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Stila Backstage Beauty palettes: the cult of celebrity

As a long-time Stila lover (I AM the Jeanine Lobell Senior Curator of Cosmetic Artifacts, after all!) I've noticed throughout the years that they  use a very specific marketing tactic over and over.  The company seems to believe that having some kind of celebrity/VIP connotation with their products will produce more sales - an old pitch along the lines of "If you buy and use this product, you'll be as fashionable/good-looking/fabulous as any celebrity" (or at least, be able to re-create their makeup.)  Case in point:  the recently released Backstage Beauty palettes, which are inspired by fashion shows, tell the customer to "get ready - you're about to get runway gorgeous". The palette names themselves conjure up exclusive access to high-end fashion shows.  From left to right:  The Red Carpet Look, The Runway Look, and the Backstage Beauty look. 

Red carpet look 08 copy
(photos from
The names conjure up exclusive access to the world of the fashion elite typically reserved for VIP designers and critics, as well as celebrities.  Stila has employed a similar technique in the past.  Take, for example, the Look Books that were released in 2007.  Meant to look like glossy fashion magazine covers, they insinuate that by using the products contained within, you too can be just as captivating as a celebrity on the red carpet and can attain the "Hollywood look". 

2 lookbooks 
And earlier than that, there were the Stila Spotlight sets.  These sets consisted of a mini highlighting powder, shimmery lip gloss, an eye shadow duo, and a mini perfume spray.  Once again, the notion of being on the red carpet makes an appearance in the promotional postcard for these sets. 

So why does Stila repeatedly use the notion of celebrity to try to sell products?1  The latest research shows that fame matters more than beauty in terms of selling.  "An average looking celebrity elicits more of a reaction than an attractive non-celebrity...the attractiveness of a celebrity is less important than the fact that they are famous. Fame has a privileged status in the marketer’s portfolio," according to some UK scientists.   Stila has definitely picked up on this over the years.  While the company doesn't use actual celebrities in their marketing2 - they prefer to use anonymous, but still very fashionable, illustrated Stila girls - and has done some movie tie-ins to their product (Legally Blonde 1 and 2, Vanity Fair, Just My Luck), it still heavily relies on the general idea of using fame to sell products.  Is it effective?  My opinion is that is that the majority of cosmetic consumers, particularly those jaded ones (like me!) don't buy into that marketing ploy.  If a product seems to work well, we buy it, and if it doesn't, we don't, no matter how much it suggests that we can create the same look as a famous Hollywood starlet  if we use it.

1 For an in-depth look at the celebrity phenomenon, check out "Intimate Strangers:  The Culture of Celebrity in America" by Richard Schickel, and "Understanding Celebrity" by Graeme Turner.

The company did actually use celebrities for a brief period following the sale of Stila from Estee Lauder with its "IT girl" campaign, in which website members received an e-mail featuring a celebrity who described her must-have Stila products.  Apparently Stila wanted to "raise the bar and return to glory and leverage the products  in the celebrity world."  "The brand needed a new approach to engage Hollywood's leading ladies," says the case study description at BluPrint, the company that came up with the  campaign.  The company may have strayed from the approach of using actual celebrities, but retained the overall concept. 

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