A futuristic digital science lab, Billboard-charting original songs and a computer-generated brand ambassador are just just a few of the strategies major beauty brands have adopted recently in hopes of winning over Gen Z. The generation, known for its rapidly evolving nature, expects marketing innovation as a baseline, which has forced legacy giants to pull from a latest playbook.
While younger consumers have long been a goal for the beauty industry, the spending power of Gen Z is anticipated to overtake that of millennials by 2031. This spring, the cohort’s spending on makeup, skincare and fragrance rose 19% from the 12 months prior, according to Piper Sandler. As the inducement to court the generation escalates, older, iconic marketers like Estée Lauder and L’Oréal have modified the best way they do business. But ever-changing trends and flashy latest entrants have made maintaining that much harder.
Behind the boosted beauty sales is spending on makeup, which alone grew 32% YoY, per Piper Sandler’s latest semi-annual Taking Stock with Teens report. The most favored brand by a protracted shot is E.l.f. Cosmetics (22%), followed by Selena Gomez’s Rare Beauty (11%), L’Oréal’s Maybelline New York (7%), L’Oréal (6%) and Rihanna’s Fenty Beauty (5%). Notably, the proportion of teens wearing makeup daily reached an all-time high (45%), with the frequency rising to over 50% for upper-income teens, according to Korinne Wolfmeyer, vp and senior research analyst at Piper Sandler.
“There’s an enormous indication that things are opening up more, and makeup is an even bigger priority within the wallet than possibly even pre-COVID,” said Wolfmeyer, who covers the beauty and wellness space.
E.l.f.’s magic touch
E.l.f., founded in 2004, has ranked No. 1 amongst Gen Z since last spring when it overtook Maybelline for the highest spot. Preference for E.l.f. grew by 900 basis points YoY this spring, placing it ahead of Rare Beauty by a 10-point margin.
Credit for the brand’s success partly comes an emphasis on prestige-quality products at a lower cost point, according to Evan Horowitz, CEO and co-founder of creative agency Movers+Shakers, which has worked with E.l.f. for the past 4 years. The other half of the equation is a marketing execution that’s well-timed and intentional.
“E.l.f. punches way above its weight when it comes to the impact of the marketing, since it’s competing with much, much larger brands, like Revlon or L’Oréal,” Horowitz said.
The brand in May brought together popular TikTok creators Ian Paget and Chris Olsen, whose relationship and subsequent breakup was of major public interest on the app. Together, they intimately discussed their breakup while applying E.l.f’s products to each other. The effort, aptly titled “Make up over Makeup” garnered hundreds of views.
E.l.f. in April also launched a content series, “Vanity Table Talk,” inspired by late-night talk shows, with actor Jennifer Coolidge, who the brand also worked with for its first Super Bowl business in February. The big game ad, a departure from the marketer’s typical social focus, promoted the TikTok-viral Power Grip Primer, while also nodding to Coolidge’s dreams of playing a task as a dolphin, an announcement made with no hesitation on the Golden Globes in January, just just a few weeks before E.l.f.’s business aired.
“That’s an excellent example of being very within the moment,” Horowitz said.
E.l.f. also became the primary to launch a branded hashtag challenge on TikTok featuring an original song. Songmaking has been a well-liked tactic for E.l.f., which had its tunes appear on the Billboard charts next to Mariah Carey in the course of the holidays, Horowitz said.
Zeroing in on social media, especially TikTok — Gen Z’s favorite social platform — has turn into the norm for marketers looking to connect with the cohort. However, social media’s influence on the beauty industry has been particularly elevated.
“With beauty, specifically, what we see is that should you walk into any Ulta and also you ask the salesperson, ‘Hey, why is that this product out of stock?’ they’ll probably say there was a viral TikTok about that,” Horowitz said.
Blending in, standing out
For Maybelline, greater bets on social media, especially through the lens of creators, has turn into a core strategy because it angles toward younger consumers. Such efforts are credited with fueling the brand’s Sky High line of mascaras, an over $100-million-dollar business, according to Jessie Feinstein, Maybelline’s senior vp of selling. For instance, before and after videos on TikTok promoting the brand’s Lash Sensational Sky High mascara have garnered over 400 million views.
A reliance on social represents a departure for the century-old brand, which lately has dramatically diversified its media budget, Feinstein said. The pivot has paid dividends, as L’Oréal in the primary quarter credited its 13% year-over-year growth partly to Maybelline.
Accordingly, Maybelline has dipped its toes in a wide selection of channels frequented by younger consumers, including activations on the storytelling platform Wattpad for Mental Health Awareness Month and the launch of a playable ad, “Maybelline Mascara Merge,” that nodded to the rising popularity of mobile gaming. The brand even created its own digital avatar, named May, earlier this 12 months to help with future metaverse activations. Feinstein admits the brand has been slow to dive fully into the metaverse because it looks to effectively communicate value, an aspect of the channel that remains to be being explored.
Other success points for the brand include Maybelline’s launch of its Super Stay powder, which was marketed earlier this 12 months by bringing together two of beauty’s hottest influencers, Mikayla Nogueira and NikkieTutorials. The two were paired as a part of a collaborative, in-person masterclass alongside smaller creators, known to the brand as “babellines.” The move delivered helpful feedback and talking points surrounding the product, which was used to inform its rollout.
“That’s an excellent example, within the last 12 months, of how we launched in a different way,” Feinstein said. “We normally would have done a national television campaign, spent a ton of cash on traditional media.”
The mix of social media and creators to market makeup has turn into increasingly popular as brands attempt to reach a wider audience. The rise of creators also comes as celebrities, who’ve historically served as spokespeople, step out on their very own. Take Ariana Grande, whose brand, R.e.m. Beauty, recently secured additional funding, and Selena Gomez’s Rare Beauty, which has climbed to the highest of the charts for younger consumers after being founded just just a few years ago.
When it comes to defining Maybelline’s social presence and its babelline partnerships, successful activations entail integrating the brand into dialogs already being had amongst goal consumers as opposed to simply showing up, Feinstein said.
“As a brand, especially on social media, you possibly can’t just post on Instagram and say, ‘This is gonna go viral,’” she said. “It’s really about how you might have a conversation together with your consumer.”
As the cosmetics industry sees a significant boost in sales, it comes on the expense of skincare, which this spring tracked lower spending than its counterpart for the primary time since 2020. Still, the category grew 11% YoY, according to Piper Sandler’s Wolfmeyer.
Some brands have managed to gain endurance, with CeraVe (L’Oréal), The Ordinary (Estée Lauder) and Cetaphil (Galderma) remaining the highest three favored brands among the many younger generation for the last three surveys.
For Clinique, owned by Estée Lauder, engaging Gen Z has included a deal with each in-person and digital touchpoints. Earlier this 12 months, the brand launched its “Protect Your Glow” campaign around Coachella to promote its latest Moisture Surge SPF 28 product. The effort kicked off with a Clinique Hydration House pop-up in Indio, California, together with a sponsorship of a Day Club Palm Springs pool party, which occurred over two weekends in April.
Over the course of the events, Clinique doled out 34,000 samples of each its Moisture Surge 100-Hour product and its Moisture Surge SPF 28 and garnered over 350 million earned media impressions, according to Beth Guastella, senior vp and general manager for Clinique North America. The reach prolonged through social media, gaining 5.1 million video views on TikTok and Instagram.
The campaign is considered one of the most recent attempts by the brand to form a direct connection to Gen Z that isn’t reliant on introductions from older consumers, like parents, Guastella said.
“Cross-generational introduction is common for us as we frequently see or hear stories from consumers about our products being introduced to teenagers by their mothers who’ve been fans of the brand for years,” the exec wrote in emailed comments to Marketing Dive. “While this introduction is incredibly special to us, we designed this campaign to reach younger consumers where they are.”
Clinique — which also sells cosmetics — consistently partners with creators to help shift brand perception, especially amongst Gen Z, Guastella said. The brand in March launched The Clinique Lab, a virtual science experience where consumers can create a custom avatar and navigate through six different territories. The realm supplements Clinique’s in-store experience of the identical name that debuted last 12 months.
An emphasis on science inside the lab experiences was each intentional and on-brand, Guastella added, noting that the corporate is dermatologist-founded. That could resonate with Gen Zers who look to influencers as an academic resource and increasingly use TikTok as a search engine.
Science has also been a spotlight for Neutrogena, which relied on an academic element for its TikTok debut. The Johnson & Johnson company teamed with Movers+Shakers to launch on the app, helping it reach Gen Zers at a time when some were difficult its credibility.
“When we first began working with [Neutrogena], which was three years ago, they were getting panned on social,” Horowitz said.
In response, Neutrogena in 2021 launched its first TikTok campaign, called “SkinU,” with an academic approach to skincare health and myths and a component that connected consumers with scientists. The move proved successful, with Neutrogena’s following on the app growing 582% in a single month.
Neutrogena hasn’t shied away from going all out on social media since. In January, the brand launched “Hydro House,” again with Movers+Shakers, a social-first TikTok campaign that parodied reality TV dating shows and followed seven influencers vying for the eye of Neutrogena’s Hydro Boost Cleanser. The series fared well, with #hydrohouse gathering over 62 million views and one episode tracking over 33 million views.
“This is a brand that just three years ago was being heavily criticized and attacked,” Horowitz said.
Even despite a wide selection of tactics available to reach Gen Z, the cohort first values authenticity, a top quality that’s less defined and sometimes difficult to achieve. While it could be tempting to select a buzzy platform to direct spending toward, Horowitz urges marketers to focus first on the message.
“What works with Gen Z is purpose and standing for something meaningful that they will get behind,” the exec said. “What I’d encourage is that brands start with that, after which it’s [figuring out] what’s the very best channel to tell that story.”
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