The Beauty Revolution

- Jane Sayer

the beauty

discover the major cultural shifts that are
impacting, and changing, the beauty category

at the touch of a button

There was a time when cultural trends were easy to define. Information took time to reach an audience and a lot fell away before it reached mass consumption. Today, there is so much content that can be communicated and spread in less time than it takes to say “gone viral,” it can be hard to keep up.
Miguel Gambino, New York City’s chief technology officer said it best:

“The phrase ‘the only thing that’s constant is change’ needs to be adjusted to ‘the only thing constant is the increasing pace of change.”

Historically brands formed deep connections with people and could rise to icon status. Brands had meaning which in turn gave them tremendous equity and value. Today, with the speed of technology, changing demographics and desires, this landscape is much harder to navigate.

Culture is overwhelming & disposable. The abundance of choice has rendered us paralyzed and that choice and availability has led to poor quality products and a loss of meaning in our possessions. Where once choice was desired, now it’s simplicity.

Culture is divided. Technology has created digital bubbles that affect what is marketed to us. The cultural landscape is fragmented and It is imperative that brands are proactive in taking a personalized approach versus mass marketing.

Culture is always shifting. There is a power shift that is happening in culture all the time. From the #metoo movement that challenges long-held patriarchal norms to a power shift between brands and their consumers. According to Emily Weiss, founder of Glossier:

”Women are in the driver’s seat. They are
in charge of their routines, and they can find all the information they need from their friends or from other women in the world and online.”

Within this new cultural landscape, a fundamental change is occurring. The once steady plates of the beauty industry, Luxury & Identity, that promised exclusivity and magic in a bottle, are being challenged by a culture that is committed to redefining both.

codes of luxury redefined

The desire for luxury goods has always been fundamentally tied to identity
and a perception of wealth & success. But according to RTG Consulting:
“about 62% of Generation D (as in digital, those under the age of 20)
no longer equate success with financial wealth.”

“I found that a lot of the old ideas of what luxury meant were just breaking
down and didn’t mean anything to the next generation. I don’t think luxury has to be exclusive. Because sometimes ‘exclusive’ just means excluding.”
Stuart Vevers,
creative director, Coach


With a new generation that places value on authenticity and inclusivity, can an elitist ideology thrive in a Gen Y driven culture where aspirations for identity go beyond perfection. With the very underpinnings of Luxury in question, one might ask what will take its place?

Brands such as Makeup Forever have made inclusivity a part of their mission with a line of 75 shades of foundation.
This and other similar innovations has paved the way for other brands and industries – from Band Aids to Ballet Shoes – to target a long-overlooked minority consumer. Meanwhile, Lancôme publicly apologized to Isabella Rossellini for firing her 20 years ago, and re-hired her, putting them back on the radar for consumers looking to engage with a brand with a moral compass.

Meanwhile the Luxury category has slowly been opening its ornately decorative doors to a mass market. Driven by a need to adapt to changes in consumer needs and intuiting that the power in the ‘Badge Factor’ was eroding, the codes of luxury changed. The result has been an identity crisis of sorts whereby the elitism of Luxury, co-opted by mass brands, has weakened.

This democratization of design has led to a situation that we, as brand and packaging experts, are seeing predominately in beauty; packaging that isn’t working as hard as it could. A sea of sameness meets us at shelf, with logo acting as the biggest differentiator. This challenges brand equity and falls pray to category dynamics, not cultural realities.

responding to change

As the industry transforms we are seeing new approaches applied across a broad range of categories that are impacting the way brands are innovating and marketing their products. Here are 6 ways brands can stand out in a sea of same.

be experiential – If you can think it, you can experience it! UX in all its forms has become an essential part of any marketing budget and due to the dynamic nature of the medium, is constantly evolving.

be edible – You are what you eat. Cap Beauty in the NYC’s West Village has a Grocery section, selling everything from coconut butter and matcha sticks, to supplement powders and vitamins. Bobbi Brown’s new book “Beauty from the Inside Out” challenges the myth that an expensive skin cream is the answer for good looking skin.

“It’s honestly about a healthy lifestyle. All the creams on the market, nothing is going to give you healthy looking skin. So it’s got to be … what you put in your body.”
Bobbi Brown

be non-conformist – While the trend is to swim against the tide, don’t be tempted to head to the local tattoo parlor. As personalities such as James Charles are challenging our beauty norms, there are more and more products on the market that encourage out-of-the-box experimentation.

be sustainable – From single use shaving cream that dissolves with water in your palm to refillable make-up packages from Kjaer Weis and sugar cane derived skincare, brands are innovating and thinking beyond the recycling bin to ways that sustainability can be a part of a whole brand philosophy. And beyond sustainability, support for ethical practices are on the rise, most recently from Unilever who have announced support for a global ban on animal-tested cosmetics.

be experimental – Over the years, beauty has become very serious, but we can see that some brands are setting the stage for that to change. We think it’s time to loosen things up and have a little fun. Panda bear face masks anyone?

be consumer led – Glossier has made a business out of being responsive to their consumers’ needs by having them play an active role in product innovations.

Rethink and Redefine

Change is good. Let these shifts in thinking be your guide as you navigate the tides of change…

think authenticity over artificiality
The emerging generation has grown up in a digital age, knowing that nothing can be taken at face value.
This desire for authenticity extends to a desire to be true to who you are.

think creativity over fantasy
Beauty has been selling fantasy for decades, but today reality sells and connects with a consumer who values creativity and individualism over pretense.

think access over elitism
The impact of badge brands has faded now that luxury has become mass. Brands must find a new way to stand out and attract attention beyond being status symbols.
think freedom over status Millennials and Gen Z see experience and freedom as a symbol of luxury, not possessions. As a result, BMW considers Uber their competition, not Mercedes.

think legacy over heritage
Relying on heritage-only communication is less important today than incorporating values and behavior that leave a lasting legacy. A big part of this shift is recognizing that sustainability is a must, not a nice-to-have.


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