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Carlotta Jacobson and Jill Scalamandre Analyze This Year’s Field of Award Contestants

A total of 900 entries has been boiled down to 230 finalists for the CEW Beauty Insider Awards, all vying for awards in 35 categories.

The CEW Beauty Insider awards are something of a barometer for the state of the market.

This year’s finalists, which are tracked in conjunction with The NPD Group, confirmed various burgeoning trends — men’s grooming, lip treatments, moisturizers and masks of all kinds are each having their moment in the sun. Other awards are signs of the time — this year, the addition of the Best Collaboration award reflected the continuing influencer craze.

But one forecast was clear — Indie brands are only getting hotter.

“I could not believe the amount of Indies — there’s just this explosion of brands that are digitally native,” said Jill Scalamandre, who serves as CEW chairwoman. Her day job is serving as president of Shiseido’s Global Makeup Center of Excellence, from where she took this interview with CEW president Carlotta Jacobson.

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In 2016, the annual honors — bestowed every year on the winning products and brands deemed most innovative by the members of the U.S. CEW organization and its board of governors at a celebratory luncheon — revealed that newly acquired niche labels like GlamGlow were garnering as many awards as those won by the more established players they’ve been snapped up by.

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Those wins — like GlamGlow’s award for best prestige antiaging skin-care product — did not go unnoticed by the small Indie brands clamoring to be recognized by the industry.

“Ten percent of our membership is now Indie brands,” said Jacobson, who noted that last year there was only one award dedicated solely to Indie lines. This year there are four — brand, makeup, fragrance and skin care. “It got to a point where we felt it wasn’t an even playing field, so we opened it up.“

Part of the need for more product categories this year was because of a surge in entrants. “We had 900 entries,” said Jacobson. “We started with 900 products from 500 brands. Twenty-three years ago, when we started it, we had 35 [finalists]. This year we had 230 finalists. We’ve grown every single year, and you think it can’t get bigger, but it gets bigger.”

Certain success stories have come out of the CEW Awards, said Jacobson, that make the honors all the more appealing to Indie lines just getting their start. And while winning is certainly a plus, sometimes just being affiliated has its merits.

“It [Cosmetics] was discovered at our [product demonstration],” said Jacobson, referring to the annual expo where brands who have submitted entries for consideration set up booths in the Metropolitan Pavilion and CEW members browse through them. “They’d tried for years to get on [QVC], and someone was there and tried the product and liked them.”

A real boon for brands is to win the QVC Beauty Quest Award, which gives the winning brand — last year, it was buzzy makeup line Tréstique — the opportunity to be featured on the home shopping network. “You get this enormous exposure if you win,” said Jacobson.

The QVC award is one way CEW has ventured outside the industry bubble to get its seal of approval in front of consumers. The other way is through social media.

“I think for a brand, the award does more today than it did in the past — you can use the seal, and there’s vehicles to put it out there,” said Scalamandre. “Social media didn’t exist when we first started, and you had to wait to get the seal at retail and it took six to nine months. Today, you get it in front of the consumer tomorrow.”

The organization itself uses social media to let consumers know what the awards mean. “You have the ability to tell the story now — who CEW is, who voted — there’s this storytelling around it that you couldn’t do years ago.”

“We’re a neutral third party,” said Jacobson. “A brand can say they have the best product or they’re the most innovative this year, but an organization of the entire industry is much more powerful. Members vote on it, and that makes it different than other awards.”

Last year, said Jacobson, CEW reached 21 million consumers, mainly by social media and digital marketing. There is also the Iconic Consumer’s Choice Award, for which CEW teams with Meredith to circulate an online survey that polls consumers on their favorite classic products. The winner is announced at the awards luncheon. “People felt the awards weren’t complete without a consumer point of view,” said Jacobson.