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Dissecting a Brand

When thinking about your own brand, it's often helpful to see how the established brands do it so you can replicate good practice. One of my favourite brands is Urban Decay, they know their market, discovered their niche early on and have now become influencers to the social environment, embracing and enacting change that's larger than just the product they sell. This is the 'Sweet Spot' being able to have that must consumer attention that you're able to stand for something and affect change in society turns a brand from 'What' they do to 'Why' they do it. So let's break it down…

Firstly, this is a brand with an edge | confident | bold | rebellious

Urban Decay – Beauty With an Edge


COLOUR & their psychological meanings

– Deep Purple : power | mystery | luxury | wealth | extravagant | magic | independence | dignity | pride | spiritual

– Black : power | mystery | strength | authority | elegant | formal | rebellion | sophistication | aggressive | depth – Grey/Silver : neutral | balance | timeless | sophisticated | practical | elegant | prestige – Mauve / Pale Purple : romance | nostalgia | feminine


Purple is associated with Royalty and luxury because of the historical difficulty of creating the colour and because it was so expensive to produce. It was also very rare, one way of producing purple dye was to crush the shells of sea snails – these were so exceedingly rare that they were, at one stage, worth their weight in gold. So, because of the rarity and how expensive purple fabric could be, it was reserved for members of Royalty and Catholic Bishops. It still carries that reputation with it today and when used correctly, a brand can have an exclusivity and luxury feel to it when using the colour purple. In the case of Urban Decay, their colour palette dictates their price category and the quality expectation of their product, so quite a lot to live up to. If consumer expectations aren't met then they lose the trust of their consumer and that could end up shortening the lifespan of a brand.

These colour combinations in conjunction with brand font and imagery help set the tone of voice and brand personality. Urban Decay's origin story was during a time when pink, red and beige were dominating the market, where purple of green nail weren't considered a thing of beauty. So, Sandy Lerner took matters into her own hands and started, along with her business parters, Wende Zomner and David Sower, a cosmetic company. In January 1996 they launched a line of lipsticks and nail enamels inspired by seedier facets of urban landscape, with names like Roach, Smog, Rust, Oil Slick and Acid Rain.


By setting the tone and introducing a colour palette that quickly became the industry leaders because of their outright defiance of what was saturating the market, they became a rebellion brand that allowed consumers a full range of choice. This opened up a platform for celebrity endorsement that would confirm their brand personality and cement that into the marketing and minds of the consumers and effect a change in the cosmetic industry. Introducing their first big celebrity endorsement : Gwen Stefani :

What a perfect example of cool rebellion that still enjoys beauty. They collaborated on a colour palette that represented the artist, Gwen and the impact of the Urban Decay brand. Eye palette names : blonde | bathwater | skimp | steady | punk | baby | anaheim | stark | zone | serious | pop | harajuku | danger | 1987 | blackout


Seems easy enough but there are other elements that also contribute to the brand that made the endorsement an easy marketing win. The combination of all the brand elements used consistently and thoughtfully is what make a strong, confident brand:

colours | font | personality | price category | market | audience | positioning | logo

You can see influences from urban graffiti, hard calligraphy and tattoo culture.

Using these personality traits sets their consumer perception to who they are and how they do it. As do the celebrities they use in their endorsements – this is how 'consistency' is used within a brand, every brand element needs to accentuate and amplify each other to create trust and confidence in your brand from consumers. Even, if a brand attracts the fringe core audience, attract enough of an alternative audience and, as Urban Decay have done, they then become the majority and no longer the fringe. And there's nothing stronger than creating a movement of followers because they believe that your brand is more than just a cosmetic line, it's a statement of originality.

For a brand to grow and remain relevant in the eyes of their industry and consumers they need to be nimble, to be agile enough to pivot and change as seen in their latest 2020 marketing campaign, using online influencers and celebrities that are unexpected and interesting. Concentrating on their updated slogan: 'PRETTY DIFFERENT' allows them to use an unexpected colour palette and celebrities to endorse their product enables them to remain true to their brand identity without being a slave to their brand.

This cleverly follows through to their colour names too:

Face, Body & Eyes: glitch | chaos | shock | fluorescent | current | jolt Face & Body: gravity* | savage* | switch* slowburn*

Even the palette name 'WIRED' is provocative - internet | 'wired differently'

Notice the bold confidence about this campaign – the capital letters – bold and simple typeface used for WIRED and PRETTY DIFFERENT – the colours of the palette powders and the celebrity models used. They know exactly 'who' they're speaking to and are unashamed about it. It's not a case of excluding an audience, more about embracing and celebrating their target audience and using celebrities that appeal to their target group.


In this last example we can see that the scene has been set. The brand colours purple and black have been used, the 'night lights' in the background to accentuate the strength of this product for nights out – it's a strong statement, going out, dancing and sweating in a crowded nightclub and the advert promises that your makeup will last the whole night with these fixative products. The imagery confirms that 'promise' with the water droplets on the compact. And the language is directed to their target audience - night outs being described as 'legendary' and enabling their audience by calling themselves 'legendary'. Because of the colour palette used, the audience, tone-of voice and logo these products are still identifiable as Urban Decay without them having to be a slave to their brand, they still have the freedom to be creative and update their designs as long as they keep the integrity of the brand which they've done in this case.


I hope this helped you to know how to dissect your own favourite brand and start applying some of their rules to your own brand.

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