Limited editions and the illusion of rarity
This time of year is rife with “holiday” beauty launches. Aside from the ubiquitous celebrity perfume gift sets, it seems like the fall-winter season is the event of the year for makeup. You have everything from holiday palettes to bizarre christmas tree ornaments with mini beauty products inside to advent calendars stuffed with shower gels and body butters. To say the least, it’s overwhelming to the point of exhaustion. And yet the hype seems nowhere near dying down.
Every year, every makeup brand of note in the west launches at least one holiday palette. It’s limited edition, has gold packaging and is always, without fail, filled with the same nude eyeshadows and sample-size mascaras we got last year. It’s never actually new. It’s always something everyone already owns, and if it’s not it’s likely something nobody actually wants. There’s always a supposed per-piece-discount – the price per product is lower when you buy all 12 lipsticks and so on – but I’m convinced the lower price has more to do with cut corners than generous christmas spirit.
If you’re spending 200 dollars on products you don’t actually want or need anyway just because it’s a “good deal”, are you really saving anything? If I want a lipstick, I buy that lipstick, not the whole line. It’s not only a matter of cost. It’s a matter of desire, and of practicality. If you don’t actually use the products you’ve bought, you might as well have set your hard-earned cash on fire and saved yourself the storage space.
Furthermore, a lot of the time these limited edition, super-exclusive holiday-only products are limited edition for a reason. They’re usually, sorry to say, a haphazard rushed mess of low quality and even lower creativity. As one of my favourite youtubers points out, the limited edition product is around for such a short period of time, it doesn’t really matter if it’s good or not. The perceived exclusivity compensates for the lacking quality, and by the time the reviews roll in it’s already sold out never to be seen again (until next year.) So the brand doesn’t actually have to fix their mistake! That’s why brands that normally make decent products can push out mediocre crap in mirror-less cardboard compacts once a year without anyone batting an eye, because it’s good value and limited edition.
The seasonality and exclusivity of these types of products appeal to our desire for self-renewal and belonging to an “elite” group. The idea that only a few people got hold of that 8-pan highlighter palette is so titillating, whether those highlighters are useful or not becomes an afterthought. It’s the same idea with those advent calendars where you get 24 little surprise products whether you want them or not, not unlike those subscription boxes that successfully flog samples to women all over the world.
This is not to say that you shouldn’t treat yourself to nice things, or that everything that’s limited edition is automatically crap. I just believe that the marketing and social media hype often succeeds in making us forget our actual needs and desires. Besides, I can almost guarantee you’ll be able to find a superior dupe for every single holiday product ever in the permanent collections. Nude eyeshadow palettes aren’t exactly rare.
I like to think of all beauty shopping as gift shopping, even if it’s for myself. The same rules apply. If I were to give someone a present, would I take a gamble on the “best value” item? Or would I buy something I’m sure they like, that I can trust the quality of, and something they can easily replace were it to run out? Of course the second option is best. A small, thoughtful gift is always better than a big, generic one.
PS. Marketing and social media hype affects me too, believe me. I have to admit that I covet that limited edition NARS audacious lipstick with red packaging, but isn’t it so sexy?