E.L.F. Aims to Become Mass Beauty Brand -- Without Mass-Media Buys

Upstart Cosmetics Co. Driving Awareness With Social Media, Sampling

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BATAVIA, Ohio (AdAge.com) -- Many beauty brands have embraced social media lately, but generally with a light air kiss. Emerging value brand Eyes Lips Face (E.L.F.), however, has made social media the centerpiece of its marketing, which still includes no traditional media budget even after it expanded nationally into Target stores in October. In the process, it's defying the notion that only niche brands can rely on social media alone.

Its website, EyesLipsFace.com, gets more than 200,000 visitors monthly, per Compete.com, and more than 700,000, according to the company. In the most recent monthly visitor traffic ranking by beauty-review site TotalBeauty.com, E.L.F. ranked 69th, ahead of Suave Wella, Sephora and Bath & Body Works, among others.

E.L.F.'s latest project is via the SheSpeaks social network, which helped round up 150 bloggers who are bringing readers to parties to try the cosmetics. The idea is something like Avon parties without the sales pressure.

Word-of-mouth and sampling are crucial to E.L.F. because the brand faces a steep credibility hurdle. Its products are priced $1, $3 and $5 and sold through 10,000 mass doors, including Dollar General and Target, yet billed as comparable to products costing 10 times more at department stores.

"Women say, '$1 $3 and $5, how good can it be?'" said Ted Rubin, chief marketing officer of E.L.F. "Once they try our products they stay with us."

'Unsponsored people'
That SheSpeaks appeals mainly to mommy bloggers, not beauty bloggers, is fine by him. "A lot of [beauty bloggers] blog about only one brand," Mr. Rubin said. "People see through that very quickly. ... We're trying to reach out to unsponsored people."

E.L.F. also recently worked with former Walmart social-media guru John Andrews' Collective Bias on a "speed-dating" program with mommy bloggers at Blog World in Las Vegas.

Proposed Federal Trade Commission rules regarding bloggers and word-of-mouth marketing don't worry Mr. Rubin.

"I don't have a traditional marketing budget, so I don't pay people anyway," he said. "In some way I see it as an advantage to us, because a lot of companies are paying people for their opinions."

Small budget or no, E.L.F. has spawned more than 2,000 YouTube videos and 20,000 Twitter followers with generally good reviews. It ranked 169th among brands in September reader reviews at TotalBeauty, ahead of Neutrogena, L'Oréal and Rimmel.

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