Branding has totally transformed over time. Nowadays, customers expect brands to stand for something meaningful, like Patagonia fighting for climate change or Dove promoting beauty positivity. But it wasn't always like this. Back in the 80s, MAC cosmetics came out strong, challenging norms and representing marginalized communities. They were pioneers in brand activism, and guess what? It paid off big time! Today, we looked at them to explore why giving a voice to overlooked communities is a winning strategy.

Frank & Frank, MAC founders. Image source

"Beauty begins the moment you decide to be yourself." - Coco Chanel


MAC’s Intuitive Beginning.

The best product you can create is the one you need. Following this principle, MAC was founded by two Canadian individuals; Frank Toskan, a makeup artist and photographer, and Frank Angelo, a beauty salon owner. They started from their kitchen in Toronto, creating their first product: pigmented lipstick shades inspired by a pink Crayola crayon designed to withstand the hot lights during photoshoots. This product, initially tailored for professional settings to enhance models' makeup and to last, quickly gained popularity through word-of-mouth. Soon, the lipstick line expanded into a full collection, leading to the opening of their own store. In 1984, MAC officially became a brand.

As they continued to develop their products, MAC shifted its focus to address another gap they noticed in the makeup industry: the lack of targeted and inclusive makeup options for the LGBTQ community. This change marked a new direction for their brand. Transitioning from creating makeup for camera-friendly looks, they broadened their collection to cater to all demographics.


MAC Positioned Itself Strongly.

Mac made it clear from the get-go that they were not like other makeup brands. Unlike the typical compacts, MAC's products came in sleek black containers, signalling that they were breaking the mold. But inside the sleek appearance, ranges of bold colors contrasted. MAC wanted to create something fun and imaginative, something that would empower everyone to experiment with makeup and encourage self-expression instead of following the trends of the day and limiting themselves to conventional colors. By offering more color options that were not seen at the time in makeup, they empowered everyone to break the mold and transition makeup from mere beauty into an art form.

Image source

“I am my own experiment. I am my own work of art.” - Madonna


MAC Entering Pop Culture with a BANG.

Entering pop culture seems to be just the first step in becoming iconic. It is easier said than done, but when a product is great, it happens on its own. Coco Chanel’s perfume, for example, gained traction after Marilyn Monroe declared she wore a “few drops to bed”, and Gucci has been collaborating with celebrities for a long time as well. For MAC, it was Madonna who opened the door for them when she wore their intense matte red lipstick in an '80s photoshoot. This led to their iconic "Russian Red" lipstick, which they created for Madonna's Blonde Ambition tour in 1990.


What Set MAC Apart.

Though, was their choice of the first spokesperson for the Viva Glam Campaign. MAC was already going strong against the grain, knowing what they stood for. The brand was not created with the idea of making profit, but rather to give a voice to overlook communities and celebrate self-expression in an inclusive way. True to themselves, they chose the now infamous drag queen, RuPaul. Choosing the Queen of Drag as the campaign's first spokesperson was particularly groundbreaking, especially during a time when drag culture was not as widely celebrated. This decision not only lent a significant platform to the LGBTQIA+ community but also catalyzed a movement of acceptance and social enlightenment. Accompanying this bold choice was the campaign tagline: "We won't look down on you, and we won't intimidate you, because we know what it was like to be picked on by the cool kids. And guess what? Now we're the cool kids."

Since then, Viva Glam has seen many celebrities as its spokesperson, including Lady Gaga, Elton John, Pamela Anderson, Eve, Rihanna, Miley Cyrus, Ariana Grande, and Rosalía.

Rupaul for the Viva Glam campaing 1994. Image source

“If you don’t love yourself, how in the hell you gonna love somebody else?”— Rupaul


Viva Glam Campaign.

What is so beautiful about MAC is that there marketing has always been minimal and almost unintentional. This campaign is so iconic that other brands have copied it over and over. Launched back in 1994 when the AIDS epidemic was at its peak, VIVA GLAM wasn't just about selling lipsticks; it was about making a real difference and supporting communities in need. By giving away 100% of the selling price of all VIVA GLAM lipsticks throughout the year, MAC redirected that money to organizations and programs helping those affected by HIV/AIDS. It was a bold move in the beauty world, showcasing transparency about where customers' money was going and aligning the brand with a noble cause.


Viva Glam Still Going Strong.

Expanding its reach to advocate for equal rights for women, girls, and the LGBTQIA+ communities. The campaign garnered high-profile opportunities, heightened brand awareness, and positive PR. People love brands that stand for something meaningful, so this campaign really cemented MAC's reputation as a brand that cares about society and makes a real impact. Even today, 26 years later, VIVA GLAM remains a symbol of M·A·C's unwavering dedication to philanthropy, social impact, and inclusivity, attracting support from influential figures in pop culture and continuing to make a positive difference in the world.


It's ALL About Community.

With their motto "All ages. All races. All sexes," MAC has always pushed for an inclusive space and made room for people who didn’t necessarily have it. MAC's success has been based on creating products for minorities and marginalized communities. While other companies ignored them, MAC has proved that the power of these communities shouldn't be overlooked. This might not have seemed like a logical marketing approach at that time, but MAC proved everyone wrong. When creating products for people whom nobody wants to create products for, it not only gives a kind of monopoly due to the lack of choice but also inspires strong loyalty.

By aiming to include everyone, MAC has reinforced a community, made it more confident, and embraced everyone’s differences. Over and over again, the makeup brand has proved its engagement and made a difference. From creating the first line of makeup for people with dark skin and still being one of the brands that offer the most options of shades for a wide range of skin colors, to providing welcoming spaces for all gender identities, raising $500 million USD through Viva Glam to support people with AIDS/HIV, fighting for equal rights for women, girls, and the LGBTQ+ communities, and establishing more than 1800 organizations founded by the brand globally, MAC has made us all stronger and unified.

"Your makeup should never precede you, but walk with you." - Estée Lauder

We can all learn something from MAC's approach. This brand didn’t come to exist through the analysis of businessmen trying to predict the next big thing that would bring in a lot of money, but rather out of necessity, out of a desire to make a difference. MAC identified a huge gap in the market: one that caters to overlooked people, to those who don’t want to be traditionally pretty but want to experiment and be different, and to those who don’t fit the norms for which makeup of the time has been created. The brand originated from a desire to soften the world, and it has stayed true to this desire.



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