TRANSPARENCY IN BEAUTY SWEEPS INDUSTRY
DECIEM, DRUNK ELEPHANT AND BEAUTY PIE ARE AT THE FOREFRONT OF THE MOVEMENT.
The days of top-secret ingredients and formulations are over.
Instead of beauty brands slapping multi-hundred-dollar price tags on products where the ingredients, for decades, have been shrouded in secrecy — whether under the guise of proprietary blends or just to foster an air of mystery and allure — a new movement is taking shape. A handful of beauty players — from mass to prestige, indie to legacy — are adopting a new modus operandi when it comes to the way they speak to customers — and it’s all about being radically transparent.
The movement is being adopted in myriad ways:
• In terms of product, brands like Drunk Elephant, Beauty Pie, Deciem, Glytone, No BS and Garnier are moving beyond the barest listing of ingredients as mandated by authorities and are revealing the exact percentages of active ingredients used — and
even where they’re derived from.
• When it comes to brand messaging, founder of Glossier Emily Weiss has been
instrumental in creating a conversation around transparency with Millennial consumers, most notably with Body Hero, a range that launched in September with a
campaign that celebrated “real” bodies.
• Regarding price, Deciem has built a
house of brands with approachable, mass price points to show there’s no correlation between quality and cost of goods.
• Then there are marketing materials.
CVS last week made headlines after revealing it would no longer “digitally alter or change a person’s shape, size, proportion, skin or eye color or enhance or alter lines, wrinkles or other individual characteristics” in beauty imagery that’s used within its stores, web site, through social media and in other marketing channels for beauty. Helena Foulkes, president of CVS Pharmacy and executive vice president,
CVS Health, told WWD she is hopeful that CVS’ move to promote more realistic beauty imagery will trickle down to brand partners, many of which the drug chain is already in discussions with to figure out how to best achieve a broader “standard” of beauty.
“We are a health-care company with beauty inside — and this is a health issue. The American Medical Association has identified the propagation of unrealistic body images as a significant driver of health issues, particularly in young women and girls,” Foulkes said. “We hope to inspire others — inside and outside of the beauty industry — to think about the messages they are sending to women.”
First steps to address transparency in its stores include the inclusion of The Beauty Mark, a watermark that separates “real” images from those that have been manipulated. The watermark will appear on all non-altered images and a disclaimer on all “materially altered” imagery will “ensure that customers know the difference.”
“It [transparency] just seems like an obvious thing — businesses and brands should have always been doing this. It’s this huge movement and all of these bands are changing to be this way — which is amazing — but it’s just strange that it took until the year 2018 for that happen,” said Nicola Kilner, co- chief executive officer of Deciem.
The Canadian-based Deciem, parent ►
company of nine brands (with three more rolling out this year), is among a fast-growing crop of beauty players leading the transparency charge. Niod, Hylamide, Stemm and Esho are some of the labels
in Deciem’s portfolio, with The Ordinary
being the largest and best known.
In just a year’s time, the company has managed to become one of the most buzzed-about in the industry — and not just because of a minority investment from The Estée Lauder Cos. Inc. seven months ago.
Beyond listing the percentage of ingredients used, the company’s approach to transparency includes detailed information on product pages that contain a table with a material’s pH and whether or not it’s free of gluten, nuts, soy, silicone, oil, alcohol and so on. It also extends to packaging, manufacturing and animal testing, the latter of which is the reason
why Deciem will never physically sell in
Mainland China (where animal testing is mandatory to enter brick and mortar retailers).
But Deciem’s key differentiator is openness about an accessible price structure. The brand wants to debunk the myth that efficacious skin care needs to cost more and so it prices items according to how much they actually cost to make. For instance, the best-selling product is a Niacinamide 10% + Zinc 1% solution that
retails for $5.90.
Likewise, Beauty Pie was created by Marcia Kilgore to “democratize access to luxury beauty products.” The site sells prestige beauty items through a $10 monthly membership that gives users access to buy at factory-direct costs. Kilgore’s goal is for customers to have access to products that would normally cost 10 times as much — the usual industry markup, she said. Because Kilgore is sourcing products directly from manufacturers, she’s able to pass the value on to consumers, who as members pay just $3.57 for a lipstick that would typically retail for $25.
Despite having founded four successful
beauty brands with a proven track record, Kilgore had a hard time convincing bankers and the finance crowd that her concept had legs.
She recalled one naysayer in particular who said the only reason beauty is successful is because “it’s about selling a fairy tale.”
To that Kilgore replied: “I would like to sell her a new fairy tale — one where she comes into the factory with me and gets to buy everything directly from the factory. That’s a better fairy tale, that’s radical transparency. It’s saying, ‘Here’s what is, here’s what it’s made of and here’s what it really costs to make.’”
Another element of transparency revolves around being upfront about the cons of a product (in addition to the pros,
of course), so for its part, Deciem lays out
all the facts to empower consumers to make their own decisions with the information they’ve been given.
For example, when it comes to retinol offerings, The Ordinary’s stance is that retinoids trump retinol because the latter could lead to irritation of the skin. The brand still sells both options to give customers a choice, but verbiage on the retinol product page recommends the use of a retinoid over a retinol.
“In the world of skin care, not every ingredient works for everyone’s skin,” Kilner said. “In the past, brands were doing too much to pretend that a product was perfect for everyone.”
Deciem might be a first mover, but
the beauty industry should brace itself: Experts predict that this approach will become the new norm. Not only will the movement influence traditional beauty marketing and advertising — predicated on women achieving aesthetic perfection, the complete opposite of transparency — but communication overall. This is fueled by social media, which for most companies has become the primary vehicle to engage with their consumer, enabling a two-way dialogue between consumer and brand that could never have existed before.
This is great for the beauty firms that are forthcoming about product and formulations, and maybe not so much for those that aren’t. The old guard is being cautioned to adopt a new way of communicating — and fast. To make it in a category as overcrowded and saturated with me-too products, you need to rely on more than trade secrets and a promise of antiaging benefits to win.
“Beauty has been absolutely brilliant at reflecting women’s aspirations; it’s just that those aspirations are changing. New brands pop up to reflect the aspirations of a new generation. They start to become the next wave and old brands either have to catch up or they’ll no longer be relevant. They’ll age out,” said Ruth Bernstein, ceo of Yard NYC, an advertising agency that’s worked with clients in the beauty space including Bobbi Brown and Laura Mercier.
For Bernstein, the idea of a product being the “best kept secret” is dead. A lack of access was once considered aspirational in beauty, where secrecy was something to be coveted. The desire to see impossibly perfect looking A-list actresses and models, some Photoshopped and edited so heavily
that campaign imagery was no longer representative of how they truly looked, is being usurped by consumers’ desire for transparency.
But why now?
A dose of reality for one, due largely to the advent of social media, as today’s consumer has come to see that many of the actresses and models aren’t living the aspirational lives depicted in the ads they’ve grown accustomed to seeing. Some traditional advertising has lost credibility in light of the digital age unmasking the truth: the women society once viewed as the most confident (because they were models and actresses) are often the most unhappy.
“The reality was that they [actresses] weren’t feeling confident. And really, all of us women are aspiring to be empowered and confident and feel comfortable and beautiful in our skin,” Bernstein said.
Foulkes even cited a survey conducted
by WWD’s sister publication Variety that
showed YouTube stars are more popular than traditional celebrities with younger
audiences between the ages of 13 and 24. It
boiled down to “relatability,” where Foulkes was surprised to learn that Millennials
and Gen Z consumers used phrases such as
“just like me,” “doesn’t try to be perfect” and “genuine” in their responses.
But this shift in celebrity perception is just one of the many catalysts inciting the transparency revolution.
An ever-informed consumer — who has unbridled access to research tools ranging from the Internet to retailer apps containing detailed product information to the brands themselves — wants to know what she is putting on her face. Combine this with the growing wellness movement, which has made natural and organic ingredients (of the topical ingested variety) top of mind for many individuals seeking synthetic alternatives.
Cultural considerations come into play, too. Some believe this move toward transparency is due in part to a reinvigorated feminist movement and a politically fueled climate where women are encouraged to speak up. With the aggrandization of social media, anyone now has a platform to do so.
“There’s going to be more pressure on brands to even detail what they’re paying people because brands are not only presenting themselves by the products they sell but as cool and progressive places to work. The number of criteria on which they’re assessed on will be much holistic, and more things will be added to the list. They will be forced to be more transparent,” said Lucie Green, a futurist at J.
Walter Thompson Worldwide.
Once upon a time, using recycled packaging was seen as a bonus and cause
for bragging rights, Green said, but today,
the number of elements brands can be scrutinized on has increased exponentially. It’s not even just sharing information about raw materials and ingredients – transparency has extended to how suppliers are treated, how much diversity there is in corporate leadership and employee salaries (and whether that varies by gender). Anything is fair game.
“This is no longer on the fringes. Feminism is a mainstream cultural trend and it means that women are holding brands accountable, and apart from anything else, the [brands’] representation of women,”
For this group, where politics and feminism are dominant themes, it’s become the norm to turn to social media to “call out” brands for a myriad of things that might
not have otherwise come to light,” Green
said, noting that these concerns become even more pronounced for the 12- to 19-year-olds in Generation Z.
Drunk Elephant is one prestige brand
that has incorporated that attitude into its business strategy. Outspoken founder
Tiffany Masterson has a “tell it like it is” ►
From business model to ingredient info, an array of brands are increasingly transparent in how they talk to consumers.