This is ancient history – and embarrassing – but it’s relevant to today’s topic, so I’m sharing. Years ago, in my role as AVP Strategic Development in the Luxe division at L’Oréal SA, I was abruptly called into a private meeting with a Very Important Person. (The most Very Important Person in the entire global organization, if truth be told.) The only other attendee at this high-level confab was my immediate boss, and since the meeting wasn’t on the calendar – a rarity at the highly regimented enterprise — I didn’t know what to expect.
Turns out I was summoned to give my opinion as to whether I thought a particular brand we were considering acquiring from LVMH could be an effective market-block against MAC, the Lauder-owned billion-dollar behemoth and perpetual thorn in our side. The LVMH brand (or marque, as the French say) in question that day? Benefit Cosmetics. Kooky, kitschy, borderline-cartoony Benefit, a brand that got its start in the 70s in San Francisco by purveying a nipple tint for exotic dancers.
“No way,” I blurted, or something to that effect. “How could you possibly think that?” I then proceeded to cohesively list all the reasons I thought Benefit and MAC weren’t even in the same demographic/psychographic/cool-factor ballpark, but the damage was done; my boss was alarmed at the speed with which I’d shot down The Big Guy’s idea. And he was right that I could have made my point less…passionately. But I was right about the crux of the matter; Benefit could never go toe-to-toe with MAC.
Flash forward almost two decades to Black Friday 2017. Against my better judgment, I agreed to drive down to The Mall at Millennia in Orlando from St. Petersburg with a tennis buddy of mine. A stunning mix of mostly high-end stores, I braced myself for the crowds. But despite the sales (so many sales), Millennia wasn’t exactly teeming with eager, credit card-wielding individuals that day. Except at the NYX store: it was packed.
Millennials at Millennia: Flocking to NYX
Since I’d never visited an NYX store up close and personal, I was intensely curious. What I knew of NYX up to that point was that it was A) dirt cheap, as in lipsticks starting at $2 cheap, B) ultra-social, media-savvy and, C) under the L’Oréal umbrella since 2014, when it was scooped up for a reported $500 million from a group that included brand founder Toni Ko and Chicago-based private equity firm HCP & Co.
From a pure numbers standpoint, it’s easy to see why L’Oréal was intrigued by NYX. Founded in LA in1999 as a budget-friendly – yet high quality – professional makeup line sold primarily in beauty supply stores, Ulta, Target and on nyxcosmetics.com, its sales had risen to nearly $100 million by the time L’Oréal came knocking. Even more impressive was NYX’s year-on-year growth; 46 percent in 2013, 57 percent in 2014. Though you might think all the kids trying and buying in the NYX store I visited on Black Friday couldn’t care less that L’Oréal now owns their beloved makeup brand, that isn’t the case. Comb a few websites dedicated to budget makeup, such as Nouveau Cheap, and it’s clear NYX fans are not only aware of that fact, they’re bracing for a price increase.
That won’t happen, at least not in any seismic way. NYX is part of L’Oréal’s Consumer Products division alongside its flagship L’Oréal Paris and Maybelline makeup brands. It’s not lumped in with Luxe players like Lancôme and two recent-ish acquisitions, Urban Decay and IT Cosmetics.
And Speaking of Urban Decay…
Of course, with its prestige positioning, one could argue that Urban Decay is the new MAC, not NYX. And clearly, thanks to L’Oréal’s investment in product development, advertising and freestanding stores, Urban Decay is in acceleration mode.
But here’s where I’ll go out on a limb with my theory that NYX is more of a kindred spirit to MAC than Urban Decay. In my opinion, Urban Decay has tethered itself so thoroughly to one particular franchise – its Nakeds eyeshadow palettes (a shameless knockoff of Andrea Robinson’s seminal Nakeds collection for Ultima II in 90s (but let’s shelve that topic for a later date) – that it now stands for mostly that.
It’s one of those “good problems” for a beauty brand to have; a product so successful that women want to snap up every last iteration. Still, there’s every chance a brand can ultimately lose itself in its big hit. And now, no matter how long you’ve been in this industry, I defy you to think about Urban Decay without mentally jumping to its Nakeds offerings. I can’t be the only one for whom that’s impossible.
Yes, Urban Decay is closer in price point to MAC than NYX. So, in theory, a MAC customer should be more likely to hop to Urban Decay than NYX. Sure, they might save up to buy an Urban Decay Nakeds palette they’ve been lusting after, but they’re more likely to snap up a handful of NYX SKUs instead.
But enough about Urban Decay. Let us now turn our attention to…
What NYX and MAC Have in Common
- They were founded by scrappy, visionary entrepreneurs. The brainchild of Frank Toskan, a frustrated photographer and makeup artist who longed for some decent paint in great colors that would pop on film and actually last, MAC (short for Makeup Art Cosmetics) was founded in Toronto in 1984. NYX, named for the Greek goddess of the night, got its start when Toni Ko, a second-generation South Korean whose parents were in the wholesale beauty biz, decided the world needed excellent, pro-level color that didn’t cost an arm and a leg.
- They’re committed to quality. Yes, it started outside the fold, but for the past 20 years, MAC has been part of Estée Lauder Cos., a global entity synonymous with stellar textures and product performance. Similarly, NYX’s sole raison d’être was to provide high-caliber product at a fantastic price. Now under L’Oréal’s roof, NYX’s formulas are no doubt even better.
- They have multi-culti, all-genders appeal. Decades ahead of the curve, MAC has always embraced inclusion. While NYX isn’t as overt about the millions of shades and boy-girl thing, it doesn’t have to be; that’s a given for hip brands these days.
- They infuse makeup with drama, fun and creativity. MAC and NYX are brands that appeal to people who are utterly besotted with makeup, color and pro-level techniques. Mastering glitter lips and glossy lids is their idea of a good time.
- They own their message by operating their own freestanding stores. Sure, MAC and NYX still do a big chunk of their business in specialty outlets. But it’s in their own stores that their true impact lives. It’s exciting to see MAC and NYX lovers in their natural habitat, buffing, fluffing and – best of all – plunking down the plastic.