Millennials’ Lust for Makeup Is the Lipstick on Retail’s Pig

Kylie Cosmetics, the online retailer where 20-year-old Kylie Jenner sells $27 lip kits and $42 “kyshadow” palettes, racked up more than $420 million in sales in just 18 months. Its advertising efforts are minimal, largely consisting of Ms. Jenner’s Instagram account, which has more than 99 million followers.

The brand’s success illustrates the way that millennials — who may spend hours on social media platforms watching video bloggers and following so-called influencers — are rewriting the rules. And brands are racing to evolve with the quickly changing market.

Cosmetic companies are shifting ad dollars from traditional television and print platforms to Instagram and YouTube. Trips to exotic locations that were once reserved for editors from glossy magazines now go to influential social media personalities from all over the world who have thousands or even millions of subscribers hanging on their every post. And brands that once partnered with actresses or models to create a new shade of lipstick or blush are now collaborating with these influencers.

When Ulta held a meet-and-greet in November at a store in Los Angeles with Jaclyn Hill, a YouTube beauty personality, nearly 700 followers stood outside for hours — some even camped overnight — to meet her.

“It was stunning,” said Mary Dillon, the chief executive of Ulta, standing inside the retailer’s first store in Manhattan just days before its grand opening in November.

Even products that have been around for decades are being “discovered” by millennials through social media. Estée Lauder’s Double Wear foundation, a product that was launched 30 years ago, is experiencing double-digit growth rates, said Jane Hertzmark Hudis, group president at Estée Lauder.

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Mary Dillon, the chief executive of Ulta, at the company’s headquarters in Bolingbrook, Ill. A meet-and-greet the company held with a YouTube beauty personality drew about 700 of the woman’s…

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