If make-up was heading online before the pandemic, the global shut-down of our retail spaces pushed the shift into overdrive. Virtual try-ons are now commonplace: Dior and Charlotte Tilbury can make you over through the magic of Zoom, and even the stoically traditional house of Chanel boasts an impressively chic app, Lipscanner, through which you can see any of the brand’s lipstick shades on your own face in hi-def augmented reality.
But lipsticks are easy, as are eyeshadows and eyeliners. Selling foundation online remains – in spite of the wealth of shade-matching apps out there – the frontier every brand wants to overcome.
Turns out, the brand to have succeeded – as in, really succeeded – is one you’ve likely side-eyed on a hypey sponsored Instagram post before. A viral marketing campaign introduced the world to Il Makiage in 2018, where 10-second Stories of people theatrically transforming their skin with a seemingly perfect base product infiltrated everyone’s Instagram account.
Pairing unbelievable before-and-afters with more than a pinch of am dram influencer behaviour, the campaign promised that the brand – a direct-to-consumer online operation – could send you a flawless shade match of its I Woke Up Like This foundation through the post using nothing more than an algorithm-based quiz. So confident was this tech lead start up, you could – and still can – claim a full refund within 60 days if your foundation isn’t perfect. They’ll even pick up the postage.
‘Our innovative PowerMatch algorithm combines curated beauty inspiration, content from hundreds of influencer partners that they create on their own portal, and a way to eliminate the risk of buying without touching the product in-store,’ says CEO Dmitri Kaplun. ‘Through free returns and exchanges for 60 days, we’re effectively bringing the physical store to the consumer.’
The brand has since become the poster child for the beauty tech boom, demonstrating (via jaw-dropping revenue reports) that products as personal as foundation can be bought en masse online, without consumers ever touching a tester. Where most DTC brands – think Glossier – overcome the lack of hands on experience with occasional pop ups, Il Makiage doesn’t yet seem to have felt the need.
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‘The entire industry knows that online beauty shopping serves mainly as a replenishment channel for most prestige brands. And Il Makiage is on a mission to close the gap between online and offline by providing our consumers with a destination to inspire, build a look and buy products with confidence,’ says Kaplun.
Of course, none of this would have worked if the product itself didn’t impress: in an industry as oversaturated as beauty, only the very best make it into repeat-purchase territory. Perhaps surprisingly (for this beauty cynic, at-least), Il Makiage’s ‘I Woke Up Like This’ foundation ads weren’t hyperbole: the formula is outstanding, offering the most lightweight yet all-covering finish that genuinely looks and feels like real, bare skin. Anyone, of any age and skin type should try it.
So, how does it really work? The Powermatch quiz involves you selecting from skin tones that match yours most closely – it’s more granular than in sounds – as well as ascertaining your undertones and skin type. There’s a few questions in there that scream ‘free market research’ – but if you don’t ask… Five minutes later, you’ll arrive at your ideal foundation match – and, chances are, it’ll render all those other bottles obsolete.
With technology this industry-shaking, it’s unsurprising that the brand has set its sights on expansion – and Kaplun wants to move further into the AI realm, acquiring patented ‘computational imaging’ technology that essentially allows the brand to ‘see far beyond what meets the human eye’.
Soon, a single phone-camera image could allow the company to see skin and hair in unprecedented detail, divulging everything an algorithm needs to know to provide you with your perfectly matched product, be it a shampoo, face serum or, indeed, a foundation. With plans to apply Il Makiage’s digital domination to ‘a full portfolio of wellness brands’, online beauty could finally meet – or even surpass – the in store experience.
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