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WWD Digital Beauty Forum: How MAC Taps Into Its History to Create Relevance

From influencer activations to product collaborations, MAC Cosmetics has been able to combine its rich heritage with next-generation technology to drive relevance.

Although she’s only been with MAC Cosmetics for a year, when Kelly Solomon, senior vice president of consumer marketing, approached bringing the brand to market in new ways, she immediately went back in time. “MAC is 35 years old — we have emotion, passion, vision, heart and soul,” said Solomon during her keynote presentation. “I used that brand identity as a filter through which we make all decisions.”

During her time at MAC, Solomon has identified and amplified the “red threads” that run throughout the brand’s history. For example, the MAC AIDS Fund, which was started 25 years ago and has raised more than $480 million to date. “Social good is not something the brand does,” said Solomon. “It’s who we are.”

Ditto word-of-mouth marketing. Solomon credited MAC’s explosive growth in the Nineties to word of mouth, noting how that has morphed today into social media. While the brand has an enormous cross-platform following — its reach is 100 million strong Solomon said — what’s really important is engagement and comments. “We use our artists to create conversation. This drives the love for the brand.

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“Two-way dialogue is table stakes,” she continued. “But we also owe it to our fans to pilot new technology like Instagram TV.” For MAC, storytelling is more important than being first to a new platform or technology. So for IGTV, for example, the brand created behind-the-scenes vignettes with MAC global makeup artist Ashley Rudd as she kicked off her meetings during New York Fashion Week last fall with artists and designers about backstage looks. “This is an example of being authentic to the brand and choiceful about content,” said Solomon.

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Another red thread that has run through the history of MAC is collaborations, in terms of products and content. When it comes to product collabs, MAC has deployed several successful strategies. One is using an influencer who truly has an authentic connection to the brand, such as a collaboration with Patrick Starrr, which consisted of five collections launched throughout the year. “He worked in a MAC store in high school. He’s extremely knowledgeable and has a background in artistry, just like our two founders,” said Solomon.

Hyper-local collaborations have also been sales successes. For example, after reading Kuwaiti influencer Ahood Alenezi post about not being able to find the perfect nude lipstick for her skin tone, MAC reached out and offered to co-create it. The resulting lipstick sold out in three days in Kuwait, Jordan, Oman and Qatar.

MAC used the insights gleaned from that project to create a new program called MAC Makers, featuring 19 influencers from 17 markets, who were invited to the brand’s SoHo headquarters and let loose in the labs to create shades and content on the spot. The results are available on and in local markets.

The brand is also creating and capitalizing on opportunities for influencers to create exclusive content, whether an immersive event for Studio Fix Foundation held during Paris Fashion Week last year for 22 VIP influencers or an upcoming experience in Tokyo where visitors can revel in MAC’s take on a season, in this case spring, all eminently photographable and Instagrammable (think a ‘boom bloom room’ filled with cherry blossoms, for example.)

“We use history to guide us, and we get a lot of inspiration from consumers online and in stores,” Solomon said. And MAC being MAC, its makeup artist community is key, too. “We have 19,000 artists globally,” Solomon concluded. “They are our biggest advocates — they’re craftsmen, educators and teachers.”