The Crazy Way Cosmetic Companies Trick You Into Believing They're Popular

When it comes to sneaky ways makeup brands make themselves seem more desirable, there are a few age-old tricks that still seem to be working flawlessly in the makeup game today. Though considering the ways cosmetic companies trick you may not be a fun undertaking, understanding cosmetic company tricks can go a long way in making sure that you're putting your money into quality products rather than just brand names.

Although the idea that cosmetics companies purposefully sell out of items they know there's a huge interest in may seem crazy, it's an actual stealthy, solid marketing strategy. And that is not the only counterintuitive marketing strategy cosmetic companies use to boost their sales (limited edition products, anyone?). Here you'll uncover some of the psychology that goes into such decisions, find out why they tend to boost sales, and discover the reasons that we as consumers tend to fall for them every time. 

So come on in and learn some of the sneakiest tricks of the cosmetics marketing trade, know how to spot them, and find out how you can avoid falling for them the next time you see them.

  • Scarcity: The Magic Word


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    You know that twinge of disappointment you get every time you wait for a new product to come out, only to discover that it’s already sold out? As it turns out, some cosmetics brands may not only be well aware of said twinge, but regularly count on it in order to boost their popularity. After you’ve recovered from the sting of betrayal that comes with this realization, you may wonder as you shake your fist at the heavens why anyone would do such a thing. Well, it all comes down to a tried and true marketing tactic known as “scarcity,” a popular psychological tool that's effectiveness has been backed by scientific studies since as early as the 1970's.

    Similar to supply and demand, the scarcity principal is more or less the art of hyping up excitement around a product and then producing a low enough amount of it that it’s pretty much sure to sell out within a short amount of time after being released. Though such a strategy sounds sneaky at best and downright mean at worst, there are various reasons that some companies utilize it on a regular basis.  

  • The Desirability Factor


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    The idea is basically that by producing less supply, you can actually create more demand for a product. After all, if something is relatively easy to get, its popularity is more or less going to depend on things such as its quality, affordability, and positive reputation. If however, it’s announced that a product sold out within the matter of a few minutes, it’s easy to assume that it must have nailed it in each of these categories without considering that it may have simply been due to the fact that a relatively small number of products  had to be moved in order to achieve the coveted “sold out” status. This not only tempts more people to buy when the product is replenished, but makes the lucky few who were able to purchase it less likely to complain, since they feel privileged just to have snagged an item that so many people are interested in. 

  • Easy Legitimization

    The whole scarcity ploy is particularly popular among newcomers to the makeup game. While newcomers such as Rhianna of Fenty Beauty legitimately earn their hype by producing a product that in some way revolutionizes the makeup game, others aren’t willing to work quite so hard. By simply making their products harder to get a hold of, they up the odds that they’ll be able to announce on Instagram or other social media sites that their new products sold out in an unheard of amount of time, thus suggesting that they're way more unique or high quality than it may actually be. 

  • Urgency Is the Word


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    Another aspect of the scarcity tactic that tends to work out beautifully for cosmetics companies is that when we see an item that’s likely to sell out quickly, we’re more likely to buy it when given the opportunity rather than ask too many questions. The knowledge that a product has sold out before and probably will again makes something in our brains convince us that, given the chance, we’d be fools to pass up the chance to secure it for ourselves.

    After all, what if this is the only opportunity we have? Better to buy now and ask questions later, right? As owners of the coveted new product which others are likely to miss out on, we get the feeling of being part of a privileged crowd. Given that even if it’s overpriced, most makeup is relatively affordable, this can be a way to feel like we’re indulging in luxury which takes our minds off of the fact that the item may or may not be overpriced for its value.  

  • Why Do We Fall For It?

    When you really step back and look at the simplicity of the scarcity trick, it may be hard not to wonder why we continue to fall for it, especially considering that it’s far from a new marketing ploy. As behavioral psychologist Susan Weinschenk told Refinery29, it all goes back to an almost primal instinct that’s buried so deeply it’s largely unconscious.

    “You wouldn’t think that a new lipstick being unavailable would alert us to danger, but your old brain is very sensitive to fear of loss and fear of losing out on an opportunity,” she says. “Your old brain picks up on that before your conscious brain does and sends out danger alerts, like, ‘You’re going to lose this opportunity - you’d better act right now.’ Anything that sets off that old brain danger alert is going to be extremely effective.”

  • The Fear Factor

    As harsh as it may sound, what the scarcity tactic basically boils down to fear. Centuries ago, fear of being left out or missing out on an opportunity was an instinct that often came down to life or death for our ancestors. Back when we were living in small villages or tribes, being cast out alone into the wild could mean death to someone who didn’t know their way around the wilderness. Similarly, a person who was hungry might lose the opportunity to feed their family for a week if they didn’t strike when they came across an animal while out hunting. Today, such matters aren’t at the forefronts of our minds, as society has come a long way since then. Our brains have not caught up to the idea of modern day convenience, and those old human instincts are still alive and well. As ridiculous as it may sound that a cosmetics company could use them to convince us to buy a hot new lipstick, it’s something that happens every day and without a whole lot of effort.