So many beauty products to obsess over, so little time. We may never get to own even a quarter of all the mascaras, eyeshadows and dry shampoos that pop up on store shelves and online, but there’s one thing a lot of us have in common when it comes to makeup: we find cult beauty products fascinating because their fans swear they work like nothing else out there.
For every beauty category you can think of–from false lashes to lipsticks–there are cult products that steal all the hype. But excitement can only take you so far. The frenzy caused by the mere mention of Clé de Peau Beauté Concealer or Benefit They’re Real! Mascara is the cherry on top of a sundae that begins with a simple, but effective idea pitched and then dissected from all angles in a typical company meeting.
“Customers fall in love with products that solve their beauty dilemmas,” says Julie Bell, EVP of Product Marketing at Benefit Cosmetics. “This all goes back to our Benefit DNA, which is to instantly solve beauty dilemmas. So it is our job to pay attention to what they need, what their problem is and solve it–it’s a no-brainer.”
While developing a mascara like They’re Real!, Bell says her team put all of its energy and focus on creating a product that performs well; if it does the job they had in mind, it will create a frenzy organically, but that isn’t their intention when they set out to attract even more happy and satisfied Benefit customers.
“Hype is short-term and performance is long-term,” Bell says. “We wanted to create a mascara that instantly made gals feel sexy. And what do they do when they want to look and feel sexy? They put on false lashes. Since we are all about solving problems at Benefit, we created They’re Real! mascara to give the look of long, false lashes without all the hard work and money.”
Still, ask anyone–from Kylie Jenner to ColourPop–and they’ll tell you a bit of good, old-fashioned hype can take a product from the occasional mention on a beauty blog to makeup superstardom. And timing that hype is everything.
Thanks to social media, an increase in foreign travel and our ability to connect with everyone all over the world at all times, modern-day cult classics like Pixi H20 Skin Tint and Pixi Glow Tonic, created by makeup artist Petra Strand, had the opportunity to flex their beauty muscles and gain a huge following in the UK for an astonishing 10 years before hitting the shelves in U.S. stores like Target. During that decade, every beauty enthusiast living outside of London continued to hear about Pixi from both UK beauty bloggers and celebs. The mere fact that it was impossible to get your hands on Pixi products outside of the UK made it an even more alluring brand–one that achieved instant cult status the moment it landed in the United States.
When customers get the sense that a product is exclusive and out of reach, they crave it even more. The same wait-and-you-shall-be-rewarded tactic that worked for Pixi has also made international brands like Korean makeup line Clio and France’s Sensibio Bioderma micellar cleansing waters household names.
Another secret weapon that brands use to create a sense of exclusivity? The elusive waiting list, which drives us all crazy, but keeps customers wanting more. Into the Gloss, a beauty blog launched in 2010 by former Vogue staffer Emily Weiss, gained the trust of millions of loyal beauty enthusiasts who lived for its unbiased beauty reviews and interviews with celebs about nothing but their most treasured beauty products. By the time the brand felt ready to cut its teeth with a makeup line called Glossier in 2014, it had a devoted following eagerly waiting to try any and everything they put out there. Patience paid off: both Glossier’s Boy Brow and its Generation G lipsticks had 10,000-person waiting lists the moment they became available.
The same never-in-stock phenomenon has helped turn Kylie Jenner from reality TV star to business mogul. Her lip kits sell out immediately and all of the hype they’ve enjoyed has been the result of social media marketing, as well as Jenner’s genius move to wait until she became the most famous member of her family to launch her lipstick collection (because when was the last time you took the subway and saw a $10 million billboard featuring a supermodel wearing Kylie Jenner’s lipstick? Never). If you were one of hundreds of thousands of women and men to unsuccessfully score Pat McGrath’s Skin Fetish 003 highlighter, both before and after it was sold at Sephora, you understand that the words “out of stock” can do more for a product’s popularity than all of the billboards in Manhattan.
Word-of-mouth recommendations in the beauty industry are also critical to a product’s success, especially now when beauty bloggers and vloggers have taken over for actresses, singers and models and are a customer’s most-trusted and valuable source for unbiased information. Don’t get me wrong: when someone like Beyoncé reveals that she smears Aquaphor all over her face before bedtime, or when every classic beauty from Olivia Wilde to Liv Tyler and Charlize Theron swear by Cetaphil cleanser, we listen and then run to the drugstore to grab these cult products. Big-name celeb recommendations and product mentions in publications like Allure and Vogue are still coveted. But beauty bloggers like She’s In the Glow can, in one swift post that instantly reaches thousands of followers, puts in the groundwork needed to create the next line of cult beauty products.
Meanwhile, makeup and hair artists like Tamanna Roashan of Snapchat channel Dress Your Face Live or Manny Mua have the added benefit of possessing major skill when it comes to makeup application and hair styling, which doesn’t make viewers feel like they are being pushed into purchasing products. When Manny Mua releases a one-brand tutorial using only products by Tarte and people can see firsthand that tarte Rainforest of the Sea Foundation creates a flawless base, those 720,000+ viewers needn’t shell out money first and hope a product does what it claims; thanks to Manny, the proof is right before their eyes. It all comes back around to Bell’s explanation of how a cult product is created–you can’t fool customers. If you give them an effective beauty tool they need, they will keep the demand high.
Sure, it’s totally possible that 1.5 million Urban Decay Naked palettes would sell globally every minute without countless beauty bloggers and vloggers raving about how there are no color outliers to be found anywhere in its kits. And, yes, it’s also possible that Maybelline’s Great Lash Mascara would continue to be America’s best-selling mascara 40 years after it’s debut if makeup artists and beauty editors didn’t speak so highly of it. But I highly doubt UD or Maybelline are in any rush to prove that theory. On the contrary, makeup brands–whether they’re as well-established as Maybelline or are the ColourPop Cosmetics’ of the world with 2.8 million Instagram followers and counting–realize the importance of engaging customers these days in order to retain their cult product status or create new cult products. Brands encourage customers to use social media and specific hashtags to help promote their products and drive hype–and it works like a charm.
When a lipstick shade like ColourPop’s Bumble becomes so popular that it is tagged more than 10,000 times and customers can see for themselves how it looks amazing on practically every skin type (seriously, it does),we can feel something special is happening.
We’re witnessing the creation of the next cult beauty product.
For more beauty tips and news, check out beauty products that break the internet whenever they’re in stock and 7 sites where you can buy cult beauty products that aren’t sold in the U.S.
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