Overfranchising: When Category-Killers Just Can’t Stop Cannibalizing
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\"overfranchising\"Maybe you’re Maybelline.

And maybe, because you’re Maybelline, you produce one of the most beloved mascaras of all time. Yes, Great Lash is one for the ages, a perennial box-office champ for the last 44 years. In this era of here-today, gone-tomorrow product launches, that preppy pink and green tube of makeup magic is in a class by itself.

In the prestige arena, Lancôme has enjoyed a similarly mammoth success story. Though its Définicils High Definition Mascara is 20 years younger than Great Lash, urban legend has it that one is sold – somewhere, globally, from Boston to Beijing — every three minutes.

Clearly, these two brands have carved-out massive slices of the brutally competitive mascara pie, proffering products women the world over genuinely adore.

Why then, when I pop on maybelline.com, do I see no fewer than 42 mascara SKUs spread out over a slew of different franchises? In addition to several iterations of Great Lash (the “tent-poling” phenom, which we’ll get to in a moment), there are at least eight other franchises: Lash Sensational, Volum’ Express, The Falsies, Illegal Length, Lash Stiletto, Define-A-Lash, and Full ‘N Soft.

Lancôme’s mascara lineup is easier to wrap your mind around, but still pretty intense. Alongside Définicils (regular, waterproof and a version called “Precious Cells”), there’s Hypnôse (a huge franchise, comprising seven SKUs), L’Extreme, and even a vibrating number dubbed Ôscillation. And then there’s the newest entry, Grandiôse, which features a kooky crooked, “wide-angle” wand.

To make it “easier” for online consumers to navigate its myriad mascara offerings, both Maybelline and Lancôme have instituted search parameters organized by benefit. On lancomeusa.com, for example, you can tick off one or more of the following boxes: Curling, Lengthening, Volume, Definition, Separating, Curling Volume, Defining, Fibrestretch, Vibrating, and Volume Extending.

Wait a minute – isn’t Definition pretty much the same as Separating? And how is Definition any different from Defining? It isn’t, right?

Curious as to why the makers of two of the most popular mascaras ever might feel the feel need to keep rolling out new franchises, I sought the insight of industry vet Mona Monaghan, who recently stepped down as Chief Sales & Marketing Officer at Milani Cosmetics to get back into consulting (Full disclosure: I’ve helped Monaghan with a number of copywriting projects over the past year.)

To prep for our interview, Monaghan, who is based in L.A., parked herself in the Beverly Hills outposts of Rite-Aid and Nordstrom for hours at a pop. (Thank you, Mona. That was above and beyond…)

“I really wanted to understand more about the mascara category,” she says. “So I just watched women shop.”

Or more to the point – not shop. Time after time, Monaghan saw customers get so flummoxed by all the offerings in mascara – Do I want lengthening? Or volume? What about curl? I wasn’t even thinking about curl! — that they either snapped-up their go-to Great Lash, or walked away empty-handed.

“I think women aren’t buying because they’re confused,” Monaghan says. “Several of them asked, “Isn’t there anything I can buy that’s the complete mascara?’ It’s like they wanted the mascara version of Crest Total toothpaste, because they couldn’t make the determination if they wanted to lengthen, curl, volumize – all of the benefits brands are claiming, especially in the mass arena.”

And those mega-million dollar ad campaigns you see in print and on TV? They’re actually adding to the confusion, at least among the Rite-Aid crowd. “Women wanted to know about the “butterfly effect” and some of the other advertising they’d seen,” Monaghan notes. “But three out of six women walked away with nothing. The others bought Great Lash, and [L’Oreal Paris] Voluminous – the tried-and-trues.”

At Nordstrom – the second stop on Monaghan’s Great Mascara Stake-Out – the situation at the Lancôme counter was eerily similar. Although the brand has made some share-of-mind inroads with its print advertising for one of its Hypnôse SKUs – the Doll Lashes SKU – and there is curiosity about Grandiôse, it was the warhorse that claimed the bulk of that day’s sales.

“I wanted to know if women were going to switch it up and buy the Grandiôse – if that magic bent wand was really gonna do it or not,” she says. “But the number one product women were buying was Définicils.”

Still, a few did manage to break out of their mascara rut. “The packaging lure of Grandiôse the rose and how beautiful it is – Lancôme did some things that were visually differentiated, and smart, and people were buying Grandiôse more than they were buying Hypnôse or some of the other franchises,” Monaghan notes. “Because it does look different. Women are looking for things they’ve never had before.”

Vive la différence, bébé. And that applies whether a brand dives into over-franchising or tent-poling.

Over-franchising – multiple sub-brands within the same product category – is especially prevalent in mascara, probably because it’s the “desert-island must-have” for many, many women. But it also crops up in other categories, like anti-wrinkle crèmes, say, and shampoo.

Alongside over-franchising is – to borrow a term from Hollywood – tent-poling, i.e., milking one franchise for all it’s worth via endless line extensions.

Great Lash is a perfect example of tent-poling. Currently under the Great Lash umbrella are Waterproof, Washable, Real Impact, Lots of Lashes Washable, Big Lash Washable, Washable Curved Brush, and Clear. Seven different takes on a single mascara.

Though tent-poling isn’t new, it’s definitely on the uptick. “More brands are following this trend,” says Karen Grant, Vice President and Global Beauty Analyst for NPD Group. “And it’s often been a very successful strategy. The thought is to play to your strength. It allows a brand to build upon their recognition and existing equity, trust, and expertise in a product category or franchise name. The objective is to leverage a winning franchise’s broad appeal as well as an already existing consumer base.”

But pumping out product – under a new franchise or existing – only works if A) it’s genuinely, demonstrably new and B) that newness is conveyed very, very well.

“Consumers can get confused if the brand does not make enough of a distinction for each product in the line – why it matters, why it should be either an add-on or an upgrade,” says Grant. “Clear messaging and education is key to avoid confusion and cannibalization.”

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