Bloggers and digital influencers are reshaping the fashion and beauty landscape
In early June, Arielle Charnas of Something Navy posted about the Peter Thomas Roth Rose Stem Cell Bio-Repair Gel Mask on her Snapchat story. Then the frenzy happened: Within 24 hours after her story went live, the post was responsible for the sale of 502 masks, or $17,565 worth of product. Do the math: that’s equal to $123,000 in sales in a week, $527,000 in a month or almost $6.4 million in a year.
Nor was that a one-off. An Yves Saint Laurent Mascara Volume Effet Faux Cils Shocking in Deep Black that Charnas snapped about in July moved 422 units in 24 hours, driving $13,500 in sales. That means she could sell $95,000 worth of mascara in a week, $405,000 in a month or $4.9 million in a year.
It’s not only beauty she has that impact on.
Last week, Charnas hosted a public appearance at activewear retailer Bandier in New York’s Flatiron District to toast her collaboration with Koral: Something Navy x Koral. She expected a few hundred people — at most — to show up on the steamy evening in late July. Instead, 1,000 of her fans snaked around Fifth Avenue — some flying in from as far away as Toronto to meet the 29-year-old influencer.
What fashion or beauty editor can draw that kind of crowd?
Welcome to the new influencers: digital natives who post, snap and tweet to their hundreds of thousands or even millions of followers — who then rush out and buy the products they recommend. Gone are the days when women took their beauty tips mainly from fashion and beauty magazines. In the digital age, those titles — and their editors — are quickly becoming almost irrelevant, not only to consumers but to the brands themselves.
While the brands are reluctant to admit it, their actions speak volumes. Take Coty Inc., the fragrance licensee for Marc Jacobs. The beauty giant hosted its press event for the designer’s new fragrance, Divine Decadence, on July 21 at the Ace United Artists Theatre in downtown Los Angeles. The event was only a few weeks before the fragrance hits counters — timed to enable influencers to build buzz online about the scent and drive consumers to rush out and buy it. Coty flew in influencers from China to Canada for the party, said Lori Singer, group vice president of global marketing at Coty.
The launch showed how rapidly power has shifted in the beauty world. A year earlier, Coty held a similar event for the original Decadence, but that one occurred in May to coincide with long-lead magazines’ publishing schedules for September issues.
For decades, editors and magazines were the be all and end all in beauty. Readers pored over pages to find out what products they needed to buy and ads were aplenty. But then came social media — as well as bloggers, then vloggers and now the new buzzword “digital influencers” — and writers-for-hire, and suddenly magazine editors had a new peer.
Over the past several years, the bloggers once seen as “pretend journalists” have overtaken the beauty editors — not to mention the magazines they work for as more and more beauty brands switch the majority of their ad spending to social media sites. Perhaps annoying for the beauty editors who see themselves as true journalists, the influencers are being paid megabucks to voice their opinions — a reported seven figures in the case of 22-year-old blogger Kristina Bazan and L’Oréal.
Even more upsetting for beauty editors: The credibility of a blogger versus a beauty journalist does not seem to be an issue to consumers seeking information wherever they can find it. In their view, their favorite bloggers and digital influencers are as credible as a magazine — maybe even more so. Bloggers’ followers trust them, said nearly every person interviewed for this story, and as long as sponsored posts are clearly labeled as such, an influencer’s individuality and authentic voice allows them to connect to readers in a way that magazines are struggling to do.
“The new celebrities are the social influencers, and quite honestly some make more money than the people who get Emmy Awards,” said John Demsey, executive group president at Estée Lauder Cos. Inc. “If you can deliver an audience and prove that someone can buy your product, you can get paid. As long as that works it will continue to blossom.”
As a result, several brands at Estée Lauder Cos. have undergone significant shifts in budgets, with a larger-than-ever portion allotted to digital strategy, from paid search to content to influencer activations. Estée Lauder has significantly cut back on its traditional media spend to focus on digital, and Smashbox walked away from traditional print media altogether two-and-a-half years ago.
The shift has fashion and beauty titles scrambling to adjust to the new reality. Allure’s founding editor of 24 years, Linda Wells, was pushed out late last year in favor of a younger, more digital-savvy editor in chief and the staff has been readjusted to add writers with more online experience. It’s a change being seen across the media landscape as titles rush to try to rescue whatever beauty ads they have left — and hopefully add more, since industry leaders such as L’Oréal and Estée Lauder were long among the largest print advertisers.
Michelle Lee, the former editor of Nylon who was named editor in chief of Allure in November, told WWD that although there was some “animosity” toward influencers as a group when they started to gain popularity, she took a different approach. Allure works in tandem with these “great voices,” and has coproduced content with Life With Me’s Marianna Hewitt and Style Me Grasie’s Grasie Mercedes.
For Lee beauty influencers and traditional beauty editors are complimentary, and one doesn’t cancel out the other. Beauty editors spend their days in the market, reporting and researching. She likened it to an “apples and oranges” comparison, but believes both can “play in the sandbox together.”
“They themselves help to identify and set trends,” Lee said of editors, drawing a stark contrast to influencers, whose level of opinion and experimentation enable them to connect with audiences on a more personal level.
“The rigorous reporting and research plus fact-checking behind what an Allure editor says is completely different from a personal, singular opinion that an influencer offers. That’s not to take away from the power that either of them have. They’re just different,” Lee said.
Opinions differ on whether it’s only a matter of time before beauty titles are supplanted by digital influencers or a happy stasis will be reached in a new digital-first media reality.
Demsey insisted that a handful of heritage beauty brands — i.e., those aimed at an older consumer — still depend heavily on magazines and tried-and-true TV spots to speak to the majority of their consumers. Take the case of Clinique, he said, whose average customer starts at age 45 and is a “traditional” shopper who buys in-store and likes her gift with purchase.
Estée Lauder is another megabrand that relies on traditional advertising channels, per Demsey — but at the end of 2014 decided to use Kendall Jenner to reach the Millennial customer who it’s long had difficulty connecting with. The decision to use the then-19-year-old was met with skepticism given the brand is targeted at women more than two to three times her age. Estée Lauder’s reasoning for using Kim Kardashian’s kid sister was a simple one of numbers: Jenner has more than 62 million Instagram followers (at the time the partnership was revealed she had around 16 million).
Dollars always follow eyeballs. If eyeballs are going to live online that’s where all the dollars will go.
— Karen Robinovitz, co-founder of Digital Brand Architects
This wasn’t the first time the beauty brand has tried to tap into the social media frenzy to reach Millennials. In 2012, the brand signed Cupcakes and Cashmere’s Emily Schuman to a long-term deal — reportedly for six figures. It was one of the first big money beauty deals for a blogger — and also one of the first long-term ones. But clearly, Estée Lauder needed more firepower, hence calling on Jenner.
“Look, the decision about Kendall was very significant and fundamental in terms of the evolution of the brand from traditional media to new media. She was 18 [before the deal was announced],” said Jane Hudis, group president at Estée Lauder Cos.
She added that the company has had to change its organization to adapt to the digital landscape.
“We have shifted our resources and focus and energy to the digital and social media evolution in fundamental ways,” Hudis confirmed. “Other sources of media are important, but the mission is to be in close contact with and posting and connecting with an ever-growing base of consumers in the digital and social media world.”
Estée Lauder isn’t alone. Lancôme is another example of a brand that sees editors and bloggers on an even playing field.
“They’ve [digital influencers] become the next generation of beauty content editors. They don’t work for Condé Nast or Hearst. We treat them with an equal importance as we do our editors, and we know that the info they’re posting is extremely valuable,” said Stacy Mackler, vice president, public relations and communications at Lancôme.
Mackler drew a clear distinction in the way the L’Oréal-owned brand works with its influencers, explaining that the company comes at it from a p.r. and marketing perspective. The bulk of its work with the influencer set is of the unpaid variety, meaning the company doesn’t pay bloggers to post about a particular product or launch. She likened the approach to the one the brand takes with editors, which includes programs like sending product and creative materials surrounding launches.
“When we take an editor on a press trip or if we take a digital influencer, it’s the same idea. It’s to engage them with the brand,” Mackler said.
Then, hopefully, the editor will decide to feature the product in the pages of their magazine, and the blogger will put it on their Instagram feed, which was the case when Lancôme invited Brazilian YouTube star Camila Coelho to Paris to attend an event and to visit the Lancôme Institute in May.
Mackler clarified that although the entirety of Coelho’s press trip was paid for by Lancôme (as it would be for a beauty editor from a top fashion magazine) — about a $20,000 expense including flights and lodging — the vlogger was not paid to go on the trip. The goal was that she would document her experience via social media — which she did — and expose her following of millions to the French beauty house.
But there is a difference in the way Lancôme treats editors and bloggers. While it didn’t pay Coelho to fly to Paris and write about the trip, it did pay her on the marketing side — reportedly $10,000 — to host an event at a Sephora store in New York last month. This type of compensation — as well as paying influencers to post on Instagram for a product launch — is what Mackler likened to “buying an ad in a magazine.”
“An ad is wonderful, but sometimes when a consumer reads something or hears something from a friend [editor or blogger] it’s more organic, it’s more impactful. Consumers are savvy to advertising. ‘That company paid to put that there,’” Mackler said.
She sees no distinction between a story in a magazine and a paid post by a blogger, pointing out there’s “always a transaction,” and said bloggers and editors have credibility with their followers. The difference is that while beauty editors are known to make sure they have credits in their titles from advertisers, they aren’t being paid directly by a brand to write about it, while a blogger might be. And while Coelho wasn’t paid to blog about her trip to Paris, she clearly knew that another $10,000 was on the line depending on what she did write or post about.
The reality, though, is that the consumer doesn’t seem to care. Even looking at it from the perspective of beauty brands and the Instagram videos they post to their own social media channels — views and engagement pale in comparison to content created and published by an influencer, be it a paid post or not.
According to Karen Robinovitz, co-founder of influencer management firm Digital Brand Architects, brand videos on Instagram aren’t reaching the level of an influencer or it’s very rare they do. This is why brands need influencers.
“Dollars always follow eyeballs. If eyeballs are going to live online that’s where all the dollars will go,” said Robinovitz, who works with digital talent including Charnas, Coelho, Aimee Song, Chriselle Lim and Julia Engel.
She noted that, for the first time, digital budgets will usurp television in 2017, as reported by eMarketer in March.
Robinovitz declined to name specific brands that are moving their marketing and advertising spend from traditional media to digital holistically, but she said more and more of her conversations with brands and agencies reflect this.
But influencers aren’t just bloggers anymore; they are individuals who, depending on the channel, share and detail much (if not most) of their lives via YouTube, Instagram and increasingly Snapchat. Charnas said the latter is becoming the most powerful vehicle in connecting with her followers.
“We’re pretty much documenting everything and every move — I don’t think any editor or journalist puts everything out there like we do,” Charnas said, drawing the distinction that she’s not a journalist, nor is she trying to be. “It’s definitely completely different; I don’t know if it’s something you can define [yet].”
When she posts videos on Instagram they can get 200,000-plus views, and her Facebook Live chats reach more than a million people. As for tracking sales coming from her Snapchat posts, Charnas uses two-month-old Emoticode, an app created by PopSugar Inc. chief executive officer Brian Sugar that allows bloggers and brands to link to products in Snapchat stories that followers can screenshot and purchase later.
The success of influencers such as Charnas — namely their ability to breed loyal, engaged fans — has caused the scope of work enlisted by beauty brands to shift dramatically. They have gone from paying these individuals a flat fee to post a product on Instagram to integrating them into global advertising campaigns.
“It’s become really passé for a blogger to just hold up a product on Instagram. Today’s audience is smart. They don’t like being sold to like that,” said Claire Collins Maysh, group talent manager at social media talent agency Gleam Futures, adding that savvy brands think of bloggers not as celebrities, but as creative directors.
L’Oréal Paris, for instance, has experienced a seismic shift in the way it’s allotting its p.r. and marketing dollars. According to a person close to the company who requested anonymity, 70 percent of the budget given to one of the p.r. firms enlisted by L’Oréal goes toward influencers, with just 30 percent relegated to traditional, editorial placement. L’Oréal Paris declined to comment.
Another beauty brand, founded in the Nineties, has reportedly discovered the only thing “moving the needle” for them is YouTube and influencers, according to a longtime beauty p.r. executive. “They don’t work with magazines or web sites anymore, only influencers,” she said, declining to name the company.
Brands are in unison about the way they identify the online talent they wish to work with.
Candace Craig Bulishak, chief marketing officer at Tarte Cosmetics, said the company identifies influencers for potential relationships with a few key metrics. The type of content they share with followers is taken into account, as well as the actual number of followers and engagement rates.
“At this stage of the game, the campaigns are mostly successful. There was a period of trial and error that we lived through [in the very beginning]….It’s been a bumpy ride for sure,” said Jennifer Powell, head of Next Model Management’s influencer division. She declined to give specific examples.
Most importantly, it’s not about sheer numbers anymore. The allure of a million-plus followers has been replaced by engagement.
James Nord, cofounder of blogger directory Fohr Card, agreed. He’s observed that as the industry has matured, the criteria by which brands select influencers has gotten “more robust.”
“Brands now look for a mixture of total reach, strong engagement and good growth, but more than that, you have to look at those growth and engagement numbers in relation to influencers of similar size. Engagement rates vary greatly as follower count changes and there is no one-size-fits-all when it comes to ‘good numbers,’” Nord said.
He added that luxury brands, in addition to collaborating with the “very best” influencers, are eager to partner with relatively unknown up and comers. Nord said an arms race for new talent amongst luxury brands has formed as firms look to “discover” influencers and talent before a competitor does. It’s partially economic: tapping talent on the rise means they are less expensive to hire.
Yann Joffredo, vice president of global cosmetics at L’Oréal Paris, said the biggest shift in terms of marketing is less about budget and more “the way we work that has evolved.”
He said for the U.S. business, digital is at the core — from the way the team launches product to the collaborations it has with bloggers, including the newly formed L’Oréal League. Last month, the brand revealed it signed 15 digital influencers to take part in a yearlong program under which each will create content and promote L’Oréal Paris across their social channels. This is the brand’s largest scale influencer partnership to date, and a departure from the previous one-off campaigns with influencers. Per Federal Trade Commission guidelines, all content generated by influencers that is sponsored must be labeled as such.
“This [digital] is no longer ‘a nice to have’; this comes first and is at the heart of our strategy,” Joffredo said. He noted that as the official makeup brand for the Cannes Film Festival, 80 global influencers helped garner double the social media coverage of last year, which was a record one for L’Oréal.
He said ROI is determined in three areas: reach and impressions; engagement, and conversions. He declined to give a dollar amount for sales driven by an influencer.
As for which are the most forward-thinking brands when it comes to digital strategy, experts agree that L’Oréal, Pantene and TRESemmé lead the pack. The three have all integrated influencers into their overall marketing efforts, allowing these individuals to connect with their fans on cross-channel.
Pantene and TRESemmé, for example, have leveraged digital talent across media platforms. The Blonde Salad’s Chiara Ferragni appears in TV commercials for Pantene in Italy, Spain and Portugal that have been airing since February, while Charnas is in commercials for TRESemmé in the U.S. Ferragni also signed a yearlong deal with Pantene for 2016 as a global ambassador with the option to renew for 2017.
“Blogger engagement used to happen only in the digital world, but now it inspires a full integrated communication plan which can be leveraged on the consistency of a genuine story. That’s the upcoming way of doing marketing,” said Alessio Sanzogni, group general manager of Chiara Ferragni, Theblondesalad.com and Chiara Ferragni Collection.
Robinovitz said several bloggers she manages have inked deals with TRESemm, in varying capacities.
“Their approach is very layered. They’re working with influencers obviously in television commercials to organic feeling branded content on influencer channels and through retailers like Target as well as through digital media buys like Who What Wear,” she explained.
The company is creating the online version of the 360-plan, per Robinovitz, who said the hair-care firm weaves influencers throughout all of the destinations the brand and consumer touch globally, from social media to TV.
For the influencer, signing such deals is clearly lucrative — although it can result in limitations. Charnas, for example, whose deal with TRESemm recently ended, said she was hesitant about signing a similar deal with another brand in the same space. It indicates she’s aware that her following might view it as “selling out” if she suddenly were to recommend a competitive brand to TRESemm.
This line of thinking is less applicable to one-off partnerships, though, where an influencer could do a sponsored post with Dior one week and another with La Mer the next.
As for L’Oral, which has inked some of the largest influencer deals from an absolute dollar amount and the volume of talent it works with, it has primarily kept its digital influencers, well, online. This will soon change, though, as Bazan, who signed a reported seven-figure contract last year, has a commercial coming out in the U.K. in the coming weeks as well as a print ad.
And in what could be the next step in the beauty brand/blogger relationship, L’Oral is launching products developed by Bazan. A beauty kit she worked on that will come out during Paris Fashion Week in September that contains lipstick, nail polish, eye shadow, eyeliner and a lip pencil.
The Los Angeles-based blogger said she was originally signed as an online ambassador for L’Oral Paris in fall 2015, but after her content from Paris Fashion Week was “some of the most liked,” her contract was renegotiated.
“They knew from the beginning that my hope was not to be stuck in the Internet bubble and that I could bring much more to the brand than digital. My contract definitely changed and my fee got readjusted to a regular contract like the other girls,” Bazan said, declining to give a dollar amount. During the Cannes Film Festival, she posted photos on Instagram with her “@lorealmakeup fam,” which included Doutzen Kroes, Natasha Poly and Karlie Kloss as well as another image of her with “stunning L’Oralistas before hitting the red carpet” Julianne Moore, Eva Longoria and Naomi Watts.
According to sources, Bazan’s contract was seven figures to start when she was signed as an online ambassador. Her contract slightly lifted when the terms changed to include print and TV spots and a transition into a traditional ambassadorship.
She insisted that working exclusively with L’Oral hasn’t held her back in any way in terms of her social media following and praised the relationship for being “transparent” and “respectful.”
“It feels really good to be loyal to someone instead of working with 50 different brands who all want something from you. A lot of them don’t want to pay and it’s shady sometimes,” Bazan said. Perhaps working with a handful of beauty companies might make her more objective, but Bazan doesn’t seem too concerned.
Even while she’s an ambassador for L’Oral, she can still work with non-L’Oral brands on fragrance projects. In the past year, she created content for Dior and Thierry Mugler fragrances, the latter of which was said to be about a $200,000 deal. Clarins Fragrance Group, which holds the license for Mugler’s fragrances, couldn’t be reached for comment.
While it may appear the beauty world is suddenly filled with long-term deals with bloggers, Bazan’s agreement is still far from the norm — and not all of them are six- or seven-figure contracts. Still, even a short-term partnership can be pretty lucrative.
Olay did a onetime partnership with VivaLuxury surrounding the Grammys earlier this year that was said to be in the mid-five figures. Maybelline reportedly pays influencers anywhere from the mid to high-five figures for one-off projects, which could be a weeklong engagement over an event such as fashion week.
“If you do 10 of those a year, you’re golden,” a source said.
So for both the brands and the bloggers, it all comes down to numbers. The beauty companies want the social media following and paying for it, while the social media stars are leveraging their audience and getting rich. It’s no wonder that the online world is flooded with beauty bloggers. At last count, there were thousands — and more arrive every day.