Much like pop stars, film directors and authors, beauty brands can easily become one-hit wonders, trading off the success of a single hero product (the product that defines their brand) for years or even decades after the launch. It often begins organically. Single-product brands get extra press attention when they launch and are quickly stocked by retailers like Sephora , having been marketed as the very best versions of wherever it is they offer, be it a vitamin C serum, a face mask or a primer. Before long, brands feel pressure to expand and create more products to lure investors and retailers that naturally want them to shift an ever-growing amount of goods. But given the extra advertising and market spend new products require, would it not make sense for these companies to specialise in the very thing that made them famous in the first place? Beauty brands with a singular focus are still rare, and most beauty companies have a range of products on offer to suit a variety of skin types and needs. And yet despite this, many beauty brands are intrinsically tied to one particular product, with sales that reflect that. Touche Éclat, for example, the under-eye concealer from Yves Saint Laurent Beauty, has been a cult product for decades, carrying the weight of the entire beauty brand and – according to some estimates – accounting for nearly 70 per cent of sales. Even for bigger brands such as Estée Lauder, sales of its Advanced Night Repair outweigh most of the conglomerate’s new product launches. Given the phenomenon, would brands’ money not be better spent on improving and marketing this one product, given it has already captured so much of the public’s attention? How to treat adult acne, and the new ‘maskne’ “Hero products are actually already really important and get the lion’s share of marketing even if it might not feel like it,” says Margaux Knuppe, a former beauty editor of Glamour magazine and founder of skincare brand Afari. “But because the beauty industry thrives on innovation, it is this innovation that ultimately makes the entire industry tick over. Brands have to explore new avenues and new ingredients to see if they could become their new hero products. “Yes, marketing plays a big role in why they constantly try new launches, but if you don’t do that then how do you find new products that are going to appeal to a whole new generation?” Appealing to new customers is an essential part of growth, but hero products are the dream ticket for any brand – largely because once a lipstick, face cream or foundation has reached cult status, it will have accrued enough loyal customers to ensure it longer needs to be sold to the general public in a traditional way. Despite this, conglomerates like Estée Lauder divert vast budgets into chasing the attention only a new launch can generate. “The launch of a hero product for any brand is specifically designed to attract a high level of consumer interest, from both existing brand users and non-brand users, and is normally executed with lots of new promises, be it technical or trend driven,” explains John Knowlton, a cosmetic scientist and the founder of cosmetic development company Cosmetic Solutions. “The result is normally a high level of consumer interest, but only over a short period, because as soon as the technology being used or the trend being pushed becomes normal in the marketplace, customers lose interest. So most brands require many new ‘hero launches’ to stay at the front of people’s minds.” According to consultancy Bain & Company, even hero products have to be kept “fit” by updating, upgrading and remarketing on a regular basis. It is only then that a hero can be turned into a superhero – by addressing new needs and new customers. Advanced Night Repair, for example, has been reformulated numerous times over the years to reflect technological discoveries by Estée Lauder, all while keeping the original bottle and much of the original formula. View this post on Instagram Things we always seem to lose: hair elastics ♀️ Things we never want to lose: skin elasticity NEW Advanced Night Repair improves skin elasticity (think plumper, firmer, bouncier). In fact, after just 3 weeks, 91% of women said their skin felt more resilient*... if only our hair ties could be as durable. Tap to shop NEW #AdvancedNightRepair! *Consumer testing on 543 women. A post shared by Estée Lauder (@esteelauder) on Aug 30, 2020 at 7:00am PDT Ultimately, these brands would still be hugely successful even if they only traded on their one hero product forever. But, much like that pop sensation chasing another number-one hit, the possibility of a second cult product remains too tantalisingly in reach to give up on. Hero products with a cult following Estée Lauder Advanced Night Repair A peachy-coloured, gel-like serum, Advanced Night Repair Synchronized Recovery Complex II (ANR, to fans) is the brand’s bestseller, and has been around since the 1980s. An anti-ageing serum designed to work while you sleep, it acts on lines and wrinkles, dullness and dryness for more youthful and radiant skin. Yves Saint Laurent Beauty Touche Éclat “Highlighting concealer” may sound like a confusing phrase, but this famous formula turns dark circles luminous in seconds. Plus it offers coverage for spots, and can be used to accent bone structure – hence the brand has launched countless foundations, primers and tinted moisturisers off the back of this one famous name. Nars Blush in Orgasm As marketing campaigns go, this one is one of the greats, sold as a product that makes your face go the colour it would after having the most perfect sex on the most perfect beach. In a perfect, coronavirus-free world, of course. MAC Lipstick in Ruby Woo It has won hundreds of awards and been recommended by make-up artists, celebrities and beauty editors alike. The lipstick that supposedly suits every skin tone and lip shape, its opaque colour has blue undertones that flatter all complexions and make teeth sparkle. SK-II Facial Treatment Essence The product beauty editors fawn over more than any other, it looks like water but is packed with the proprietary Pitera complex. Pitera, a natural by-product of yeast fermentation, was discovered when (the story goes) scientists realised that elderly Japanese sake makers had soft, youthful hands. Now a similar yeast and fermentation process is used to create the vitamin- and mineral-rich ingredient that stars in many SK-II products but which is most concentrated in this essence. Skinceuticals C E Ferulic The product formulation that spawned a hundred copycats, this serum is expensive but really works. Containing a powerful mix of vitamins C and E, along with ferulic acid (a combination never previously used together), it targets fine lines, discolouration and hyperpigmentation to give a glow that every woman wants.