Courtesy of Maybelline

Maybelline is breaking out of its mass-market mold.

The L’Oréal-owned makeup brand is sponsoring one of two branded rooms inside the Color Factory experiential exhibit making its debut in New York’s SoHo on Aug. 20. The Maybelline space — themed to the Super Stay Matte Ink liquid lipstick, which has been a sales boon this year — will host a bar, interactive dance floor, a photo booth, glitter wall and other Instagram-able moments.

It’s the latest move by the megabrand to stay relevant with Millennial and Gen Z consumers at a time where foot traffic is down in its traditional channels — drug and mass stores — and young shoppers opt to discover and buy product via specialty retailers, Amazon and digital-born direct-to-consumer brands.

Color Factory — an interactive, experiential pop-up in the vein of 29Rooms and Museum of Ice Cream — made its debut in San Francisco last August, intended as a monthlong pop-up celebrating local artists whose work focuses on bold color, ultimately staying open for eight months. New York’s 20,000-square-foot iteration, located at 251 Spring Street, will house 16 installations from local artists, designers, illustrators and other creatives, inspired by “colorful moments” around New York. Maybelline is one of two branded rooms — the other is Gymboree’s.

The interactive dance floor at Maybelline’s Color Factory installation. 

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“We want to have true consumer-facing experiences [as we continue to evolve Maybelline],” said Amy Whang, senior vice president of marketing at Maybelline in the U.S. “The younger consumer today is looking beyond just the regular shopping experience. Basically, we want to show that we’re not just an old heritage brand of drugstore makeup, and that we can provide them with high-performance products that are on-trend.”

New York’s Color Factory exhibit is set to last for nine months, and Whang is hoping to ultimately offer limited-edition or exclusive product via Maybelline’s installation. “For a brand like Maybelline that consumers can buy anywhere, they’re looking to buy something they can’t get elsewhere,” said Whang.

Offering consumers interactive experiences outside the online and traditional brick-and-mortar shopping spaces is becoming increasingly important for beauty brands as they look to differentiate in a crowded market and drive in-store sales. Millennial makeup brand Winky Lux opened its first of five experience stores earlier this month. The SoHo location is home to a matcha zen garden and a giant lemon juicer. For mass legacy brands, experience-based environments like BeautyCon are ways to reach young consumers who are not shopping for makeup at the drugstore. Some are even experimenting with stand-alone retail — Cover Girl this fall is set to open an experiential flagship in Times Square.

Maybelline has fared better than most of its competitors in a challenged mass market. A robust influencer marketing strategy has propelled the brand to mainstay status on Tribe Dynamics’ monthly earned media value rankings. Blockbuster product launches like the Super Stay Matte Ink have also helped. Maybelline was up 15 percent in the lip category as of July, versus a category decline of 2 percent, according to IRI.

The brand has seen “great turnaround” in 2018, said Whang, calling this year “a very different feeling” from last year, and noting that the brand is more “focused” than ever. She attributes this in part to a simplified product launch strategy. Instead of launching dozens of sku’s and marketing them all at the same time, the brand is building big campaigns around “big bet launches” like Super Stay Matte Ink, Tattoo Brow Gel and Total Temptation Mascara, and releasing them throughout the year, interspersed with trend-driven, limited-edition launches like the Lemonade Palette to drive scarcity-fueled buzz. In terms of messaging, the Maybelline has homed in on four key pillars — New York City, fashion, inclusivity and education — that set the tone for all its marketing efforts.

Maybelline is continuing its efforts with New York Fashion Week, and in September unveiling Maybelline House, a hub for editors, influencers and consumers to take master classes and — of course — experience an Instagram-able moment between shows. Later in the fall, the brand is expected to reveal new campaign imagery and visuals for 2019.

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