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On the surface, mascara doesn’t seem like a particularly interesting product. I’ve often thought of mascaras as interchangeable tubes of boot-black goo. But you won’t hear that from brands, who spend a significant amount of research and development time getting their latest, or their first, mascara just right, as well as trying any number of tricks to differentiate it from the rest of the pack.
And people are buying: Last April, a report from the Benchmarking Co. that ran in WWD said that out of their study of 7,000 American beauty consumers, 98 percent of beauty consumers purchased mascara in the past year. What types of mascaras were they looking for? Volume, length, waterproof, lash separation, and longwear. In short: everything. No wonder there are so many mascaras on the market.
Here’s where marketing comes in: How do mascaras make themselves stand out, whether it’s an outstanding new formula, eye-catching packaging, an intriguing ingredient, or some other sort of hype?
To get a behind-the-scenes look at the complexity of building a mascara in a crowded market, Racked interviewed three beauty companies — Milk Makeup, Glossier, and Wet n Wild — about the development of their newest mascaras. We asked them about everything from brainstorming, product development, and formulation testing to packaging and marketing.
Ideation: what are we going to make, and why?
When a brand goes to create a new mascara, what “usually” happens is that there’s a “need that’s been identified,” said Elyse Kaye, an innovation and product development consultant who has worked extensively on mascaras for major brands.
“It’s usually a consumer complaint or a consumer desire. … It could have come from consumer research or even online social media listening,” Kaye explained. Perhaps “the consumer complaint was not being able to put [the mascara] on equally.” In that case, it’s her job to “change how it’s applied, change the composition.”
In any case, the initial phase is where the brand comes up with the “effect.” Do they want a curling mascara? And will they make sure it’s non-clumping? Or will they create something in an unusual new color? Or build the formula around a sexy ingredient, like coconut oil? What about a customized wand that promises miracles, like Chanel’s new 3D printed Le Volume Revolution?
Kush High Volume Mascara, which took 18 months to develop, is Milk Makeup’s third eyelash product. Their other two are Ubame Mascara and Weekend Lash Stain (both launched two years ago). When thinking up Kush, Milk developers had to make sure they would create a unique role for the company’s third mascara.
“We thought about where we wanted to live in the mascara landscape and built formulas around that,” said Dianna Ruth, COO and co-founder of Milk Makeup. “We first thought about what we wanted the end effect to be, such as a more natural look [Ubame], a three-day stain [Weekend Lash Stain], or bold lashes in one swipe [Kush].”
Both Glossier and Wet n Wild listened to their customers on social media to discover what they wanted.
Glossier did initial research on its Lash Slick mascara — its first eyelash product — the way they often do. They “combed through thousands of comments, emails, tweets, and Into the Gloss interviews,” said the development team, who only wanted to be identified as such, via email. Mascara was the second-most requested product by the Glossier community, they told Racked.
And what did people want? Lengthening, lifting, defining, and a formula that “holds like a waterproof formula but without the struggle of taking one off,” said the development team.
Wet n Wild was also listening in online; they had “a lot of requests via social media for more varied shades of mascara. One of the reasons consumers turn to Wet n Wild is to experiment with color without breaking the bank,” said Evelyn Wang, senior vice president of marketing of Wet n Wild Beauty. “We realized we had a void of mascara shades within our regular core-line and purple was trending as a shade.” (This was ahead of Pantone picking purple as the color of 2018, she mentioned).
“We also saw an interest in crystals picking up,” added Wang, “and the product component already had a multi-faceted crystalline look [in the design of its wand], so we thought we could tell a really nice story about an Amethyst shade.”
Development: down to the nitty gritty
Once the basic idea is in place, a simplified way of explaining what happens next is that the brand chooses ingredients, then test how they work together and with the brush and packaging. There may be “product as well as consumer testing,” said Kaye.
The Wet n Wild’s Avenging Amethyst mascara was an extension of an existing mascara, the Lash Renegade line. They were just creating it in a purple color, so they didn’t have to do the same kind of development that Milk and Glossier did.
“One of our core strategies is to build out and extend successful product lines,” said Wang. “The numbers validated that extending out this mascara line would make sense.”
Wet n Wild is a “fast beauty” brand. They began development in October of last year and launched Avenging Amethyst in May. That’s a speedy eight-month turnaround.
Milk looked for ingredients that would create the lush, full effect they had decided on.
“We also really looked into ingredients and what was needed to achieve those effects. … With Kush Mascara, we wanted to create a full-volume-in-one-swipe formula,” said Ruth. “The key ingredients are cannabis oil, unique heart-shaped fibers, and pure pigment. The conditioning cannabis oil fuses the heart-shaped fibers to lashes for thickness without the fallout.”
The fibers are near to Milk’s heart. “They are really an innovation, a first in market technology that we wanted to be the first to bring to America,” she said. “We felt they would create a more voluminous lash. … Fibers in the market are usually straight, and that gives length, but it can also lead to a spidery-looking lash. Whereas the heart-shaped fibers, and the fact that they are hollow, gives a fatter, plumper-looking lash.”
And then there was the very Milk addition of the CBD oil. Ruth said the ingredient was not only very “on-brand” and “edgy” marketing-wise, but it’s also vegan. Milk is now a completely vegan line, a development they announced in March. “Part of making the Kush Mascara vegan meant using the cannabis oil as an alternative to beeswax.”
Glossier also chose a fiber mascara, to both lengthen and wash off easily:
“We zeroed in on a combination of Japanese fiber technology and lifting film formers; the teeny tiny fibers lock onto the ends of lashes to create a baby-extension and the film formers, designed to wash off easily with warm water and cleanser, lock them into place for super staying power,” said the Glossier product development team. “Then we added ingredients like biotin and natural shine polymers to condition lashes so they’re stronger and healthier.”
Meanwhile, Glossier highlighted their testing process.
“Mascara is one of the most challenging products to develop,” said the Glossier team. “There are three critical components: the formula, the brush, and the wiper. You can fall in love with the performance of a certain formula, but if you make the tiniest change to the brush the entire experience can fall apart.”
“Lash Slick is the result of hundreds of trials and iterations of brush, formula, and wiper combinations, which we modified until we found the perfect pairing that lived up to the performance we knew our customer wanted,” they said. It took 248 tries, to be exact.
Packaging: getting ready for the close-up
Packaging can be a custom-designed production or a basic tube with a logo. It all depends on what the brand is trying to do — and it has to fit their look.
In Milk’s situation, Ruth acknowledged that in a crowded market they had to “overdeliver on the container.” It resulted in a haute stoner container. Milk worked with a supplier in Italy to make something that had “never been done before in any kind of cosmetics packaging,” said Ruth. The end result was a sleek silver tube that had been “custom-tooled to feel luxe and weighty in your hands, and that you really were holding something special.” And hopefully something you’d pay $24 for.
When it came to packaging for Wet n Wild’s new take on a classic mascara, the brand “chose to keep the overall silhouette of the packaging consistent with the original product.”
The packaging that Avenging Amethyst is based on is notable. “The original mascara packaging is our own patented design created by our in-house 3D designer,” said Wang. They wanted a “strong, edgy, and angled” look for the packaging overall, and Wang added that the mascara brush was custom-made as well.
“This focus on design,” Wang said, especially the customized parts like the brush, “is something that sets Wet n Wild apart. For our price point, a lot of brands would stick to stock components. We are not afraid to invest in custom design and tooling to deliver a better product. … True value is not just a low price point, it is delivering something unexpectedly well-made for the price point.”
The brush does look pretty cool.
Marketing: tell me why you’re the one
While the name “Kush” and the marketing copy is a “nod and wink” at cannabis culture — and the addition of the CBD oil itself is a hip, on-brand move — Ruth said, “I think it’s playful but still focuses on the serious benefits of the formula and the pay-off of the formula.”
When Glossier’s Lash Slick launched in May, one of the first marketing emails I got about it read, “248 formulations later…” But 248 tries isn’t a crazy amount of attempts to get a mascara right; it can take years. Still, it works as a tagline. Sometimes the struggle to create can become part of the marketing.
Benefit did something similar when they debuted their mascara BadGAL Bang! this spring and made its lengthy development process part of the marketing. In its four-year search for a lightweight volumizing mascara that wouldn’t weigh down lashes, Benefit eventually turned to what they call “super light-weight aeroparticles” — the kind that come from space technology but were made in a lab. Space terminology is all over its advertising, and why not?
Making mascara is hard. If you’re a brand, you might as well flaunt your hard work. At the end of the day, “What makes up most mascaras is tar,” says Kaye.