments in one week.
Given that Merit’s customer “spends less time on social and less time on their phone than the average beauty customer,” Morin said, the marketing for Solo Shadow’s launch included several other channels. That included Merit’s largest out-of-home investment to date, inclusive of billboards, wild postings and subway ads in its three largest markets of New York, London and Los Angeles. It also teased the product to its email subscriber base, sent direct mailers, and placed a full-page print ad in The New York Times. The ads feature editorial shots of Malgosia Bela, a model in her 40s, and showcase the product’s pigment.
Solo Shadow accumulated the brand’s largest-ever waitlist, at over 12,000, in less than a week. In the first 24 hours of early access, the brand sold more than one Solo Shadow or its corresponding brush ($20), which launched in tandem with Solo Shadow, every two seconds. On day one, early access sales of the Solo Shadow were 10 times that of Merit’s prior most successful pre-launch, its Great Skin Instant Glow Serum. First-hour sales doubled that of Great Skin, which is Merit’s sole skin-care product. In addition, on its launch day, the Solo Shadow collection was Sephora’s top seller across all categories.
Morin owed the successful launch to Merit’s signature simplicity, which was reflected in the product’s marketing and formulation. The product is meant to be less overwhelming than a multi-pan palette and is intended to provide the desired wash of color with just a swipe of the finger. Merit Beauty complies with Sephora’s “Clean at Sephora” list.
“The level of technique and makeup artistry that’s expected of consumers [today] is kind of crazy,” Morin said, referring to other makeup marketing.
“What initially excited us about partnering with Merit was the team’s deliberate brand conception and product assortment that had clear attributes of an iconic, generational and lasting brand,” said Courtney Nelson, an investor at L. Catterton, which backs Merit. “With each new product launch, this ethos has shown through. … The viral reception of the Solo Shadow reflects the passion and loyalty for the brand that continues to grow exponentially.”
Given its older demographic, Merit launched Solo Shadow with matte formulations, which are less likely than metallic products to settle into fine lines. On its e-commerce site, it divides the eight shades into two categories, the “neutrals” and the “statements.” The former includes a tight edit of taupes and browns, while the “statements” include Studio, a soft purple hue, and Midnight, a navy. “This is also our first true color launch,” Morin said of the bolder hues.