Maybelline’s Masterminds

By infusing the storied brand with the energy of New York City, Damien Bertrand and David Greenberg are creating a global sensation.

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Damien Bertrand

Jake Chessum

Image from Maybelline’s limited edition calendar, featuring the brand’s spokesmodels.

Image from Maybelline’s limited edition calendar, featuring the brand’s spokesmodels.

Courtesy of Maybelline

Appeared In
Special Issue
Beauty Inc issue 03/09/2012

New York has always had the power to beckon outsiders like Frank Sinatra and turn them into giants.

This story first appeared in the March 9, 2012 issue of WWD.  Subscribe Today.


That also goes for makeup brands. Maybelline, a midmarket mass color brand, came out of Memphis in 1996 after being acquired by L’Oréal. It cloaked itself in a New York persona, started doing trendy, fashion-inspired color stories and reached into a deep well of product imagination. As a result it has been among the hottest brands in the industry for the last few years and now claims to be the number-one makeup brand in the world — at any price point.

Damien Bertrand, global brand president of Maybelline New York, talks about the brand’s reach to more than 129 countries and its number-one rankings in the U.S., Australia, Germany, France and China. He also points out its street fashion cred — “from catwalk to sidewalk” — and the power of its labs to churn out innovation. But the driver behind the story is the brand’s home address.

“If you go to France, if you go to China — people know that we are from New York,” he says. “Our mission is to develop a vision of New York which is not [what] you find in a tourist guide. It’s the spirit of New York. When I walk the streets, I feel everything is possible. Women in New York feel confident. They can achieve anything they want. They have the power to be successful and it’s this emotion, this vibration, this dream of New York.”

David Greenberg, the U.S. president of Maybelline New York, Garnier and Essie, agrees. “It pushes you to be edgier, to be trendier, to be more innovative and more of a risk taker than if you had a different lens.”
All of that energy has electrified the brand.

“The last two years have been very strong for them, the eyes and lip products are strong,” says a major mass market retailer, who declares that Maybelline has the mojo to stay ahead of its customer by giving her innovative new products before she knows she wants them. The retailer was talking about a stream of clever launches like Baby Lips lip balms, The Falsies Mascara and Color Tattoo eye shadow. She adds that L’Oréal is also doing well with its Garnier and recently acquired Essie brands.

Industry consultant Kathy Steirly says it seems like Maybelline is hotter than ever, boosted by its success in mascara, but also across other categories.

According to figures from the SymphonyIRI Group, Maybelline topped the U.S. market in 2011 with 19 percent share of the $3.8 billion cosmetics category in food, drug and mass stores, not counting Wal-Mart. It finished the year one point ahead of archrival Cover Girl and seven points ahead of a resurgent Revlon, which has “turned itself around,” according to Victoria Gustafson, principal of strategic insights at IRI. L’Oréal does not break out sales results, but by calculating the brand’s market share figure and adding another 30 percent for Wal-Mart, industry sources estimate Maybelline appears to have generated nearly $990 million in retail sales in the U.S. last year.

According to Euromonitor International, the brand’s global retail sales hit $3.8 billion in 2010.


In particular, Maybelline had a banner 2010, chalking up a 13 percent increase for total cosmetics in the U.S., nearly twice the 7 percent overall gain for the category. In that year, the brand had an 8 percent increase in lip color — eclipsing the total category’s drop of minus 4 percent, and its eye sales jumped by 13 percent. Face zoomed ahead by 20 percent.

Maybelline’s gains cooled a bit — up by 8 percent — for 2011 in the total cosmetics category, due apparently to the challenge of matching the initial boost from the huge launches of 2010. One of those ground breaking entries was Volum’ Express The Falsies, a mascara that gives the effect of wearing false eye lashes. Maybelline counts it as the world’s number-one mascara, a category in which it is historically strong, with the 40-year-old Great Lash Mascara an iconic pillar of strength. The brand also claims the top world ranking in foundation for Dream Matte Mousse, a 2004 entry, and Color Sensational lip color, which launched in 2009, is the market leader in a number of countries.

A top launch for 2011 was the Fit Me brand of coordinated face makeup products that are organized on a number-matching system and geared toward a wide variety of skin tones. The company is also proud of the pioneering role it played in Asia by introducing its BB cream, an all-purpose product designed to improve, protect and provide natural coverage to the skin. According to industry sources, it could be the leading seller of all the competing BB creams that have since come onto the market, but the results have not been confirmed.


The goal is to achieve no less than worldwide domination of the global makeup market. “The ambition for Maybelline is to continue to be the leader of the category, to be growing and driving the growth of the color cosmetics industry,” Greenberg says, noting that the brand shoots for a double-digit sales increase every year. He describes color cosmetics as “the heart of the mass market.”


Executives at Walgreens say Maybelline is ahead of the curve, pointing to the brand’s ability to reach customers online and its fusion of fashion and beauty with its sponsorship of Mercedes-Benz Fashion Week. The company sponsors 12 shows during the New York collections and has 120 makeup artists working backstage. In addition to New York, Maybelline is also a sponsor for fashion weeks in Tokyo, Moscow, Amsterdam, Berlin, Lisbon, Tel Aviv, Kiev, Ukraine; Lodz, Poland and Toronto, Canada.

Bertrand sees innovation and education as the first two of his three pillars for brand growth. The third concentration is fashion. “Fashion is becoming increasingly important in the world and for Maybelline,” he says. “Makeup is getting increasingly closer to fashion. And I see Maybelline really playing a role.”

Alluding to the brand’s sponsorship of New York Fashion Week and its information stand set up outside the shows at Lincoln Center, he elaborates, “For me, what’s very important is not only Lincoln Center, it’s bringing the trend to the world. It is all the images on the cabs, on the streets of New York. So it’s not the fashion like the high-end fashion. What Maybelline translates is the trends, taking them from the catwalk, bringing them to the sidewalk — the democratization of trend.”

He continues, “Today, women don’t buy just the mascara anymore. They want to buy something that will give them the style, a look; it will put them closer to fashion.”

Bertrand also feels strongly about the need for education. “There are women in the world who don’t know how to apply makeup,” he declares, “who don’t know how to wear makeup and don’t know how to select the right shade. As the number-one [brand] we really need to be there at every level — on point of sale, on our product and now digitally — to give them the confidence to try, to dare. Because makeup is so important in a woman’s life.”


Asked what medium is used to educate, he says it takes different forms. He points to the introduction of Fit Me, which grew out of research that revealed how difficult it is for women to pick the right foundation shade along with a powder and concealer. The foundation comes in light, medium and dark shade ranges and the packaging bears a number in large font, such as 110. The customer then can pick out the other two products by matching the number.


Education is key in other areas of the world, too. “In China, education is very important because the market is less developed than in the U.S. or in Europe,” says Bertrand. “We have created something called The Make Up School online that gives tutorials for women on how to use the product that we’ve put on the market.”


Fit Me is billed as the first makeup created in a transparent gel designed to cover the skin while giving it a more natural look. Bertrand maintains that the concept is just as applicable in Europe. “Fit Me is just launching in Europe exactly on the same principle and it’s starting very well in Germany. It’s a 10 market share,” he notes.


That bit of wizardry dovetails with the lead element of Bertrand’s call to action, or as he put it, “innovation, innovation, innovation.” He proudly mentions that Great Lash still ranks number one in the U.S. and sells at the rate of one tube every 1.7 seconds.


Asked if Maybelline participates in L’Oréal’s new philosophy of universalization, in which products are developed overseas for distant, local populations then ex- ported back to the home market and elsewhere, Bertrand replies that Maybelline was a pioneer. He then ticks off a few examples:


A gel liner was developed for the Japanese market, which is very competitive for gels and shadows. Bertrand notes that women wanted an artistry tool that was also easy to apply, smudge-proof and versatile. The line can be made darker, “and you can create a lot of looks,” he notes, adding that the product was launched in Japan three years ago “and it’s everywhere now.”


He describes the process of developing a product for such a competitive market as a “torture test.” But it paid off. “It’s a great success in the U.S., a great success in Europe,” Bertrand says. “It’s as big as mascara — for a liner.” He points out that Maybelline developed the product at a time when “you didn’t see a lot of liners on the runway. So it was again being daring, taking risks and taking a bet.”

A huge category in Korea, Blemish Balm creams (or BB creams) are now migrating Westward. “It’s a kind of an instant transformer for your skin, so it’s in between makeup and skin care,” Bertrand says, noting that Maybelline’s version is designed to “give eight benefits in one” including hydrating, evening out and correcting the skin tone and hiding imperfections.


“We launched it all over Asia and now it’s not an Asian trend anymore, it’s a trend that is worldwide,” he says. “Maybelline BB Cream is number one in Japan and number one in China. It’s the number-one BB in Asia.”


The efforts of both Bertrand and Greenberg have been noticed by L’Oréal chairman and chief executive officer Jean-Paul Agon, who was recently reached in Tokyo. As president of the brand worldwide, Bertrand reports to Jean-Jacques Lebel, president of L’Oréal’s consumer products division worldwide, who is based at L’Oréal headquarters in Clichy, outside Paris.


Bertrand’s job is to decide the brand’s strategy globally — create the products, the marketing mix and the advertising for all markets on the planet, Agon explains, adding with a flourish, “He is very talented, very inspired, very creative.”


Greenberg is the president of Maybelline-Garnier-Essie U.S., reporting to Frederic Rozé, president and ceo of L’Oréal USA. “He is in charge of the U.S. market — business, sales and profit,” Agon says. “He is a great business guy: very talented, very professional, a great leader and a great partner with our retailers.”


Agon might well have added tenacious. Greenberg recalls how Maybelline took a chance in 2009 and entered the lip color category with Color Sensational as a way of diversifying away from its eye makeup core.“Most brands and retailers had sort of given up on growth in lip color,” he says. “So we came. It was a bit unpredictable and even a little risky.”


His instinct proved correct. “Color Sensational, since then, has grown each and every year,” he continues. “It’s a sustainable segment. The retail presentation also broke all the rules. We put in the [retail merchandising] wall our shade families separately so we had four trays of shade families. It hadn’t been done like that in a very, very long time. We also brought a lot of emotion with our advertising and with our messaging. We did some crazy things with the digital medium,” Greenberg recalls.


Greenberg sees plenty of future in lip color. “It’s going to depend a lot on where we decide to invest,” he says. “We see people moving away from the tube gloss business, which has been historically more low priced and a very young consumer. Young women — teens and tweens — are stepping up into more performance products and the stains: higher performance, longer wearing but not as opaque and not as covering as traditional lipstick, a modern look and feel — naturals and pinks and reds that give you that boost of color.”


Greenberg, who oversees L’Oréal’s Essie nail brand acquisition, also sees great opportunity in that category for Maybelline. “It is one of those high-penetration categories. Everybody wears it from age 14 to 74.”


He continues, “We could imagine very much that we would fit nicely into the nail category.” In May, the brand will launch Color Show nail lacquer in the U.S., a line that industry sources expect will reach $8.5 million in retail sales for 2012, excluding Wal-Mart. Maybelline’s existing line of Express Finish nail enamel will be discontinued.

Greenberg and Bertrand declined to provide more details on the new line or comment on the figures, but when asked where growth will come from, Bertrand points first to the brand’s signature item. “Mascara will still be big,” he says, noting that blockbusters like The Colossal and The Falsies owe much of their impact to the innovative shapes of the brushes. He also sees opportunity in the eye liner and eye shadow market, and as for foundation, Bertrand quotes survey results showing that 50 percent of American women still don’t wear it.


“In terms of expansion, we have some recruitment that we can do everywhere in the world,” Bertrand continues. “That’s why, by being very close to each market, we can feel this innovation and be the first. As innovation is our engine, we’ll take the lead.”


As Maybelline has honed its pop fashion message, it has swum out of the mainstream into social media and pop-up shops to showcase the brand’s attributes. What Maybelline does at the fashion shows gets fed into what Greenberg refers to as the “outreach program.” “We take what we’re doing in the tents and bring it to everybody through YouTube and Project Runway, through our blogging and our Facebook page,” he says, including live-streaming fashion shows so editors can keep up with the action as they wait in line at the tents.

“Digital today doesn’t sum up the enormity of what needs to be done to keep a brand relevant in front of the consumer,” he says. “The first thing is to be consistent across everything we do, so from in-store to our current branded Web site to what we do in social media to our Facebook page to our events and our presence at events, we try to be diligent about presenting a consistent image of Maybelline. It feels very holistic.”


Each medium has specific capabilities. “You can leverage YouTube because video is fantastic for cosmetics. You can see the look and you can understand what you’re talking about when you talk about shadows and liners and lip colors,” Greenberg says. “Facebook is great because we have an enormous number of fans. Our Web site allows us to offer the most interesting experience. We’ve taken a rule-breaking approach, where we didn’t start with the idea of a product catalogue. We started with the idea of fashion, aspirational images, the emotion that comes with wearing Maybelline cosmetics and how that fits into the consumer’s life. It’s an ambitious undertaking, but we wanted to do it differently.”


In terms of product category development, Greenberg sees no slowdown on the advance into color. “If you look at the major color categories, we have greater ambition in every single one,” he says. “In eye, we continue to have interest in growing our shadow business.” Alluding to the success of last year’s Eye Studio Color Explosion shadows and this year’s Color Tattoo gel shadow, which has scored with its teal shade, he says, “People are coming to these products for a real color statement. We’re inspired to keep going, all the way from the eyes to the face.” And in terms of lip: “We continue to think that we can do a lot more to grow the business.”


Greenberg seems encouraged by the innovations that have cropped up at retail in the last three or four years, like the 40 Wall Street Duane Reade location, Walgreens’ downtown Chicago store, Beauty 360 at CVS, Wal-Mart’s Project Impact and Target’s Destination Beauty.


“The great challenge is to stay the course,” he maintains. “It’s great to pilot some different ideas but it’s another thing to do it consistently and continually.”


Greenberg reflects for a moment, then adds, “That’s still the holy grail, how do you help [the customer] understand what purchase to make, what product is right for her, and get her to buy a regime of products that’s correct for her needs and not frustrate her at point of sale. A lot of work has been done on image. The next step is about education and information. We’re thankful to have the worldwide Web so information is available. But for a lot of people it’s still going to happen right there, right then and there. And there is still a lot of work to be done.”

Maybelline New York: Keeping a Global Powerhouse on Top

Fashion for All: By bringing the catwalk to the sidewalk, Maybelline’s goal is to democratize beauty trends and have its products become synonymous with style.


Take Risks, Reap Rewards: Maybelline launched Color Sensational lip color when many had given up on the category. Today, it’s a market leader.

Room to Grow:
Even in developed markets like the U.S., opportunity abounds. As Bertrand points out, 50 percent of American women don’t wear foundation.


Energizing the Online Presence: Maybelline’s Web site is designed to convey its emotional and aspirational point of view, rather than a product repository.


Teacher’s Pet: From Asia to America and all points in between, emphasizing and improving point of sale education is a key initiative going forward.

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