Dive In: How e.l.f. Cosmetics Captured Consumers’ Hearts and Wallets

Kaila Mathis

e.l.f. cosmetics is one of the most perplexing, innovative and dominating makeup brands in the world. Its combination of value-based product creation, out-of-the-box marketing tactics and consistently affordable products has led to unprecedented success, dominating the beauty and skincare industries.

So how does e.l.f. do it, and what can you learn from the brand? Let’s dive in.

e.l.f. cosmetics beauty products

High-Quality Products Founded on Morals

e.l.f., short for eyes, lips, face, was founded in 2004 by Joseph Shamah and Scott Vincent Borba on a commitment to vegan, cruelty-free products. Since then, the brand has stayed true to its original mission, producing only animal-free makeup and maintaining a PETA certification.

Despite its global growth, the company has avoided selling in China completely due to a law that requires all makeup products to be tested on animals before being put on shelves.

Young consumers, particularly those in the Gen Z and Millennial generations, are incredibly value-driven, so a brand that, without fault, sticks to its values is likely to gain their respect.

e.l.f. cosmetics skin care for all skin types


Vegan and cruelty-free makeup exists. High quality makeup exists. Affordable makeup exists. But a brand that embodies all three? It’s practically non-existent. This was e.l.f.’s founders’ vision from the beginning - defy the current reality by creating a makeup brand that is accessible and acceptable to all consumers.

E.l.f.’s philosophy from day one was, “to meld women's inner and outer beauty, to make the products effective as well as inexpensive.” This philosophy was the driving force in determining the suppliers and partners the brand would decide to scale alongside.

e.l.f.'s beautyscape get-a-way in the Bahamas


As a low-budget makeup brand, e.l.f. understands that when it comes to influencer marketing...

  1. Typical influencers with immense followings and high incomes aren’t its target consumers, so marketing through their channels is likely to come across as inauthentic. Plus, just a single post can cost many thousands, and often yield disappointing purchase conversions — influencers only have an average 1.7% engagement rate.
  2. Micro-influencers do resonate with its target consumers, cost much less (often only asking for free products) and tend to get yield higher purchase conversions from a more engaged audience — microinfluencers have an average 8% conversion rate.

So, e.l.f. tapped 50 micro-influencers for its beautyscape campaign. With an average following of 1,500, each chosen creator had a clear and outspoken passion for the brand. The campaign resulted in a whopping 25% increase in e.l.f.’s social media following.

A key aspect of the campaign’s success was e.l.f.’s commitment to participants’ creativity, flying each creator out to their studio to create their own looks and post them for the campaign. This campaign is a clear example of the power of creativity and authenticity over follower count and popularity.

What can you learn from e.l.f.?

All of the above power moves by e.l.f. center around the driving forces of complete authenticity and transparency. If you’re going to take one thing from this deep dive, let it be that your vision, mission and vision should be deeply entrenched in the way you build and scale your company. Do that, and authentic, engaged, life-long customers will find you.

Kaila Mathis
Kaila graduated from Villanova University in 2021 with a B.A. in PR & Advertising and Journalism, with a minor in Spanish. She is now the Growth Manager at CLLCTVE and a Freelance Writer for Adweek.
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