Jan 292010

What can I add to the pigment jar debate of ’10?  As background, MAC took it’s large, squat 2.6 ounce jars and replaced them with tall, lean and somewhat smaller jars.  The price for the jars remains the same at $19.50.

The Internet has been discussing MAC’s decision to repackage its pigment line for a few weeks.  Opinions vary widely.  And MAC has never issued any explanation for the change.  It’s a noticeable omission. What was wrong with the older, bigger glass jars?  No pro-consumer messaging here.  No “new or improved” packaging.  It’s slimmer, plastic and smaller but not better in any discernible way.

Old weight on the left, new weight on right

Let’s take a few things as a given.  First, the old larger size was huge. Few use them up.  Second, with the newer packaging you still get a huge amount of product.  More than enough for the average user.

MAC’s decision probably Looked Good on Paper.  Maybe if the jars are smaller, people will buy more pigments, maybe backups or something. Okay, fine.

Makeup bloggers have performed every conceivable analysis.  Temptalia has done some nicely-done numerical weight comparisons here and here.  After a thorough comparison of the actual weights provided by MAC, she concludes that “[a]t the end of the day, I think you’re still getting much more than you think (and you’re not getting as little as you think).”  For a contrasting view, Anastasia at Lipsticks and Lightsabers concludes that this is nothing more than a masked 40% price increase and, as such, “it’s downright shitty.” The Pink Sith take a rational free market approach, noting that there is little basis for outrage, “Maybe it’s because I’m a good honest Capitalist and understand that companies are there to make money.”

I get that. MAC is a corporation.  It’s rational to do their corporate thing, and change their products and increase pricing.  Expenses, deadweight loss, charts and percentages.  Externalities.  Synergy.  Fine.

But here’s the other thing.  Buying makeup is not about rationality.  It’s not about numbers.  It’s a lot more about Hope in a Jar than the London School of Economics.

I remember the first time I saw a MAC Pigment.  It was Pink Opal and it was magical.  It sparkled in the light, and it was pink and white and had endless possibilities.  I asked the MAC sales associate how to use it.

She answered in words I remember today, almost ten years later, “You can do anything you want with them.”

Wow. Powerful words.

I bought it immediately, and then I had a magical jar with which I could do anything.  And that jar would never run out.

At many levels, I know that’s not rational.  Or literally true.  But when has makeup ever been about reality?

Here’s the thing that nags me.

In January 2010, MAC shrunk my jar of hope.

And that’s the thing that I hope MAC understands.  Beyond all the rational spreadsheets, all the calculations and all the free market, makeup buyers have a little less hope in their jars than they did a month ago.

MAC benefits economically because consumers believe in their magic.  MAC’s place in the free market is all about consumers buying an illusion that they’ve created.  Shrinking the jars without any explanation feels like MAC is allowed to play in the free market and I have to settle for less.

In the grand scheme, minor stuff I realize.  But it speaks to larger issues and that’s why I don’t like the change.

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  2 Responses to “The Weight of a Pigment Jar: Economics and Dreams”

  1. This is really well said. I love your Jar Of Hope Analogy. I don’t LIKE what MAC is doing…who likes to spend more for less…but I understand it from a business perspective. Maybe it’s because I compartmentalize or maybe it’s because I still have a full (old style) jar of Vanilla and Sweet Sienna that the down sizing has not hit me yet….yet. Well written!

  2. Great article, and very poetic-like yet still analytical. I really like this 🙂 You summed it up perfectly. I know I will never ever be able to use up an entire pigment jar. I have yet to hit the 1/4 point mark on my Provence and Naked which I use weekly.

    I completely agree the magic of MAC has been swept away for me. I remember the days when I was ecstatic about bringing home my first MAC lipsticks in Wuss and Pink Glaze. My first pigment was Vanilla and I agree, it was stunning.

    I realize there is much more to their business/marketing strategy than I can comprehend – but I feel like they could be a little more creative in generating more revenues without sacrificing quantity in product amounts.

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