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What Scarlett Johansson and Winnie the Pooh Have in Common

Both are recent entrants in a crowded field of actors, singers and the occasional cartoon character launching beauty lines. Success means creating a product that could stand on its own even without a famous founder.
Scarlett Johansson's The Outset skin care line is the latest celebrity backed beauty line.
Scarlett Johansson's The Outset skin care line is the latest celebrity backed beauty line. (Courtesy)

Scarlett Johansson, an Academy award-nominated actress, and Winnie the Pooh, a cartoon bear who wears a crop top and no pants, both had big weeks in beauty.

Johansson’s skin care brand, The Outset, went on sale at every Sephora store in the US and online Tuesday. Five days before that, Colourpop’s Winnie the Pooh collection — with honeycomb-shaped eye shadow pans and miniature pots of lip scrub — launched on Colourpop’s site.

Every time I think we’ve reached peak beauty saturation, a new brand or product from a famous face — real or fictional — finds its way onto my Instagram feed. The category is getting increasingly congested, both on the celebrity and collaboration front, and the pace of new releases shows no signs of slowing down.

Gwen Stefani, Winnie Harlow, Hailey Bieber and Johansson are among the celebrities who have recently released or at least announced their own lines. In less than a month, Care Bears (Wet n Wild); Dunkin’ Donuts (e.l.f. Cosmetics); Jimi Hendrix (Rock and Roll Beauty); Peeps (Colourpop); The Simpsons (Makeup Revolution) and Jojo Siwa (Hipdot) all debuted makeup collabs.

These brands have an uphill struggle. Can any of them stand out from the crowd of other celebrity or IP-driven product launches?

Assessing whether a product could stand on its own without a famous founder is a good place to start.

By that metric, The Outset has potential. It’s not made by an incubator that just churns out brands and slaps a celebrity’s name on it, nor is Johansson juggling skin care with makeup, fragrance, supplements or any other product lines. The skin care itself is well designed and could hold its own if merchandised beside established brands.

The makeup collabs are trickier.

We have reached an inflexion point where “out of the box” is becoming the norm. Co-creations with cartoons, candy, cereal and even children’s book authors are mostly the product of renewed interest from young people who are nostalgic for any pop culture phenomenon that happened before they were born. (“Pivot!” is one of the nail polishes from the new Sally Hansen Miracle Gel X Friends collection.)

While easy and cheap to make, most of these makeup collaborations don’t offer differentiated products or items that require replenishment the way skin or personal care might. They play to the “nostalgia” element that Gen Z loves, but to what end? A Winnie the Pooh eyeshadow palette is not much different than a Lucky Charms, Dr Seuss or Marge and Homer Simpson eyeshadow palette.

There are so many obvious, cash grab, quickie lines that the good, thoughtful celebrity lines risk getting lumped in with them. Brands like The Outset have to work a lot harder to look credible to customers now than they would have in 2018 when Sephora shoppers weren’t being bombarded with 500 other actress-, singer- and cartoon-fronted lines. It’s hard to convey that someone actually put in the work and care when every celebrity says they’re “not just another celebrity brand” or that they “spent years” working on formulas.

For every brand that really spent two years fine-tuning a formula, there are 10 influencers who spent two days fine-tuning the font on the bottle. As a consumer, how do you know who means it? There’s not necessarily a hard and fast way to convey that someone spent time developing a brand but people are better than you think at knowing it when they see it.

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