Call it the golden age of masstige.
Beauty’s oft-overlooked in-between category is experiencing a newfound relevance, as Internet-born brands peddling trendy items with luxe packaging flood mass retail shelves and heritage drugstore brands shift their marketing strategies to focus on digital and speed up innovation pipelines.
Masstige is growing, experts say, because its core definition is shifting. Historically delineated by price — cheaper than prestige, but more expensive than mass — consumers are increasingly defining masstige brands as lower-priced lines that are perceived as prestige or prestigelike.
The masstige comprises not just disruptor brands like ColourPop and Morphe, which both entered Ulta Beauty this year, but also legacy brands like Maybelline and Wet ‘n’ Wild that have introduced trend-driven product offerings on faster timelines and have implemented influencer marketing. In a retail report released by Jefferies last week, analyst Stephanie Wissink noted “in addition to [E.l.f. Cosmetics, NYX, Morphe and Maybelline], we are closely monitoring brands such as Makeup Revolution, ColourPop, Essence Cosmetics, Pixi, Milani, Wet ’n’ Wild, L.A. Colors, among numerous others that are exhibiting these masstige [consumer-defined] characteristics.”
“In the last four to five months, we’ve changed how we think about masstige — it’s less about price and more about perception. The brands defining the category are perceived as more prestige. When [the consumer] arrives at retail and finds they are priced lower, it is a pleasant surprise to her,” said Wissink.
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This means that on social media — where consumers are discovering and increasingly shopping for new products — a brand doesn’t have to be known as either a department store or a drugstore brand, prestige or mass. Instead, lines such as NYX, E.l.f. and Maybelline that are known as traditionally mass brands are often mentioned in the same videos and posts by influencers as lower-priced alternatives to prestige brands like Anastasia Beverly Hills and Tarte.
“What it comes down to is how people discover new brands and products — these types of brand comparisons didn’t happen when consumers discovered product via retail,” said Conor Begley, cofounder of Tribe Dynamics. “People discover brands now online, where Jeffree Star can talk about a Wet ’n’ Wild foundation as an alternative to a Giorgio Armani foundation.”
“A brand like Maybelline is priced squarely in the mass definition, but it is talked about in [influencer] content with prestige brands, so the perception of the brand is that it is more prestige,” said Wissink. “These are the brands defining the masstige category.”
Tribe Dynamics tracked the rise of masstige in 2017, noting the shift in its annual report. Of the top 10 EMV-earning brands in the mass category, eight of those brands could be categorized as masstige, according to Tribe — NYX, Morphe, Maybelline, L’Oréal Paris, ColourPop, Makeup Geek, E.l.f. and Wet ’n’ Wild.
Disruptor brands touting trend-driven, prestige-inspired goods entering the mass market is not a new phenomenon. E.l.f launched in 2004 and NYX was acquired by L’Oréal in 2014.
“Masstige isn’t a new concept,” said Monica Arnaudo, senior vice president of merchandising at Ulta Beauty. “What I’m seeing happening is once brands would come in and say, ‘We’re mass or prestige’ and now [brands] are coming in right in the middle. They are launching products that have the pricing and quality where you’d say, ‘This is either the high end of mass or the low end of prestige.’ They can really play into either area.”
Today’s in-between category has expanded beyond just NYX and E.l.f. to include a slew of trendy makeup lines covering various niche ground — from brush-focused artistry brands to lines centered on everyday glitter. Skin care is a growing part of the category — from Pixi’s natural offering to Deciem’s The Ordinary to Mario Badescu, the heritage spa brand that shows up in Tribe’s EMV reports.
“The disruptors from a few years ago were more generalist-style brands trying to cover a lot of ground,” said Wissink. “What we’re seeing now from Makeup Revolution, Pixi, Morphe and Essence Cosmetics [and more] is they’re starting to narrow in on a specific segment and build a business and brand [around that.]”
It is legacy drugstore brands as well, who are shifting product assortments and marketing strategies. Legacy drugstore brand Maybelline — which is consistently noted as a high earner in Tribe’s EMV reports — has found its niche in creating trend-driven makeup staples designed for the everyday, non-makeup-artist consumer to use. It also works with influencers, serves as a key sponsor in New York Fashion Week shows and last summer launched a YouTube series with Nikkie de Jager of @NikkieTutorials. “We want to create an aspiration outside of stores as well,” said senior vice president of marketing Amy Whang.
For Evelyn Wang, senior vice president of marketing at Markwins-owned Wet ‘n’ Wild, marketing the drugstore brand in an aspirational way goes from conception to execution. “When it comes to innovating new ideas, we don’t start with the constraint of our price point, we begin with the starting point of delivering what’s on trend and then work backwards to hit financial targets Frankly, it can cost just as much to produce an ugly product versus an attractive one so design doesn’t add cost, but it does require thought and imagination.”
Wet ‘n’ Wild recently entered two-thirds of Ulta Beauty’s doors. It historically had been known as a 99 cent drugstore staple, but influencers began to notice the brand’s new trend-driven offerings like its MegaGlo Highlighters and PhotoFocus foundation, along with its cruelty-free, Made-in-L.A. proposition.
“Our influencers tell us,” said Evelyn Wang, senior vice president of marketing at Wet ‘n’ Wild. “They love that we are able to deliver cruelty-free products that are surprising for the drugstore at an affordable price. That’s what the true value is — delivering something that is unexpectedly good for the price point.