Curator's Corner, January 2023
Event: Art Deco makeup presentation!

Trending: Makeup licensing deals

I'm delighted to share a guest post by new Makeup Museum volunteer Shannon Mendola, who will be discussing the licensing deal trend in makeup. These sorts of collaborations are different than other partnerships in that they are usually the result of brands purchasing a license from any brand that offers one. Unlike collabs with certain artists or brands who work together directly on a special, one-off collection, this makeup is simply another consumer good - along with things like mugs, apparel, and stationery - that a franchise or brand has sold their license to, leading to a rather impersonal and uninspired yet still oddly compelling product.

Now that the difference has been noted, let's take a peek at the seemingly infinite number of collabs that have flooded the market as of late. Thank you, Shannon, for your fantastic insight on this trend!


Colourpop x High School Musical! Hipdot x Cup Noodles! Wet N Wild x Peanuts! Urban Decay x She-Hulk! When did the makeup industry become collab after collab? Lately, it feels like all we are seeing is another brand collaborating with Disney or some other TV show, movie, food item, etc. But why? I’m not necessarily complaining, I have even purchased these makeup collections!

Is it to get people buzzing? There seemed to be a lot of interest in the Glamlite x Scooby Doo collection. To keep the brand relevant? I kind of forgot Spectrum Collections existed until I saw their collection with the TV show Emily in Paris. Some of these brands don’t seem to be releasing anything else but these licensing deal collaborations. What is a brand if it is always relying on other brands to help it stay afloat? These deals must be working though if brands like Hipdot and Makeup Revolution seem to only be doing just that.

Glamlite x Scooby doo, fall 2022(image from glamlite.com)

While not new – Lip Smacker partnered with Dr. Pepper nearly 50 years ago - licensing deals have exploded recently. There are many reasons collaborations are such a trend. First, companies are leveraging consumers' feelings of uncertainty brought on by the pandemic. Nostalgia always sells, but in the face of an ongoing global health crisis and all the anxiety and dread that accompanied it, we're finding even more comfort in our favorite TV shows and childhood favorites. These collaborations are made in hopes you will remember how much you loved Playdoh, Looney Tunes, Candyland and Cocoa Krispies and have to snag it all as a sort of coping mechanism. 

Revolution x Fruity Pebbles and Cocoa Krispies, summer 2021(image from bestproducts.com)

Secondly, licensing deals allow for a built-in theme, making it easier for companies to create collections. Collaborating with another brand opens the door for new types of products and advertising. For example, the Lottie London x Vampire Diaries collection featured a Blood Drip Lip Tint. Making a brand new lip gloss with no given theme is harder to sell and requires a more creative marketing strategy. When Colourpop used the Hocus Pocus films for multiple collections, the brand had instant ideas for the color story, shade names, and packaging. Comments from a spokesperson for Ulta confirm this: "Our recent Ulta Beauty Collection collaborations, including Gilmore Girls and Disney and Pixar, were like love letters to fans of those franchises. We wanted to evoke a nostalgic feeling with throwbacks that are beloved…we [also] want to ensure the colors from the artwork are season-appropriate, trend-forward, and that they can be translated to the packaging or shade options seamlessly."

Colour pop x Hocus Pocus, Halloween 2021

Speaking of packaging, licensing deals also inspire companies to experiment with design.. When I saw the Hipdot CareBears EyeCon Sculpted Pigments Collection, I immediately bought it. Typically, I am one to think about my purchases before spending, but I saw this, got excited, and bought it in a matter of a few minutes. Why was I so impulsive? I loved CareBears as a kid. It had the nostalgic aspect, but it also was little eyeshadow sculptured pigments, which I had never seen done before. So it was unique and fresh in the very saturated makeup market.

Hipdot x Care Bears, fall 2022(image from hipdot.com)

As an article at PopInsider states, packaging details do indeed help licensed collections stand out: "HipDot’s licensing partners have included Nickelodeon for SpongeBob SquarePants and Rugrats, Reese’s, Hasbro Games, Tapatio and more. And some of those storytelling details that make the collections extra special? A coffin-shaped collector’s box for its Addams Family collection, a peanut-butter scent in the Reese’s lip balms, and even a special ingredient in the Tapatio collection to create a lip-tingling effect."

Thirdly, licensing deals are effective because they expand the brand’s target market to new categories of consumers. Consider Makeup Revolution’s fall 2022 Clueless collection. The collection was not only for makeup lovers and fans of Makeup Revolution, but also for Clueless fans and those who cherish the '90s. Hipdot recently released eyeshadow palettes shaped like CDs as a result of partnering with musicians Korn and Evanescence. It wasn’t only Hipdot customers and eyeshadow enthusiasts who purchased these; given that both sold out quickly, it’s clear that fans of the bands and rock/metal aficionados were drawn to the products as well.  Says one brand management director, “Many beauty brands have capitalized on [the industry’s] growth through collaborations that broaden their reach and find new consumers in places they may not be able to access on their own."

Revolution x Clueless, fall 2022(image from lifestyleasia.com)

Along those lines, these collaboration products are even being purchased as collectors' items. Using the above example, Korn and Evanescence fans may not even use or open the products. This means non-makeup users are buying makeup when they never would have otherwise. With the CareBear Pigments, I honestly forgot if it was Hipdot or Spectrum Collections who came out with them prior to writing this article. That demonstrates that there was no brand loyalty or even brand knowledge in my purchase. Thus, in some cases, customers aren’t even caring who is selling it or what it's for - as long as it represents their particular area of fandom, they are sold.

Thinking about licensing deals solely in terms of makeup customers, they also draw people to the brand that may become new customers down the line. I purchased the Sigma Beauty x Cinderella eyeshadow palette because I am a big Disney fan and I couldn’t resist the cute packaging and pretty jewel-toned shades. It turned out to be a nice formula and I am considering buying more from Sigma Beauty soon. I probably never would have purchased from this brand if not for this collaboration, so it made me take the chance of trying a new brand. If you like the collaborator, the launch will top all other new releases for you. It gets your attention in the sea of new products. Even if a collab gets attention in a more negative way, such as Winky Lux Applebee's wing sauce-inspired lip glosses or Seoul Mamas Skincare Oscar Mayer Bologna sheet mask, any buzz is good PR. The strange collaborations may do better than one would expect just because customers are curious or find them humorous. These are all examples of marketing strategies whose primary goal is turning heads. In recent years, with the boom of social media and emergence of apps like TikTok, our collective attention spans are getting smaller and smaller. These eye-catching collabs demand our attention and stop us from scrolling past. With unconventional products or collaborations, Instagram and TikTok users will be doing the marketing because the collaboration is so wild, they just have to repost it and share it with everyone they know. It's genius really. Perhaps, the more unexpected the collaboration partner, the better it is from a marketing/buzz creating standpoint.

Applebee's x Winky Lux, summer 2022(image from applebees.com)

Lastly, licensing deals aren’t just for the cosmetics industry; others are also shifting their focus to these sorts of collections. The fashion industry has increased the number of collaborations in the past few years (LOEWE x Studio Ghibli, Forever 21 x Barbie, Givenchy x Disney, Pacsun x Strawberry Shortcake, etc.) Crocs even worked with Kentucky Fried Chicken to make a unique shoe. The food industry also participates. Star Wars Igloo Coolers, Kellogg and Nickelodeon’s Apple Jacks Slime cereal, and Hello Fresh with help of Warner Media created the spaghetti dish from the famous holiday movie Elf. In looking at these, it seems as though the licensed partnerships for makeup brands are part of a greater trend that spans multiple industries, perhaps due to mostly two simple reasons: an increase in the number of available licenses, and the fact that the more nonsensical the partnership is, the better it will sell.

PacSun x Strawberry Shortcake
(image from pacsun.com)

Given how lucrative licensing deals are and the fact that the resulting products are less labor-intensive to create as compared to original items, companies will continue hunting down any license they can get their hands on and make a collection out of it. But is this actually leading to consumer fatigue? On Revolution Beauty’s website, the 'Collabs' tab is before any of their other makeup and skincare items. It seems as though some of these brands have used every available license under the sun. At what point does a brand cease to have an identity outside of collaborating? Hipdot, Makeup Revolution and Colourpop could all be the same brand, as they have become best known for their collaborations. Case in point: the recently defunct brand Kailav, whose entire basis was famous paintings. That wasn’t necessarily a bad thing, but customers are fickle. Initially, seeing Van Gogh's Starry Starry Night or Monet's Water Lilies on a palette and the eyeshadows inspired by the paintings was fun and novel, but subsequent releases featuring other artists proved repetitive to consumers. The same can be said for Rock n’ Roll Beauty, a brand owned by Makeup Revolution that launched in early 2022. Their whole product lineup consists of licensing deals made with various musicians or their estates. While it hasn't folded yet, the brand was met with a lukewarm reception at best. Without any original products that are not based off of a particular theme, brands that make their identity from collabs are destined to struggle long-term as customers grow weary of only seeing partnerships with other brands. Also, when many different makeup companies use the same license, it causes the novelty to wear off quickly. I've seen many Mickey and Minnie Mouse collections from various brands (Dose of Colors, Makeup Revolution, Anna Sui, L’Oreal Paris, etc.), so that one feels old to me. Other examples include Hello Kitty and Barbie, of which there have been no fewer than 15 and 10 makeup collections, respectively. It dilutes the feeling of uniqueness provided by the first, original collaboration. Then again, as mentioned earlier, while this may be an issue for makeup aficionados, fans of the various franchises or themes don’t seem to mind seeing their favorites over and over from different or even the same brands. States License Global, "Diehards of the classic '90s sitcom Friends may already own dozens of eyeshadow palettes, but three separate drops from Revolution based on the show proves that fan demand keeps them coming back for more…these launches continue to roll out – and sell out…the reason that the licensing industry continues to grow is because of the love fans have for the properties and the brands behind them."

Revolution x Friends Christmas collection(image from popsugar.com)

I think these collabs are fun to see and I enjoy the creativity that can go with it; however, I don’t think it should be to the point of brands being solely that. I think no one is going to feel loyalty to any one brand that only does these licensing deals. They will just purchase from them if they like whoever they are collaborating with at that time. Variety is great, especially in the makeup industry and it truly means there is something for everyone. But I don’t want the formulas to suffer or the products to be lacking just because the brand was more focused on the funky packaging or the money to be made.

You may think the Colourpop x Bambi collection is gimmicky or you might have to have it for your makeup collection or your Disney collection. Something I love about makeup is how everyone has different preferences. People wear makeup for a variety of reasons, but the big ones are that it's fun, free from rules and washes off easily. In the case of licensing deals, maybe that new collab from Makeup Revolution will bring us joy when we look at it on our shelf. It will remind us of a simpler time or a great memory. That makes it worth it, for both the brand and us.

Colourpop x Bambi, spring 2021(image from allure.com)

I would love to see Colourpop collaborate with different Broadway musicals for a collection. I could see a more sophisticated brand like Stila or Charlotte Tilbury creating a "no makeup" makeup 1920s themed collection in collaboration with the TV show Downton Abbey. Now that I would have to purchase! I would love a makeup collection inspired by one of my favorite movies, Breakfast at Tiffany’s. I could see it with Estée Lauder, as Audrey Hepburn used and loved the brand. A more edgy collaboration between the new HBO Max TV show The Last of Us and Urban Decay would be interesting. Vintage Urban Decay was unconventional and bold, while in recent years, they have become more mainstream. With previous eyeshadow shade names such as 'Mushroom', 'Plague', and 'Gash', Urban Decay could pay homage to their roots by partnering with the new post-apocalyptic TV series for a limited-edition eyeshadow palette. The possibilities are truly endless.

Have you purchased any of these makeup collaborations or other ones on the market? What are your thoughts on how often we are seeing these collabs and how wild they sometimes get? Some tend to feel like cash grabs, but others, when done thoughtfully, can be exciting! What collab hasn’t been done yet that you would love to see?

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