WorldHow TikTok is changing the rules in the cosmetic world

How TikTok is changing the rules in the cosmetic world


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They went to have fun in the “last illuminated corner of the internet”, according to the definition of writer Jia Tolentino. To laugh at themselves and half humanity. The more sacred the cause—with the honorable exception of climate change—the more derision, and the greater the derision, the greater the success. In the first half of 2020, 315 million people logged on to TikTok, an invention so addictive that, according to some studies cited by Bloomberg, users log in on average up to 13 times a day and stay there an hour at a time.

If on Instagram shine and glamour stand out, on TikTok they brag about their imperfect and unedited life, with videos that are easy to consume and formats designed to be copied in looping. A less than arrogant ecosystem that has proven to be of great use to exalt beauty articles and routines, whenever its efficiency meets the demanding expectations of Generation Z and its prices are up to the interprofessional minimum wage. Its algorithm, more democratic, light and random than Instagram’s, rewards creativity. TikTok puts things in front of you that you would never see on other social networks, the ones whose programs assume that once you’ve bought a solid shampoo, you just want the same.

Rubén Ramos (@theawakingofstyle) joined TikTok in confinement. Works with beauty brands and luxury items. In the image, with model Claudia Martínez (@claudiiamg). Ximena and Sergio

52% of its users say, according to a study by the social network, that TikTok is a good place to “discover new products”. 56% say it “helps you decide what to buy”. For some brands, TikTok was a miracle that catapulted them to overnight success. Among the items whose sales the social network made soar are Maybelline’s Lash Sensational Sky High mask; The Ordinary acne peel; the Instant Detox mask, by Caudalíe, and the Hydrating Facial Cleanser, by Cerave. Cosmetics not specially promoted by their houses, and only prescribed in dermatologists’ appointments, but which conquered the strict skinfluencers. That’s what the tiktokers who deal with skin care and who have three obsessions: good ingredients, efficacy and low prices. “That they work and that we can buy”, they proclaim. According to the publication The Business of Fashion, the main mission of these subscribers is to convince their followers that the most expensive is not always the most effective.

Nuria Andraos (@nuria.adraos.makeup) prepares a body make-up inspired by Merida, the protagonist of the Disney movie Brave.  Tiktoker thinks the secret to its success is authenticity.
Nuria Andraos (@nuria.adraos.makeup) prepares a body make-up inspired by Merida, the protagonist of the Disney movie Brave. Tiktoker thinks the secret to its success is authenticity. Ximena and Sergio

@skincarebyhiram is one of those accounts that works miracles. Its creator is Hyram Yarbro (25 years old), an ex-Mormon, raised in Arizona. O The New York Times call him Gen Z’s skincare whisperer (Generation Z facial care charmer). Evangelizes with their badly produced and screaming videos ingredients don’t lie, bitches! (The ingredients don’t lie, bitches!). The spectacular sales growth of Cerave and The Ordinary is in part his work. Hyram signed a commercial contract with Cerave, but he had been recommending products on TikTok for months when they contacted him. There is no deal with The Ordinary.

He brags about his honesty and has earned the respect of his audience by making disgusted faces at industry totem poles like the Fenty company, created by Rihanna. Sleeps little and is now working on launching his skin care line, called Selfless by Hyram; a brand aligned with climate change and access to clean water for disadvantaged populations. Anyone who has studied the post-covid market knows that Generation Z members prefer to spend their money on products associated with social causes, and can gauge the audacity of this movement.

Camila Redondo (@nobodisugly) before being a TikTok queen had an Instagram account.
Camila Redondo (@nobodisugly) before being a TikTok queen had an Instagram account.Ximena and Sergio

Some experts indicate that TikTok has only moved a broad base of operations where there are still few real opportunities to sell. There was also a time, around 2008, when Facebook was “the bright corner of the internet” and no one intended to sell anything. But that has changed. And observers think that if TikTok wants to gain power, influence and money it will have to mature, open up to publicity. And get corrupted. It’s the path taken by Douyin, its Chinese predecessor, which already publishes videos of up to five minutes (TikTok’s last a maximum of three) with serious lifestyle messages and police recommendations. Its e-commerce business reaches 26 million dollars (138 million reais). TikTok does not provide figures on your income from advertising alone.

In September 2020, 41% of the 123 top luxury beauty brands had an account on TikTok, compared to 8% that were there in 2019. Before that, the large consumer companies (pharmacies and drugstores) arrived, almost always trying to master their language with more will than success. It is an established truth that once you reach adulthood, you must make a cognitive effort to understand the language of this social network. It was a mystery even to its founder, Zhang Ximing (38), who recognized the newspaper South China Morning Post that he was old for TikTok and that for a long time he behaved like a voyeur. In the marketing departments of many brands they claim they keep their accounts open but without content. Others have experimented with shorter versions of their Instagram content. “A big mistake”, as Pierre-Loic Assayag, CEO of Traackr, a global influencer marketing agency, says in an email, because “on Instagram only the cute matters and on TikTok it is irrelevant”. Other companies look and wait. Some responsible admit off the record who are groping because “no one of voting age understands the TikTok”. “Massive consumer brands do better than luxury brands on TikTok because their audience, young and looking for good prices, is, for now, the majority there,” says Assayag.

Luxury beauty companies, with their fantasies and their aspirational consumption, must survive this bath of pragmatism. “The tone of TikTok is, at least for now, contrary to classic luxury. If other platforms such as Instagram tend to promote superficial and highly produced content, TikTok works something else, real videos, without filters, recorded as entertainment from the comfort of the sofa, in sweatpants and slippers. In this context, it is easy to understand why TikTok is a luxury risk territory, which traditionally delivers messages that are meticulously controlled, cautious and professionally produced”, says Assayag, who bases his observation on numbers: even though luxury brands publish three times as much in this social network than those of mass consumption, these are the successful ones and the ones that get more interactions (15.7% versus 20.8%).

@Givenchybeauty opened its TikTok profile in November 2020, and @kenzoparfums in mid 2021. “We tested it with very visual content that had the product as the protagonist, but it didn’t work. What we knew about Instagram does not serve us and we are learning with the vehicle in progress”, says Alejandra da Cunha, Communication and Social Media director of the two companies, belonging to the LVMH group. “Many things get by the way because it is too bold, others exactly the opposite”. Da Cunha recognizes that for a luxury brand it is “a challenge” to create content that causes laughter, surprise and is minimally authentic. “It’s very rewarding when you get the perfect mix.” Finally, he chose to hire a specific agency to manage his TikTok profile.

Jesús Serrano (@gsusserranomua) joined TikTok a week before the confinement.  I had never made a video.  Now he's a pro.
Jesús Serrano (@gsusserranomua) joined TikTok a week before the confinement. I had never made a video. Now he’s a pro. Ximena and Sergio

Irreverence, agility and practical sense are essential to hold the attention of an audience comprising 40% of centennials, which will take no more than 15 seconds to listen to the thousand-year heritage of luxury brands. In the opinion of Dionne Lois Cullen, vice president of The Ordinary (another successful company on TikTok), the native generation of this social network is “immune to branded content” (content paid for by companies), and only follows the recommendations of their peers. Any prescription that marks hierarchy and authority, such as that of experts, manufacturers and adults, will be ignored. “It is necessary to look for other paths”, which, indicates the CEO of Traackr, involve giving “absolute creative freedom” to those who master the tool and know their audience: the tiktokers. “Here, the least important thing is that the influencer is aesthetically aligned with the brand”, he points out.

And why then does the luxury beauty want to be on TikTok? Alejandra da Cunha has no doubts: “It’s our opportunity to try to speak the same language with a younger consumer, who may not consume our products today, but will do so in 10 or 15 years”. The consultancy YPulse finds that the next generation of buyers, those who are now between 18 and 24 years old, went through the pandemic and its successive confinements making challenges in TikTok and reproducing its repetitive choreographies. A gregarious practice that creates a sense of urgency and universality, another of the successes of this social network: the certainty that one is part of the tribe and that the correct ritual – and article – is shared at exactly the right time.

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