Lady Gaga’s cosmetics line, Haus Laboratories, launched on Amazon for pre-order yesterday (July 15) in conjunction with Amazon Prime Day. The collection—a variety of colorful glosses, liners, and powders priced between $26-$49—is the first major prestige beauty brand to be released exclusively on the e-commerce platform. It was a partnership that came as something of a surprise for an industry whose leaders—namely Sephora (which sells Rihanna’s Fenty Beauty) and Ulta (which sells Kylie Jenner’s Kylie Cosmetics)—might have seemed like the more predictable fit.
But while an exclusive partnership with a beauty newbie like Amazon seems like a surprising one when Sephora, Ulta, and other established beauty companies like Coty, Shiseido, and L’Oreal have longer histories working with celebrity brands, an Amazon-Gaga partnership is, for all intents and purposes, is a natural fit for a Gaga-helmed brand like Haus Labs. There’s a business argument, certainly: Amazon is scaling Gaga’s brand on a global level faster than Sephora was able to with Fenty Beauty, and Gaga’s target demographic, Gen Z, spend over 50% of their personal care budget online (with 28% of online beauty spending done through Amazon, more than any other online channel) per Boston Consulting Group.
But what’s perhaps even more significant, is looking at how Gaga wants to shape Haus Labs as a brand, and what that has to do with the brand identity (or lack thereof) Amazon has cultivated in its 25 years as a company.
In an interview with Business of Fashion, the singer, actress, and entrepreneur suggested that retaining creative control of her brand ultimately drove her decision to go with Amazon:
“There are companies that see me and what I stand for and the way that I view the world, and if it’s not perfectly in line with what they do…they’ll be like, “Can you just change half of the equation?” The answer is no. No deal. No message of self-acceptance, no deal. This was so wonderful because [Amazon] was like, “Let’s make a deal, let’s make a deal to change the world with their beauty.”
And as Gaga told WWD in an interview, Amazon welcomed a brand like Haus Labs: “Amazon wasn’t afraid of that, and they weren’t afraid of who we cast, they weren’t afraid of our message of inspiring bravery, inspiring kindness, inspiring positivity within the community,” she said.
Indeed, the initial rollout of the Haus Labs has made clear that Gaga is doubling down on positive, identity-focused messaging. The campaign video and marketing images feature a diverse cast of models fronted by gender-fluid twins Joseph and Jake Dupont. The brand’s message, which she has reiterated on her Instagram, is built around makeup as a tool for self-empowerment:
What all of this messaging boils down to is, basically, marketing for what is a VC-backed beauty startup. But the fact of the matter is that to stand out in today’s beauty market, brands have to have an enticing message. For instance, Fenty is all about expanding inclusive beauty offerings and tapping into the mysterious Rihanna patina; Kylie Cosmetics is about capturing the Kylie Jenner aesthetic; Gaga’s, in what is conceivably a kind of anti-Instagram response to Jenner’s line, is about using makeup to create an authentic, empowering persona à la Gaga’s early days as an aspiring singer.
Rather than aligning with a brand that has a personality or message, Gaga was smart to choose Amazon to build a brand that is trying to stand for something because Amazon doesn’t “stand” for anything. Where better to build something with a strong identity than on a platform that seems to have no identity whatsoever?
In 2017, shortly after Amazon disrupted the grocery industry, but before it became a major cosmetics destination, and made Jeff Bezos the richest man on earth, Quartz reporters teamed up in an attempt to answer the question of what exactly Amazon.com is. They came up with this thesis:
“Today Amazon is a titan of e-commerce, logistics, payments, hardware, data storage, and media. It dabbles in plenty more industries. It’s the go-to site for online shoppers and merchants alike, a modern necessity that independent sellers love to hate. Prime, Amazon’s signature $99-a-year membership program, has an estimated 85 million subscribers in the US, equivalent to about two-thirds of American households. To even call it an e-commerce company feels completely inadequate.”
But for a company that does so much, what Amazon “stands for”—its message, company mission, brand, etc., all of the things that typically build loyalty and affinity for a company—is unclear. Of course, Amazon has products and services that are inextricable from the Amazon brand—namely, its Echo, Alexa, and Fire devices, Amazon Web Services, and its Prime program. That said, even its massive offering of private-label, in-house brands—including its private-label drugstore makeup line—are just generic versions of established, brand-name products.
As a company, you’d be hard-pressed to name a brand as big and ubiquitous as Amazon that has less personality. Indeed, Amazon’s brand (outside of naked capitalism, perhaps) is so unclear, and so hysterically at odds with Lady Gaga’s own, that at first blush they seem an unlikely couple. But that’s precisely why it makes sense that the company wasn’t concerned with Gaga’s creative ambitions—Amazon has no powerful message, slogan, or memorable jingle that Gaga’s would muddle, no identity that hers would eclipse or have to align with. It has no distinct political, social, or philanthropic agenda, no “mission,” so to speak. If anything, to a lot of people, Amazon means low-cost efficiency at the expense of brick-and-mortar retail and workers, a business model that is inspiring mass walkouts at Amazon warehouses across the world this week.
So if it was Gaga’s goal to create Haus Labs with an immense amount of creative control, Amazon, devoid as it is of a brand to call its own, would seem like the perfect fit.