Battle of the brands’ marketing strategies: NARS vs MAC Cosmetics

We put 2 of the biggest names in beauty head to head to see who's digital marketing activity comes out on top. Who are you backing?

Published by 

Alexis Pratsides


Case study featured image for

As with all industries, digital marketing and technology have disrupted the beauty industry dramatically.

Both organic social media and paid digital advertising has changed the way in which brands can engage and connect with their consumers. Traditionally, brands relied on brick and mortar stores, traditional advertising/print media and word of mouth to reach the end-consumer. While these are still important, social platforms have allowed brands to insert themselves into conversations surrounding them. Moreover, these platforms allow them to interact with consumers on a more personal, real-time level.

Social media and the beauty industry

With the rise of beauty vloggers talking about their favourite beauty products, posting makeup tutorials and hauling makeup, YouTube and Instagram have been pivotal players in the change within the beauty industry.

For many brands however, social media not only works as marketing channels, but they also work as sales channels. They contribute to purchases and other desired conversions, and this is most certainly true for the beauty industry. While it’s always been possible to push for web traffic and consequential sales, now customers can easily purchase an item directly in the social media app. The introduction of shoppable features on social has, in some cases, changed the way brands are using social all together.

Need help making full use of your brand’s social presence? Get in touch today.

Having an online presence has been of high importance for a long time due to changing buying behaviours. But, challenges posed by the current pandemic have meant that it’s more important now than ever before. Cosmetic brands, and many others, must adopt a digital-first strategy in order to survive. Beauty brands have had to quickly adapt their marketing strategies to stay relevant. People are staying indoors, minimising the need to wear and consequently buy beauty products. Simultaneously, consumers are faced with the issue of being unable to colour match foundations or swatch lipsticks and eyeshadows shades. As a result, makeup brands have had to come up with innovative ways of pitching their products to the end-user.

So, in this battle of the brands, we delve into two of the biggest household names – NARS and MAC. We will take a look at some of their most successful and memorable marketing campaigns, and what we can learn from them.

Who are they?

NARS and MAC Cosmetics are two of the most well-known beauty brands with a huge global presence. With the iconic NARS Radiant Creamy Concealer talked about all over the internet, and the many different MAC lipstick finishes and colours, it’s unsurprising that they have both developed a cult following. With both brands largely selling the same makeup items, and competing in the oversaturated beauty market, they must find their own ways to stand out from the crowd. To do so, they have had to come up with innovative and highly engaging social media campaigns. The aim of this? To capture users and direct them to their ecommerce site. As the pandemic paves the path to a “new normal”, ecommerce will become increasingly important for NARS and MAC, the beauty, and almost every other industry as a whole.

Their social media numbers

Before we take a look at some of their campaigns, we’ll take a look at their top level social media statistics.

Social media following

Bar chart showing the number of subscribers and followers for NARS Cosmetics (green) and MAC Cosmetics (pink) on Instagram, Facebook, Twitter, YouTube and TikTok. Data is taken from June 2020.
Figure 1 – Bar chart showing the number of subscribers and followers for NARS Cosmetics (green) and MAC Cosmetics (pink) on Instagram, Facebook, Twitter, YouTube and TikTok. Data is taken from June 2020.

Most notable is that MAC Cosmetics has:

Figure 2 - Key differences between NARS and MAC cosmetic's social media statistics.
Figure 2 – Key differences between NARS and MAC Cosmetic’s social media statistics.

As we can see from the figures above, both brands boast a large number of followers / subscribers across the major social media platforms. Most importantly, we can see that MAC Cosmetics has far more than NARS Cosmetics, particularly when looking at Instagram and Facebook.

Social video views

A bar chart showing the comparison of YouTube and TikTok video views for NARS cosmetics and MAC cosmetics
Figure 3 – Number of video views for NARS and MAC Cosmetics on YouTube and TikTok

Building on this, in Figure 3, it’s evident that users are engaging more with MAC Cosmetics. This can be seen by the number of video views each brand has amassed on their YouTube channels and TikTok accounts. Again, while NARS has fewer video views on both platforms, the brand still have a healthy volume of views. This is extremely positive for both brands considering the positive impact that video content can have.

The importance of video

According to Zenith, online video views will increase from 84 minutes in 2019 to 100 minutes by 2021. That’s per person, in a single day! This demonstrates that users will consume more content through video format than ever before. This is unsurprising as humans are very visual creatures. Not only are we more likely to engage with videos but they can also have a strong impact on our purchasing decisions. Interestingly, Marketing Land report that 62% of people were more interested in a product after seeing it in a Facebook story. Therefore, highlighting the need to use video content in order to capture a user’s attention through movement and sound. Video acts as a creative medium that is more digestible than a simple text or single image post.

This ties in with social media platforms favouring video content and as such pushing for advertisers to make use of this creative format. Zenith forecasted that ad spend for online video content will account for a third of the TV ad market by 2021. With this in mind, since MAC and NARS have a YouTube channel and a TikTok account, both brands are staying on top of digital marketing trends by incorporating video into their strategy.

Share of voice

Not only does MAC outcompete NARS in terms of the number of followers/subscribers, likes, and number of video views on their own content, but they also outcompete them in terms of their brand mentions across the UK. This looks at any mention of the brand or brand hashtags which have been posted by users other than the brands themselves (figures below estimated from social listening data from Infegy).

Between 1st January and 30th June 2020, MAC saw an average of 53 posts mentions a day, averaging at 2.2 mentions per hour. These generated 832,980 impressions and reached 314,170 users.

In comparison, NARS generated an average of 33 mentions per day, an average of 1.4 mentions per hour, which acquired 680,560 impressions and reached 250,600 users.

This indicates that MAC is involved in a lot more conversations than NARS. Despite this, NARS are able to generate a high number of impressions and reach, almost similar to what MAC achieves with more mentions and average daily posts. This could suggest that though NARS is being mentioned less on average, those who are talking about their brand are more influential than that of MAC.

MAC Cosmetics

Viva Glam Lipstick

One of MAC’s most iconic makeup products is their lipsticks. One range of which has been in existence for the last 26 years; VIVA GLAM. Over the years, MAC have developed many celebrity influencer campaigns involving different celebrities being the face of VIVA GLAM. Notable celebrities include Miley Cyrus, Rihanna and Selena Gomez. Having turned 25 last year, MAC specially selected Winnie Harlow to become the latest face of the range. Winnie Harlow posted a photo to her Instagram where she recreated her Ru Paul’s Drag Race VIVA GLAM look.

An Instagram post by Winnie Harlow celebrating MAC cosmetics 25 years of their VIVA GLAM range

MAC seized the opportunity and used Winnie Harlow’s photo as their primary image for the campaign. They rolled this image out across billboards, in print media, bus stops, on buses, in-store signage, and digital/social. This campaign was also a huge successful for inspiring user generated content (UGC). The UGC that was generated was then used as part of their organic social media strategy for the 25th anniversary of VIVA GLAM campaign. This was MAC’s first time using UGC in their marketing strategy.

The importance of user generated content

UGC allows consumers to feel a part of a wider community. It can make them feel valued as a consumer when they are recognised by the brand online. Therefore, as a brand, it’s pivotal for you to then engage with users by sharing, commenting and liking their content mentioning/showcasing your brand. Engagement is key. Through engagement you are able:

  • Encourage more UGC as others see you responding
  • Answer any pending questions users still may have about your brand or product
  • Build stronger relationships and brand loyalty with users by making them feel valued

This brand loyalty eventually leads to brand advocacy, purchases and strong customer retainment. Not only this but engagement also helps with the algorithms on social platforms. Instagram, for example, recognise that you are spending time on their platform to create a valuable experience for others. As a result of this, these users will be spending more time on the Instagram platform so your profile could be ‘awarded’ in the form of your organic content reaching more users who match your existing audience.


As mentioned previously, technology and social media platforms are constantly evolving, and new platforms emerge. The most recent, popular social media platform to emerge is TikTok. With a similar concept to Snapchat, TikTok is made up of short form videos which are often challenges, dances or ‘TikTok Hacks’. In 2019, it was reported that there were 3.7 million users in the UK alone. So, it comes as no surprise that brands would want to make use of this platform. MAC is a great example of brands making the most of TikTok, having ran one of the best TikTok influencer campaigns to date.

The aim of MAC’s TikTok campaign was to celebrate diversity and to increase their position with Gen Z who make up a large proportion of TikTok users. It involved a challenge using 18 influencers and the hashtag #YouOwnIt during New York City Fashion Week in September 2019. Although the campaign was started with a clip produced by MAC themselves, most of the content used was UGC. The hashtag generated over 700 pieces of UGC. One of the key benefits of UGC is that it is a free source of content. Furthermore, users will often find more reliable than something which has been created wholly by a brand.

Furthermore, MAC’s campaign also highlights the power of influencer marketing as part of an organic social media strategy. If done correctly, influencer marketing can help you increase the number of views, impressions and reach of a specific post, campaign or brand as a whole. MAC is a top example of this, having generated more than 2.3 billion views it has been recorded as one of the best marketing campaigns to date on the platform.

YouTube AR

In 2019, YouTube announced their new virtual makeup try on feature. This allows users on the mobile app to try on makeup from the comfort of their own home. Building on the importance of video content, and making use of new technology to their advantage, MAC launched the first campaign to make use of YouTube’s AR feature. This is demonstrated below, which shows highly interactive features of this technology. Instead of having to visit a physical store to try out swatches, users could now try on multiple shades to find the right one for them from the comfort of their own home.

A gif showing YouTube's make up virtual try on feature being used

As part of the campaign, MAC worked with YouTube influencer Roxette Arisa who has 1.1 million subscribers and 66.5 million views on her channel. Through this partnership, as Roxette Arisa’s video played, a button pops up that says, try it on”. When the button is clicked, it launches the camera in a split-screen view with the YouTube video playing at the top, and yourself is shown below. Along the bottom of the screen are colour swatches of the lipstick shades. Each can then be clicked, allowing you to ‘try it on‘ to see what it looks like on you. Roxette Arisa’s video has amassed just over 80,000 views since it was published in August 2019.

A YouTube ad showing the 'Try It On' feature using their AR technology

Data shows that 30% of the viewers activated this AR experience and spent an average of 80+ seconds trying on the lipstick shades. This highlights that users are engaging with this new technology feature. It will be interesting to see if this becomes more of a common practice due to the pandemic and changing shopping behaviours.

NARS Cosmetics

Not only do MAC stay up to date with technology in order to continue reaching current and new customers, but so do NARS.


This year, NARS have partnered with Spotify to test out their interactive audio ads in the UK. Unlike the traditional audio ads that come up on Spotify, these involve the listener to ask their smart device speaker (Alexa or Google Assistant) to send them a sample; they’re voice activated. Since this will only work on smart speakers, Spotify only distributed these ads to these devices. As such, NARS have teamed up with Send Me a Sample, which are a voice activated sampling company. Upon this voice activation, the user will be taken through the signup process by their device. Once registered, all the user will have to do is wait for the sample to arrive in the post. This demonstrates that NARS are testing new ways to gain the attention of current and potential customers in new, innovative and engaging ways.


As mentioned previously, video content is almost essential as part of your organic and paid marketing strategy. Recognising the importance of video, NARS ran a YouTube bumper video campaign as part of the launch of their Climax Mascara. The aim of the campaign was to increase awareness of the new product, and ultimately drive purchases. They used different video creatives including branded videos, claims about the mascara, and specific USPs to the product. Through the use of various video assets, they saw website traffic increase by 15%, and search interest increased by 329%. This indicates an overall positive performance of the campaign.

The importance of a cross-channel approach

The increase in search interest indicates a halo effect as a result of marketing strategies. Consumers saw the video on YouTube, and then searched for NARS and/or the mascara on the Google search engine. As such it demonstrates the importance of having a cross-channel approach to your marketing strategies, and why it’s necessary to have a wide online presence. This is because not every user has a linear purchasing journey. It may take several visits to the website, or other touchpoints, before they make a purchase. Therefore, being present across multiple platforms, that you know your target user is on, ensures that you stay front of mind during their purchasing process.


An Instagram post of NARS cosmetic's controversial campaign showing their lipstick changing from phallic shape to lipstick

Does sex really sell? NARS is known for its products to have sexual names to inspire sex positivity, for example, the blush colour ‘orgasm’. So, it comes as no surprise that NARS are back at it again. But have they gone too far this time?

During 2019, they posted a series of short video clips of new editions to their ‘After Hour’s’ lipstick range. The videos consisted of the lipstick melting in reverse and the hashtag #NARSAFTERHOURS. The post above caught the eyes of many users as it depicts the lipstick from a phallic shape to lipstick. As a result, it generated a lot of engagement with the likes of Chrissy Teigen commenting on the video. However, some users have not approved of the content due to it being relatively explicit. Despite this, for NARS the sexual innuendo is something that they’re known for, so to some extent sex does sell.


Although both brands occupy the same space in terms of products, they have marketed themselves differently and effectively. Both have a huge online presence across key social media platforms. Similary, both reach users across multiple touchpoints throughout their buying journey through paid and organic social media strategies.

As demonstrated by their social media marketing campaigns, we can see the success this has brought in for them ultimately turning followers into loyal customers. Despite NARS having far fewer followers and video views across the different platforms, it’s important to note that this is not a disadvantage to them. Rather it’s more important to plan and implement effective digital marketing campaigns with highly targeted audiences and a clear objective. Not having a large following should not be a seen as a detriment to your brand and goals. With a well-planned marketing campaign, you will be able to increase your reach generating a high number of impressions, and ultimately engagement and conversions.

Key takeaways

So, the question is, what have we learned from their campaigns? And how can you apply this to your own digital marketing strategy? The five key takeaways from NARS and MAC’s marketing strategies are:

  1. Make use of UGC
  2. Be online, where ever your target users are
  3. Stay up to date with the latest technologies
  4. Use hashtags
  5. Use video where possible

Enjoy this battle of the brands?

If you enjoyed this addition of our Battle of the Brands, then check out Aldi vs Lidl, where we pit the social media marketing of 2 of our nation’s top supermarket brands. We also compare marketing strategies in the streaming industry with Netflix vs Amazon Prime, to see who was the most successful.

Which brand do you think came out on top? Share your thoughts! Let us know what Battle of the brands you want to see next by messaging us on our socials! And if you want support with developing social media marketing that is effective, do get in touch today.


Created by

Alexis Pratsides

Published at 

More insights from the team