Plain and simple, influencers have rewritten the rules of marketing the beauty segment. Brands used to spend millions to create a buzz for a new item. Today, with one post, consumers may flock to a new lipstick or shampoo they see or hear about on Instagram or YouTube.
But are the social stars losing their luster — especially as they fight among themselves? Have they sullied their reputations with too many ads? Are celebrities reclaiming territory that was once theirs when they were the ones whose influence used to move the sales needle?
Buckle your seat belts, as these are just a few of the questions the industry faces as it gears up for a new year and still more constant change in the way consumers buy merchandise.
Jenner is not the only powerful name in beauty, though. Numerous other influencers post both organic and paid advertising for beauty brands. Many even collaborate on collections, especially palettes that fly out of the stores. Among the biggest names are James Charles, Bretman Rock, Kandee Johnson, Jefree Star, Tati Westbrook, Patrick Starrr and Jaclyn Hill. Some collections are so popular people line up overnight and are even left crying when the item sells out.
Influencers, such as Jaclyn Hill, also have their own brands, but they do not always fare well as she found out when social media posts called out production flaws in her namesake brand. She had to pull the line off the market to reboot.
The mass market industry benefits from tutorials from popular YouTubers who often devote entire tutorials to a look accomplished entirely “with drug store” makeup. Some of the popular brands used include e.l.f, Nyx and Wet ‘n’ Wild.
Not all of the publicity generated by social stars is positive. The influencer community came under the microscope last year as several of the most visible figures had public fights. Negative publicity is not always what a brand wants. One high-profile squabble was between Charles and Westbrook. Charles, who skyrocketed to fame after CoverGirl named him the brand’s first male spokesmodel in 2016, and Westbrook had a public feud that started over a gummy vitamin post and quickly escalated, resulting in Charles losing about 3 million subscribers (he has since gained many back) while Westbrook gained nearly 4 million.
Two social media watchdog sites, Estee Laundry and Hereforthetea2, are calling out influencers for everything from cultural appropriation to “greenwashing.” When brands launch products claiming to be vegan or clean, users dig into ingredients and call out ones that don’t make the grade. Social media watchdog sites, whose posts are penned anonymously, have even convinced brands to change what they consider offensive product names and advertising campaigns.
Shaun Neff, co-founder of the Beach House Group, said what’s different about this go around with celebrities is that products are made and then matched with the right star. “We’re not here just to make products for celebrities. We pick celebrities who resonate with the brand,” he said.
Neff’s blueprint for brand success is for stars to stick with what they do best. “All of the kids are so smart these days and see through things. They know people are paid to post. Stay in your lane and only sell what makes sense,” he added. “If a celebrity is known for cooking, they shouldn’t start talking about trucks.”
Several brands that never had famous faces are giving stars a spin. Clinique, for example, just signed Emilia Clarke as its first global brand ambassador. In the past, Clinique relied on models for its campaigns.
Whether an influencer or star, Stephanie Wissink, managing director of investment banking firm Jefferies, cautioned that a lot rides on the behavior of the person touting a brand. “Despite the benefits, there are numerous risks with celebrity brands, such as faddish affinity value, unpredictable behavioral risks and lifecycle changes,” she said. “Protecting authenticity and driving repeat purchase can prove a challenge.”