How E.l.f. Saw A 49% Increase in Sales by Focusing On Gen Z

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Is there anything more satisfying than getting a great deal on a more affordable version of a popular product? Fans of the beauty company e.l.f. don’t seem to think so.

Founded in 2004, e.l.f. (an acronym for eyes, lips, and face) was created to offer high-quality cosmetics at a low cost. At the time of its launch, most of e.l.f.’s products cost between $1 to $3.

In its first decade, the company experienced a period of steady growth, expanding its product line, opening its own retail spaces, and finding some success in digital marketing. But by 2018, e.l.f. was experiencing a plateau in sales, and closed its standing retail stores, priming the brand for a marketing pivot.

E.l.f.’s shift to TikTok

In 2019, the hashtag #elfcosmetics had over 3 million views on TikTok before e.l.f. even had its own presence on the platform. With this in mind, the company shifted its marketing strategy to focus on TikTok’s user base (which was overwhelmingly Gen Z), leveraging short-form video and user-generated content in its #EyesLipsFace campaign.

Alongside Brooklyn-based agency Movers + Shakers, e.l.f. commissioned an original song that was catchy enough to go viral and encouraged TikTok users to feature the song and the hashtag #EyesLipsFace. The campaign was among TikTok’s most viral and cemented e.l.f.’s newfound focus on a Gen Z audience.

To keep the buzz going, e.l.f. centered its messaging on key points that Gen Z values when making purchasing decisions:

Social responsibility: 50% of Gen Z consumers won’t purchase products from beauty brands that aren’t cruelty-free.
Affordability: Gen Z may also be more frugal than other generations. 80% of Gen Z consumers will wait until an item goes on sale to buy it, and 60% of Gen Z buyers said the price of a product was the number one factor they consider when making purchasing decisions.

These are two areas e.l.f. cosmetics can deliver on. Since its founding, e.l.f. has been cruelty-free and continues to center this point in its messaging. Compared to other beauty brands, e.l.f. continues to be among the most affordable options.

Bring on the dupes

Capitalizing on its reputation as an affordable brand, e.l.f. began introducing more budget-friendly alternatives to viral beauty products, also known as dupes. 

Some of e.l.f.’s dupes that have gone viral on social media include:

Halo Glow Liquid Filter ($14): a popular dupe for Charlotte Tilbury’s Flawless Filter ($49)
Power Grip Primer ($10): a makeup primer that has drawn comparisons to the Hydro Grip Primer by Milk Makeup ($38)
Hydrating Camo Concealer ($7): a concealer product that users have compared to Tarte’s Shape Tape ($31)
Halo Glow Beauty Wands ($9): blush, highlighter, and contour sticks that are reminiscent of Charlotte Tilbury’s Beauty Light Wands ($42)
Brow Lift ($6): an eyebrow gel that’s considered a dupe of the Brow Freeze product by Anastasia Beverly Hills ($23)
Whoa Glow ($14): a tinted facial sunscreen that is similar to Supergoop’s popular Glow Screen product ($38)

From the packaging to the formulations, it’s clear that e.l.f. is hoping to capture budget-conscious customers who are looking for affordable alternatives to these higher-end products. When these customers share their findings, it often results in user-generated content that has high reach and engagement potential.

In addition to creating dupes of popular high-end products, e.l.f. has also launched a series of high-profile collaborations designed to catch the attention of Gen Z including:

A December 2022 holiday-themed campaign starring singer Meghan Trainor in collaboration with The Weather Channel.
A 2023 denim-themed collection in partnership with American Eagle Outfitters (which is also a popular brand among Gen Z shoppers).

How effective was e.l.f.’s pivot to focus on Gen Z?

Based on the information available, these tactics have certainly been effective. According to Piper Sandler’s spring 2023 survey, e.l.f. is the generation’s top cosmetics brand, and this finding is reflected in the sales numbers.

E.l.f. reported a 49% increase in sales from 2021 to 2022. Furthermore, e.l.f.’s growth outpaced the overall growth of the cosmetics industry. In 2021, the cosmetics industry saw an 8% year-over-year increase, while e.l.f. grew by 36% and the momentum is expected to continue. Earlier this year, e.l.f. raised its 2023 outlook by nearly $100 million.

That’s a lot of concealer.

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