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How Benefit Defied Makeup’s Decline

How Benefit Defied Makeup’s Decline

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NEW YORK, United States — In the beauty world, influencers frolicking on white-sand beaches in The Maldives are a dime a dozen. Benefit Cosmetics went in a different direction for a recent campaign.

“I’m about to shake what ya mama gave ya,” Bretman Rock, a 21-year-old Hawaiian influencer, said into a bedazzled microphone while swinging on a stripper pole made to resemble Benefit’s “Precisely My Brow” eyebrow pencil.

The 45-second video is a riff on late-night infomercials and the brand’s most ambitious YouTube ad to date. The company paid to have a shorter version of the video displayed on YouTube’s homepage for a full day, and it’s accrued over 3.4 million views. Benefit also plastered Rock’s face on a display inside a Sephora in Oahu — a lifelong dream of the influencer.

Benefit used to whisk influencers to exotic locales like every other beauty brand. A 2016 party in Las Vegas featured no fewer than 90 social media celebrities. But in recent years, the company has opted for unconventional collaborations with more out there stars like Rock.

The strategy appears to be working. Benefit’s sales rose 3 percent in the first half of the year compared with the same period in 2018, according to NPD. Though the increase was modest, Benefit was alone among the 10 largest US prestige brands to avoid a decline, the research firm said. An individual close to the company estimates Benefit’s 2018 sales totalled $1.5 billion.

An oversaturation of brands and product coupled with consumers’ ongoing obsession with skincare has resulted in an overall category slump. All the influencer trips in the world aren’t helping lines like IT Cosmetics, Tarte, Urban Decay and Lancôme, which all showed year over year sales declines for the first half of this year.

We’re not in the top 10 in the eyeshadow business because we don’t really follow trends.

“I look at Instagram, and see someone on a trip and I’m like, ‘Oh my God. I’m going to shoot myself in the head,’ because I’m not spending my marketing budget to send someone to an island to take pictures,” said Bernadette Fitzpatrick, Benefit Cosmetics senior vice president of US marketing.

“I love the influencers,” she added with a laugh. “But at the same time I despise them because we’re reliant on them.”

It’s not just Benefit’s influencer strategy driving sales. Here’s how the brand has defied the makeup bust:

Don’t try to be everything

While most cosmetics labels are rushing to enter every category – from lips to eyes to skincare to wellness – Benefit has mostly stuck to just three: brows, mascara and cheeks.

Bretman Rock outside of a Sephora | Source: Courtesy

Benefit invested heavily in eyebrows starting in 2016, both from a product and services perspective through its network of brow bars, and steered its marketing toward the category as well. Today, eyebrows make up about 40 percent of the brand’s sales and continues to take market share from Anastasia Beverly Hills.

The company does offer products outside its core categories, with limited selection (its foundation range has only 12 shades, even as some competitors enter the high double digits).

“They [the product team] stay in their lane, they do what we do really well,” said Alfred Stillman, Benefit Cosmetics’ general manager of the Americas. “We’re not in the top 10 in the eyeshadow business because we don’t really follow trends.”

Be prestige, but not too prestige

Benefit’s kitschy (often bordering on wacky) positioning may seem at odds with its relatively high price tag. But that combination has become one of its strongest marketing tools. Competitors in prestige tend to emphasise more conventional luxury, such as Tom Ford Beauty, Nars or Pat McGrath Labs.

The brand is luxe enough to appeal to older Millennials, while its fun side makes it a popular choice among younger consumers making their first foray into prestige beauty, said Lauren Goodsitt, a global beauty analyst at Mintel.

We’re smarter about what will make a trip or event stand out for the influencers

“They are welcoming to all ages, and when you go into a Benefit store or counter there’s not that snooty edge,” she said.

Say no to influencer trips

Benefit was among the first to take influencers on elaborate vacations, but is “getting smarter and more creative” about when and how it works with social media stars, Fitzpatrick said. That’s in part because travel content and hashtags have seen diminishing returns as more brands fly beauty bloggers to exotic locales.

“Why [pay for] a trip when everyone else is doing trips?” Fitzpatrick said.

Benefit’s marketing spend has increased by less than 10 percent year over year, and influencer spend has remained relatively flat since 2016. When the brand does fly influencers somewhere, it’s typically designed to “evoke an emotional experience,” she said.

“We’re smarter about what will make a trip or event stand out for the influencers, something they want to check off their bucket list,” Fitzpatrick said.

For the launch of the “Cheekleaders” palettes last spring, Benefit partnered with five influencers to visit their hometown high schools to present grants $10,000 grants to each school. Favourite teachers were given $5,000 to take a vacation.

Benefit often works with influencers who have smaller but more loyal followings, or who closely fit with a campaign’s goals.

“I hate to use the word ‘authentic’, but who actually believes that a big influencer is authentic anymore? Everyone knows who’s getting paid to do what,” she said. “I think a lot of brands just think, ‘Hey I’m launching this product who’s the hottest influencer now?’ That’s not what we do.”

THIS WEEK IN BEAUTY

Revlon is exploring its options. The struggling cosmetics company has tapped Goldman Sachs to decide on next steps, including a potential sale.

The supplement industry is cashing in on your pets. In 2018, the pet supplement industry had an estimated value of about $636 million.

Botox rival has a strong launch. Evolus Inc, maker of Botox competitor Jeuveau, reported revenue of $2.3 million from early sales, which is ahead of expectations.

Do beauty tutorials create more harm than good? The rise of the beauty tutorial may contribute to a reinforcement of “culturally sanctioned ideals.”

Selena Gomez will start a beauty brand. The actress and musician filed a trademark for a namesake line of products from fragrance and cosmetics to skincare and haircare.

Nars’ “sexually explicit” ad garnered mixed reviews. Social media users claimed the video depicting a melting lipstick resembled male genitalia.

The CBD industry is still unregulated. Ads are pitching CBD as a cure-all but some consumers are reporting unpleasant side effects.

Beauty brands rethinking their ties to Uline. The owners of the shipping supplies vendor are the second biggest Trump donors in the 2020 election cycle so far.

Olivia Jade gives the finger to the media. Lori Loughlin’s daughter took to Instagram to post a photo, calling out People and The Daily Mail for their less than flattering coverage.

Doctor brands are betting on their authority. Skincare labels founded by doctors are seeing a resurgence.

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What are we willing to cancel people over, anyway?

What are we willing to cancel people over, anyway?

Beautube continues to be the messy hellscape that it is, but the feud that went down between two major YouTubers just goes to show that nobody is above drama. Still, James Charles has a history of problematic behavior — why did it take until now for the community to cancel him? 

YouTube’s beauty community was shaken on Friday when Tati Westbrook dropped a 43-minute video exposing her longtime friend and mentee James Charles. Among other reprehensible behavior, Tati also denounced his habit of allegedly sexually harassing straight men. 

The takedown followed weeks of rumors, screenshots, and snarky reaction videos from other vloggers, so it wasn’t new, but it was the catalyst that has other influencers distancing themselves from the teenage makeup guru. 

If you’re unfamiliar with the wild world of beauty YouTube, here’s a rundown of all the people involved. 

James Charles is a 19-year-old beauty maven who went viral in 2016 for not only wearing makeup in his senior photos, but also being extra enough to bring a ring light to emphasize his highlighter. Later that year, he became the first male spokesperson for CoverGirl. Since then, he’s amassed an immense social media following — at its peak, he had 15 million subscribers on YouTube. 

Charles’ nearly overnight fame reached a climax usually reserved for traditional celebrities, not influencers, when he was invited to the Met Gala earlier in May. He raised eyebrows when he called the invitation “a step forward in the right direction for influencer representation in the media” in an Instagram post.

But after his rapid ascent to stardom, Charles is now crashing back down. He’s been cancelled.

SEE ALSO: Men’s makeup brands are discreet — and all over Instagram

Tati Westbrook is a 37-year-old makeup YouTuber who also owns Halo Beauty, a supplement company that sells gummy vitamins for strengthening hair and nails. Her direct competitor is Sugar Bear Hair, a similar company whose products have been endorsed by a variety of influencers, including the Kardashian-Jenner clan. 

Tati has been “like a mother” to James, according to James himself. She took the budding star under her wing when his career was just kicking off — and he even did her wedding makeup. 

Keeping up? Good, because this is where it gets messy. 

On April 22, James posted an endorsement for Sugar Bear Hair on his Instagram story after the company supposedly helped him with a security issue during Coachella. Without naming names, Tati said she felt “lost” and “betrayed” on her Instagram story. 

“When you do so much for people in your life and they not only don’t return the favor, but they just don’t even see you,” Tati said in her tearful video. “I feel really used.” 

James publicly apologized in similarly teary Instagram story the next day, and told his followers that he “did not think about the competition.”

“She has been like a mother to me since my first days in this industry,” he said in his public apology, adding that he didn’t accept any money for the post and that he uses Tati’s vitamin brand daily. “And has given me more love, support, resources, and advice than I could ever ask for.”

Fellow makeup YouTuber Gabriel Zamora — who you might remember from the YouTube apology fiasco in summer 2018 known as Dramageddon — weighed in on the situation. In a video posted on May 4, he chided Tati for her immature reaction. 

“All these videos are being made where James is being made out to be this horrible human being and I’m just confused as to what happened,” Gabriel said.

In response, Tati posted a video on Friday titled “BYE SISTER,” a play on James’ signature vlog intro, “Hi sisters!” The lengthy video dives into why Tati felt unappreciated by James, from his hesitation to promote her brand to his reluctance to collaborate with her. She publicly severed ties with him, concluding that it was “painful to lose someone you care about, that you thought would be in your life forever, but the chapter’s closed.”

Since dropping the video, Tati has been rapidly gaining followers as James loses them. Twitter users and other influencers paid attention.

Image: Twitter Screenshot/Jefree Star

As of Monday morning, James has lost more than 2.5 million subscribers in three days, according to SocialBlade. Tati, meanwhile, gained more than 2.9 million since posting the video. To put that into perspective, as vlogger Callum Markie noted, Logan Paul gained 80,000 subscribers after filming a victim of suicide in Japan. 

But the backlash isn’t just over snubbing a friend — it’s over a much more concerning issue. Although the majority of the video was about her personal relationship with James, it also shed light on his toxic habit of allegedly sexually harassing straight men. 

“Oh my god, you tried to trick a straight man into thinking he’s gay yet again,” Tati ranted in her video, recalling a phone conversation she recently had with James. “And somehow, you’re the victim.” 

She continued:

“It’s really disgusting to manipulate someone’s sexuality, especially when they’re emerging into adulthood and don’t have everything quite figured out. You’re using your fame, power, money to play with people’s emotions … And you’re doing that to have them behave sexually in your favor even if they’re straight. And you know what, that’s not OK.”

Tati was alluding to just one of many instances where James toyed with straight men. The receipts channel Spill laid out several examples, including his questionable relationship with model Gage Gomez. In April, Gomez posted a video calling James out for continuing to pursue him despite repeatedly turning him down. 

“[He] pushed his emotions onto me to guilt me into trying something that I didn’t want to do,” the model said. 

James has also publicly hit on Shawn Mendes, leaving suggestive comments on the singer’s Instagram live videos and tweets. 

He later apologized in a tweet, and said he was “sorry if he [Shawn] felt sexually harassed.”

After Tati’s video, others came forward. Someone who claimed to be a former classmate tweeted that James allegedly sexually assaulted her friend. Singer Zara Larsson also tweeted that James repeatedly hit on her boyfriend, despite knowing that he’s straight. And in a supercut of James’ vlogs, a Twitter user showed the numerous times the beauty guru admitted he enjoyed pursuing heterosexual men because “it’s easier than you think.”

It’s about time James Charles stopped getting a pass for his repeatedly toxic behavior. But why did it take a video from Tati for the internet to finally cancel him? Twitter user @Quantum_King_ questioned why Tati protected James for years, despite public knowledge that he harassed men both in person and on social media. 

Did Tati Westbrook expose a predator or did she harbour a predator until she felt under appreciated by him?

— Brokeryn Martell 🇱🇨🇯🇲 (@Quantum_King_) May 11, 2019

If James Charles would’ve promoted tati’s vitamins, do y’all think she still would’ve made that video exposing him for being trash? Let’s discuss

— femme fatale (@eliesaaab) May 12, 2019

And others pointed out how hypocritical it was for Jeffree Star, another member of the YouTube beauty community, to speak out against James despite his own problematic past. (Star has since deleted his tweet, but there is a screenshot included above.)

Is James Charles being canceled because of his actions, or because the internet loves drama? It’s been nearly a year since Dramageddon tore Beautube apart, exposing multiple YouTubers for their racist tweets. 

Somehow, James’ own racist remarks weren’t pulled into the whirlwind of cancellation. When he made a transphobic comment earlier in 2019 about how he wasn’t “full gay” because he had been attracted to trans men, he received some backlash but got away relatively unscathed. Why is it Tati’s video that’s tanking his career? 

Maybe it’s because the internet is willing to give a pass to its faves, until it’s time to grab some popcorn and watch a feud go down. It’s good that the internet is finally done with James — the face of the beauty community absolutely should not be a predator. But nobody paid attention or sought to hold him accountable until there was a friendship break up involved. 

The influencers at the center of Dramageddon have more or less recovered from 2018’s Beautube culling. Gabriel Zamora continues to make videos. Nikita Dragun was just profiled in Forbes. Manny MUA is still releasing products from his makeup line, Lunar Beauty. Even Laura Lee, whose iconically terrible apology video fueled Twitter memes for weeks, seems fine according to Instagram

Will James Charles’ cancellation last, or will the internet accept him into the fold again like it did with Jeffree Star? Despite his many controversies, Star is a multimillionaire thriving on top of a massive beauty empire.  

“A lot of most of my career over the last two years has been about me making mistakes and trying to learn and grow from them,” James stated in his apology video posted Friday. “And I haven’t always done the best job of that. I can admit that, but I have always tried … I wish I could say this is the last time that I make a mistake, but it won’t be.” 

And as his beauty vlogger predecessors have proven, he’s at least right about that. Will he stay canceled? Hopefully. Will more makeup-centered drama go down in the near future and take down more racist, transphobic predators? God, we hope so. 

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