Are Cult Products Popular Because They Work, Or Because We’ve Been Told They’re Cult?

There’s one sure fire way to sell a beauty product: tell people it’s ‘cult’. From Pixi’s Glow Tonic, to Elizabeth Arden’s Eight Hour Cream and Collection’s Lasting Perfection Concealer via a Naked Palette, Touche Eclat and NARS lipstick, are these products so incredibly popular because they’re really rather awesome – or because we’re told their cult classics we need within our beauty collection? It’s easy to fall for the hype and part with good money in the hope that you’re discovering the holy grail, but how much of a ‘cult’ product is based on actual performance and how much is built-up in the media to keep the advertisers happy?

In my opinion there are two types of cult product: those that genuinely do perform and over a number of years develop a cult-like following of fans, and products that are hyped-up in the media in order to shift more stock. There are many genuinely brilliant products that either pushed the boundaries when they were first launched, or have multiple functions that make them a great buy. Elizabeth Arden’s Eight Hour Cream has developed cult-like status because it really works, while having about three hundred different uses and fans in beauty journalists, celebrities and consumers alike; it’s taken decades for them to build this status (its original launch was unbelievably in 1930) and a huge amount of love from women across the globe. Similarly, the Pixi Glow Tonic has developed a huge fan base after it slowly proved to be an unbelievably effective product with an affordable price point; customers have been known to queue outside the store and stock up in their dozens to ensure they never run out. These kind of products really do deserve their cult status because impartial users have sung their praises over a number of years.

However, there are also ‘cult’ products that have developed that status by nothing more than advertising, magazine hype and blogger sampling activity. The Urban Decay Naked palettes are a perfect example of this – yes, they’re a great selection of shadows that really do blend seamlessly and provide a fabulous colour result, but a cult product? Can an eyeshadow be cult? Can something that’s re-packaged every year to flog more of the same really be deserving of the same status? In my opinion the Naked palettes just re-packaged and repositioned something that’s been around for decades, albeit in a swanky case with a rather large price point. The magazines went crazy for it, bloggers soon followed; the Urban Decay PR department did an incredible job. Although I do really love the UD eyeshadows and use my Naked Basics palette regularly, there’s something I can’t quite understand about it being called ‘cult’. Is it different, unique or effective enough to be categorised with something such as Liz Earle’s Cleanse and Polish?

Similarly, MAC’s Ruby Woo lipstick is possibly the most cult lip product of all time. You can’t swing a cat without a blogger sporting it, a celeb praising it or a magazine presenting it with some kind of award. It may be a great shade of red that apparently suits all skin tones, but it’s still effectively a red lipstick… From my experience MAC makeup is drying, uncomfortable and overpriced, which makes me question any cult status associated with their brand. Has this lipstick developed cult like status because we’ve been told so often that it’s a cult classic? How many of us would be perfectly happy with a L’Oreal or Bourjois number that was a fraction of the cost, given a blind test?

Retailers like Cult Beauty have really helped to cut out the rubbish and only celebrate genuinely great products that beauty experts would thoroughly recommend; I love the fact that they highlight singular products from across multiple brands, as well as promoting brands you’ve never heard of that offer the most incredible formulas. From Stila’s bases, to Lipstick Queen’s Jean Queen and the BeautyBlender, you know their featured products have been tried and tested in order to bring you the best edit of things you really need to know about. However, magazine awards that recognise ‘cult’ products or best buys are often manipulated to showcase the best of their advertisers’ products as a way of securing future budget; I often flick through the pages of magazines to see which products they’ve highlighted, only to find 90% of them come from the major advertisers or those brands that have taken them on a rather nice press trip that year.

As bloggers we’re equally as guilty of building up products and accrediting them with cult-like status, deserved or otherwise. From the Collection Lasting Perfection Concealer that sold out last year and saw bloggers venturing out to up to eight different stores to track it down, to the Seche Vite topcoat that promised to be the answer to our chipped-nail nightmares, we do like to hype a product and classify it as the next big thing. However, more often than not I find these don’t work for me and leave me somewhat disappointed – which again makes me question any product’s ‘cult’ status and whether or not it’s become a way of saying ‘I really really like this!’

In my opinion, a product is only deserved of the status ‘cult’ if it’s a) been around for longer than three years and b) genuinely works for at least 75% of people that use it. Otherwise it’s just a pretty good product for some people. I don’t have the magic answer and think this is definitely a topic that’s up for debate, but it’s an interesting question to answer oneself – both as a beauty junkie and someone that works within the industry. So, what do you think: are cult products labelled as such because they’re great, or because of the hype created by a clever marketing department that surrounds them?




  1. Jazzy E (Hivenn)
    January 6, 2015 / 2:48 pm

    Totally agree! I think it's partly about checking ingredients and partly being savvy x

  2. Honeypot Blogs
    January 6, 2015 / 3:08 pm

    I couldn't agree more! I've been blogging just less than a year and I've really noticed the hype surround certain products that personally I just don't think are worth it. Obviously each to their own, but I definitely agree that some products don't deserve the "cult" status. Great post!Honeypot Blogs

  3. Pixi Picks
    January 6, 2015 / 3:09 pm

    I have been saying this for such a long time. I really don't agree with hyped 'cult' products, is it just me or are they often seriously expensive and over priced? I like to find dupes instead! Charley

    • London Beauty Queen
      January 6, 2015 / 7:59 pm

      I think that's part of the problem – they need to be hyped to justify the price and shift product! I love a good dupe or a bargain buy, plus most of the time you don't need a product… Just want it.

  4. Stephiemcd
    January 6, 2015 / 3:29 pm

    Could not agree more. For me Benefit seem to be the worst. From the porefessional powder, the theyre real liner and the fake up concealer all which were incredibly over hyped, all of which i bought and all of which were rubbish.

    • London Beauty Queen
      January 6, 2015 / 8:00 pm

      I wrote a whole post about the They're Real Liner as I really thought bloggers in general were hyping up something that was rubbish, just to maintain a relationship. Unfortunately a lot of blogs feel more obligation to PRs than to readers.

    • Stephiemcd
      January 7, 2015 / 10:24 am

      Totally agree – the maybeline version which is half the cost and i find alot better has barely been mentioned. I understand some bloggers not posting negative reviews incase a PR company doesn't want to work with them anymore (considering the fact i see so many instagrams of huge gifts benefit send for no reason) but I would honestly prefer them to not post about than hype something that is rubbish. This is why I love your blog – you speak the truth which is becoming more and more rare these days!

  5. Philippa
    January 6, 2015 / 4:30 pm

    Great read, I always enjoy reading your thoughtful posts!ABlogByPhilippa

    • London Beauty Queen
      January 6, 2015 / 8:00 pm

      Thank you!

  6. effstarbeauty
    January 6, 2015 / 4:59 pm

    I agree so much with what you're saying, I rarely buy into a product that's overly hyped about; I buy what I want and what I like :). What you said about Mac's Ruby Woo with it being drying is a common comment made by a lot of people including myself but I know people that wear it every single day and have never had dry lips from it. It's usually the colorants that cause the drying not necessarily the brands formula 🙂 Francesca xo // EffStar Beauty

  7. Jaime Pickering
    January 6, 2015 / 6:00 pm

    Great post and conversation! I completely agree, it's why I do a section on my blog called 'Hype Worthy?' All about products are either are or are not work the hype surrounding them. A few instantly come to mind that I can't stomach the hype for: Maybelline Great Lash aka the crappiest mascara in the drugstore. The YSL Toiche Éclat, better known as $50 for something you could get for $9, and of course Mac Ruby Woo, the worlds most drying lipstick.

    • London Beauty Queen
      January 6, 2015 / 8:01 pm

      I'm so going to check that out! Although I do love me a bit of YSL 😉

  8. Rosie
    January 6, 2015 / 6:04 pm

    I completely agree with you. I tend to avoid a new / fairly new product if I see a lot of bloggers harping on about it because I don't believe it and it's just good marketing. Best example I can think of is Benefit's Push Up eyeliner. Bloggers raved about it but when smaller bloggers and consumers bought it, lots of them were disappointed, it was just good marketing.

    • London Beauty Queen
      January 6, 2015 / 8:01 pm

      Totally agree – I wrote about this at the time as I thought it was rubbish, but everyone else was raving about it!

  9. Jasmine Stewart
    January 6, 2015 / 7:11 pm

    I always feel like a fail blogger because a lot of cult products I just wasn't feeling! Ruby Woo did not suit me at all the the Collection concealer didn't come in enough shades and was a bit drying! I always wait for things to gain momentum as I don't like it when the samples go out for a new product and every blogger is raving about it in the first month xx Magpie Jasmine || Palette Giveaway: Urban Decay, Nars, Charlotte Tilbury, Too Faced

    • London Beauty Queen
      January 6, 2015 / 8:02 pm

      I'm not a fan of either of those two products either – I'm sure we're not the only ones! : )

  10. Tessa Crocker
    January 6, 2015 / 9:16 pm

    I agree, it can put me off trying something new, particularly more expensive products, as I am not sure if something's genuinely great or just average but has had the benefit *heehee* of blogger hype. I've also noted a lot of the same products being featured by a certain group of vloggers, including products launched by others represented by their agents. I don't mean to cast aspersions – the products in question may well be fabulous but I can't help being a little cynical when I keep seeing great reviews of the same products over and over and I know they all have the same PR agency in common.

  11. Kat R
    January 6, 2015 / 9:42 pm

    I agree with you on this one, Benefit are a brand that have disappointed me over & over again. I like a couple of their products but none of them are as amazing as you read. I do love my Naked 3 palette and my MAC eye shadows but their lipsticks are a bit meh. I like them but they're not cult worthy. I also didn't like the Collection Concealer as someone above commented and now I check everything out before I buy it before getting caught up in the hype! xKat from Blushing Rose

  12. Sarah Montgomery
    January 7, 2015 / 12:41 am

    Hi Hayley – love these type of posts of yours.I think we are like little kids that want (not need) the latest toy. Play with it for a while, then chuck it away for the next big thing. And the companies know we're suckers for these things too. No matter how many times I've told myself that I won't buy something because it's hyped up and then caved in and bought it anyway! Sarah

  13. Clbnolan
    January 7, 2015 / 1:13 am

    Perhaps that's the point of it being 'cult' – everyone signs on blindly, swept away by the collective good feeling & desperately wanting to be a part of it!I never associate 'cult item' with necessarily being any good, but more of a mood thing everyone gets swept up in.

  14. Rebecca Kinney
    January 7, 2015 / 2:41 am

    And this is why I waited YEARS to buy a Clarisonic. For instance, Clinique's Even Better moisturizer was very hyped, I was talked into trying it……it wasn't bad, but it wasn't great either. The clarisonic was totally worth it.

  15. Fiona Ward
    January 7, 2015 / 7:12 pm

    Interesting post, I enjoyed reading it! I don't like the Collection concealer or the Seche Vite at all. The only thing I'd disagree on is Ruby Woo – as far as I'm aware it's been a makeup artist favourite for years, and is popular amond many… I'd imagine far more than the Glow Tonic, but I'm guessing. It launched way back in 1999 and has been a best seller ever since!

    January 8, 2015 / 9:40 am

    I agree with you on a lot of things in this post, I myself try to stay away from overhyped products before I investigate what's actually in them and if they REALLY do work for that many people.But I cannot give you Ruby Woo. I love that lipstick so much because I wanted a more matte than matte red. And nobody else but Mac hat that. I don't find it drying at all, but that obviously depends on the person who uses it. I don't know about the rest of Mac's products but I really do love their lipsticks.

  17. Nicola Wood
    January 11, 2015 / 7:35 pm

    Agree. A true cult product has stood the test of time, cuts across demographics and is amongst the best of its type. There can be an element of exclusivity, but not necessarily. Ruby Woo does cut it on those grounds, but against Revlon's Cherries in the Snow?! Other products have managed to tap into something or identify a gap in the market, like Naked. Every make-up wearer needs a good neutral palette and UD invented them for a new generation and created a buzz. Good on them for that, but not cult. Others took the idea and did it better. The one that got me to open my purse was Stila's Into The Light. Prefect for my 40 something self. Naked has too much glitter for me, but it'll work for my daughter when she's bigger.I like Benefit and love their box o' powders. Dandelion was my first high end make-up purchase!!! The eye liner I didn't bother with as I'd never use it. Even if it had worked!TBH, I use the big blogs as current awareness tools as some of them are too close to PR releases for my liking. Then I wait for you, Miss Budget and a few others to do the actual reviews. But nothing replaces going to test the thing for yourself. You help get me to the counter, I still decide if they get my cash!!!!

  18. Lynn Hathaway
    January 13, 2015 / 11:29 pm

    I love reading your posts and I agree totally, there are a lot of so-called over priced "cult" products out there and over the years, I have tried and tested quite few but I'm now older and wiser to this. I love BareMinerals products… I find they do what it says on the tin so to speak and their cosmetics make me feel more confident and are comfortable to wear. I also like using natural skin products which my sensitive skin seems to prefer. I use quite a few Products by a company called Natural Tone which are 100% natural and I find they cool and calm my skin down x

  19. Paris B
    January 19, 2015 / 2:06 am

    I thoroughly agree with this! I do tend to agree that while skincare products may attain cult status because it works or is effective and just generally good for most, it's odd attaching cult status to makeup. That said, as you have pointed out, bloggers are just as guilty as magazines of fanning this cult status, and sometimes, people stop drawing the line and being critical and start following the crowd. Personally, a very hyped product puts me off but when it's skincare it intrigues me 🙂

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