Morphe is in Tampa: How Jaclyn Hill and YouTube changed the way we buy makeup

International Plaza could be packed with makeup lovers on Saturday morning, ahead of the store grand-opening.
Published December 14 2018

TAMPA — Jaclyn Hill can't walk the aisles at the Ulta makeup store in Carollwood long before a teenage girl recognizes her.

The young girl wants a photo with her idol — an internet beauty guru known for smokey-eyed looks and champagne-colored highlighter. Soon after, one of the store's makeup artists, Sam, shyly approaches to ask Hill for a hug.

"You gave me the confidence to do makeup and try to start my own channel," Sam tells the 28-year-old Tampa celebrity, the whole encounter captured on camera, later to be watched by more than 2 million people on Hill's YouTube page. "Thank you so much."

On Saturday, hundreds — if not thousands — of makeup fans are expected to flood International Plaza to catch a glimpse of Hill as she cuts the ribbon to celebrate Florida's first Morphe cosmetics store. Think the frenzy, hype and tears of Beatlemania — except the rage is all makeup artists, eye shadow pallets, liquid lipsticks and a brand that has revolutionized how the beauty industry connects with consumers.

In a few years, Morphe went from a niche makeup brush company to one of the most in-demand beauty brands in the world. The reason? They hooked up with YouTube's beauty stars early.

"I think a lot of these kids don't watch TV anymore," said Allison Collins, the beauty finance editor with Women's Wear Daily. "They really watch YouTube … and these influencer partners have millions and millions of followers. It's the same as any celebrity."

That's people like James Charles, Jeffree Star, Manny MUA — and Hill, who isn't just famous locally. She has more than 6 million followers on Instagram and another 5.6 million who subscribe to her YouTube channel, watching her try out products and share bits of her personal life. She has her own popular eye shadow collection with Morphe called "The Vault."

The once online-focused retailer is now growing its physical footprint. By March of 2019, Morphe products will be in 29 stores between the United States, United Kingdom and Canada. The Tampa store is the first Florida Morphe, with Miami and Orlando locations to soon follow.

"Morphe was built off of a mutual love and support between us and influencers," said the brand's artistic director Nicole "Lipstick Nick" Faulkner. "We give the makeup community what they want: amazing products at unbeatable prices and exciting collaborations with their favorite influencers."

When 19-year-old James Charles, who also has Morphe eye shadows, played host for the Mall of American store opening in early November, about 3,000 people showed up, according to Minnesota news reports. Hundreds slept overnight outside, despite the cold, to see Charles, one of YouTube's most popular creators.

Expecting a crowd at International Plaza, 16-year-old Sierra Vick of Trinity plans to get there early. She regularly visits beauty supply store Ulta with her best friend, and the two practice the makeup looks they see on YouTubers on each other.

“I’ve been following Jaclyn for a year now. I love her tutorials,” she said.

While mainstream beauty companies were focusing on glossy magazine ads, Morphe was sending product samples to YouTubers with assigned "affiliate codes." With a custom coupon code, creators like Charles and Hill are able to endorse and promote Morphe's products while making money off each sale.

"Everything is recycled," said Tampa marketer Brittany Ward. "It's an old tactic: celebrity endorsements. Except now we are creating celebrity endorsements online, where we have the capability to segment by interest."

Ward's firm, the Marketing Whisperer, has developed an influencer division called "Create Collabs." After Facebook's algorithms changed to feature brand pages less, marketers needed to figure how to meet consumers where they were: on YouTube and Instagram.

It's not just the Jacklyn Hills who get brand deals. Ward says "micro" influencers are on the rise. The local social media pros have a few thousand followers, rather than a few million, and can more easily answer questions and comments.

The beauty industry is light years ahead of other retailers when it comes to the emerging influencer frontier, Ward said. While traditional beauty brands have largely figured out how to adapt, Ward called influencer partnerships "the most undervalued impression" you can buy right now in the digital space. Ward said Morphe, however, has long understood its shopper and where to invest its marketing dollars.

The physical Morphe store set-up is created with that core shopper in mind: It's a curated selection of YouTube stars' products, with samples of lipsticks, foundations and eye shadows to try on under bright lights and in front of big mirrors.

"The consumer is more in charge now," said Collins, the beauty editor. "It's less companies telling consumers what they want to buy and more the consumer telling companies what to make."

Morphe will open at 7 a.m. on Saturday and Hill will cut the ribbon at 10:30 a.m. It's going to be a busy morning at International Plaza, with just two shopping weekends before Christmas.

Vick has enlisted her dad to wake up in time to drive her from Trinity by 5 a.m. in hopes she can get close to Hill.

“I’m worried I’m going to get there and 1,000 people are already going to be in front of me,” she said. “It’s going to be crazy.”

Contact Sara DiNatale at [email protected] or . Follow @sara_dinatale.

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