Skip to main content

What to Watch: Mass Makeup Gets a Makeover

Legacy brands like Cover Girl and Almay are reinventing themselves in the face of heightened competition from online brands and slowing foot traffic in department stores.

Faced with a confluence of symptoms — think slowing foot traffic at drugstore retailers and heightened competition from direct-to-consumer newcomers like ColourPop and Kylie Cosmetics — a slew of mass makeup brands are undergoing radical makeovers in 2018.

Re-branding efforts from Cover Girl, Rimmel London, Physicians Formula, Revlon and Almay are slated to hit shelves in the first half of the year, and discount and drugstore retailers are hoping the trend-driven offerings will lure customers back to their doors.

Cover Girl’s new campaign is by far the most hyped — and quite possibly the most needed. Now fully divested from Procter & Gamble and under Coty’s watch, buyers have earmarked the struggling brand as the one they are most excited to watch transition. This month, Cover Girl is rolling out more than 100 new trend-driven products with an updated logo and tagline and a splashy advertising campaign featuring Katy Perry and five new Cover Girls who blur the line between celebrity and influencer — think Issa Rae, Ayesha Curry, Maye Musk, motorcycle racer Shelina Moreda and fitness trainer Massy Arias.

Almay and Physicians Formula are also both introducing revamps. Almay has adopted a more Millennial-friendly look and tone, tapping Rashida Jones as a brand ambassador. One new product for January, a foundation with an attached blending sponge, is cheekily named “Best Blend Forever.” The brand is unleashing a slew of new products, including eye palettes and a South-Korean-inspired eyebrow tint.

You May Also Like

While Cover Girl and Almay focus on attracting the Millennial shopper with trend, Physicians Formula is also totally revamping — but with an opposite strategy. The brand has experienced fits and starts since being acquired by Southern Calif.-based Markwins International Corp. — too sharp of a focus on trends like color-correcting and argan oil-infused makeup caused the brand to see sales decline and it lost prime space in Walgreens. Company executives blame the losses on a lack of a strong brand identity. But this year Physicians Formula is going back to basics and reinforcing its ethos as a brand offering better-for-you ingredients and products that will impart a “you but better” look. The company this month is unveiling a string of beauty essentials formulated with natural and skin-care ingredients, including the Healthy Foundation, which contains hylauronic acid and a proprietary brightening complex containing Chinese Wu Zhu Yu extract.

“Brands are all investing across the board,” said one top drugstore executive. A few years ago, she said, mass cosmetics was bigger than prestige. That flip-flopped over the past 18 months, fueled by specialty stores attracting shoppers with eye palettes, premium mascaras and brow products. The impact of minis also created a sales bonanza in prestige. Shoppers hesitant to shell out for a full-size product in premium doors used to opt for mass alternatives. Now, they have the option of buying the smaller size of an upscale item for the same price as a similar full-size product as mass — a compelling alternative for those are purchasing for fun and experimentation over commodity.

One strategy brands are fighting back with is making their own versions of pricier items. That was the recipe for success of L’Oréal’s Lash Paradise (a retailer favorite of 2017) which buyers said gave them an alternative to Too Faced’s Better than Sex mascara. This year, buyers added, the race is to offer a less expensive option to the array of scented eyeshadows hitting the market. Eyebrow tinting products like Almay’s — Physician’s Formula has one too — and “glotions” from L’Oréal and Cover Girl are also expected to be plentiful. Buyers also welcome faster to market color trends such as holographic palettes and broader shade ranges for face à la Fenty — although they added brands will have to keep the need for inventory turns in mind. “It is difficult to expand too much because of space,” a drugstore source confirmed.

Retailers noted most of the other major beauty brands at this point have an arsenal of influencers, extended shade ranges and products for younger consumers. The challenge will be to stand out in a crowded field where many of the mass cosmetics players are taking the same route. “The brands are all trying to find their niche in the market,” said one retailer.

Sales figures for mass makeup last year weren’t pretty — traditional categories like mascara, foundation, eyeshadow and lipstick all declined, though there were bright spots in categories offering more trend-driven innovation such as concealers and eyebrow products. But the numbers don’t tell the full story — they do not account for sales of brands on e-commerce, in specialty retail or on Amazon.

In 2018, mass-makeup brands are looking to grow in channels outside the traditional drugstore and mass retail. “We’re awfully strong on Amazon,” said Eric Chen, chief executive officer of Markwins. “We’re building [out] our own site and putting a lot of effort into it — it [could be] one of Markwins’ biggest growth drivers.” Markwins has already seen growth in e-commerce with Wet ‘n’ Wild — sales on the brand’s website were up 114 percent from 2016 to 2017. E-commerce is where brands who have limited space on-shelf can house the breadth of their assortments — including extended shade ranges. As one brand exec put it, “the rack is unlimited” online.

For consumers who still want to shop brick-and-mortar, specialty stores like Ulta Beauty and Forever 21’s Riley Rose offer physical homes for low-priced niche brands — Ulta in particular ramped up its mass offerings in 2017 with brands like Sleek Makeup, Beauty Revolution, Morphe and Milani and is continuing into the new year with the launch of Wet ‘n’ Wild. Said senior vice president of merchandising Monica Arnaudo, “We’re seeing a lot of the midtier brands entering the space, and these fun, younger brands coming in.”