Think of a product so iconic, so successful that it sells more than 30 million units and the Duchess of Cambridge recommends it to Michelle Obama. And then imagine canning it. Because that is exactly what has happened with Urban Decay’s infamous Naked palette this year and we can only ask why?
Could it be that the palette as a format (naked or otherwise) has had its day and we’re about to see a return to single shadows and lip colors?
After all, the palette has attracted a fair amount of criticism of late – indeed, if we’re going to measure it against all the parameters that make a good millennial- or Gen Z-focused product, it fails on many counts: is it sustainable? Hell no, show me a palette where at least 33 percent of product doesn’t go to waste and I’ll show you a pig that flies. Is it original? No, again. It couldn’t be more prescriptive. I mean, MAC even bought out a palette called ‘basic bitch’ in recognition of how, well, basic, the palette format is (for those who aren’t familiar with the term, to brand someone or something ‘basic’ is the ultimate millennial insult. It means ubiquitous, mainstream – and not in a good way).
However, data from Mintel suggests that palettes still remain a popular format in terms of sales – one in four 16 to 24-year-olds bought an eye shadow palette over the course of 2017 – considerably more than the 9 percent of the age group who invested in a single-use eyeshadow. And that suggests that the premise works on some level.
And launch activity certainly shows no sign of slowing down – Beauty Bay recently launched a trio of 42-shade strong eye colour palettes, while Neutrogena’s collab with Kerry Washington was such a hit the first time around that the brand followed up with another as recently as August.
The palette’s continuing popularity is certainly to some degree down to portability – this next generation of consumers like to take their beauty with them, and that is no doubt why we’re about to see the palette evolve rather than be buried.
“Millennial consumers especially have developed meticulous make-up routines, and are looking for ways to carry around their whole make-up collection,” confirms Charlotte Libby, Global Colour Cosmetics and Fragrance Analyst at Mintel.
We believe that the palette will go down the bespoke route – and we’ll also see it cross silos to become a generic make-up case, holding eye shadow, face powder, eyeliner, blush and lip color in one handy unit, for example (Chanel is already on it with its Travel Palette). The palettes of the future will be customisable, refillable and, crucially, zero-waste and recyclable. Forerunners include Kjear Weiss and Inglot, with its hotly anticipated J Lo collab unveiling a Freedom System Palette. “Now you no longer have to buy that five-piece eyeshadow kit to get the one color you really want,” said Lopez at the time of the launch in April.
And while we’re on the subject of celebrity collabs – that’s the other big trend in the palette arena – ‘curated’ collections with a big-name sell. Kim Kardashian’s own KKW Beauty bought out KKW x Mario and Urban Decay debuted UD X Kristen Leanne Kaleidoscope Dream Eyeshadow Palette in 2018 and no doubt we’ll see more over the next 12 months.
So, returning to Urban Decay’s palette, is it the case that sales had tailed off or is it simply just not generating the buzz that it used to? In other words, was the real problem not how many dollars it generated but how many hashtags?
“The beauty business is a business and most brands are less concerned with keeping customers happy, and more with producing newsworthy new products, chasing column inches and broadening their customer base,” Make-up Artist Jaimee Rose told The Guardian in September.
And if holding a full-on funeral for a make-up product doesn’t generate a few column inches (yes, Urban Decay actually did that), then this (albeit rather cynical) editor believes that its reincarnation certainly will. Because, ultimately, Urban Decay can always just ‘bow to social media pressure’ and bring Naked back (if indeed, it ever goes – it’s still very much on sale). Now that’s what I call genius marketing.