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This past weekend I spent several hours milling around a cavernous convention space at the Brooklyn Cruise Terminal with thousands of makeup fans. The occasion was the three-year-old semi-yearly beauty bacchanalia known as Generation Beauty, the center of a Venn diagram that features so-called Instagram beauty “creators,” beauty brands, and the fans who follow them.
Gen Beauty, as it is fondly and familiarly called by fans and organizers alike, is sponsored by Ipsy, YouTube vet Michelle Phan’s empire that brings influencers and beauty fans together via a subscription sampling service, an incubator for up-and-coming influencers (called “stylists” by Ipsy), and strong relationships with beauty brands. (Read a totally accurate description of last year’s NYC event here and then multiply that by a factor of three for this year’s expo.)
I noticed a group of teens laden with swag bags standing in line at the Tarte Cosmetics booth, where a bored-looking young woman stood at the end of the queue holding a sign that proclaimed, “45-minute wait from this point!” Since millennials are now apparently Olds and Gen Z has all the social currency – at least according to the New York Times – I figured I better ask them what’s up.
Leslie, 16, Andrea, 16, and Laura, 15, all made the trek from the east end of Long Island for their first-ever Gen Beauty; they were planning to attend both days. (Full disclosure: they all spoke excitedly over each other as I was asking them questions, so I have no idea which girl exactly said what, despite listening to my recording three times. So I’ll just quote them as one amalgam named Teena.) All three were at Gen Beauty to get makeup freebies and some selfie time with three of the biggest Instagram influencers out there right now: Desi Perkins (2.7 million followers), Katy DeGroot aka Lustrelux (1.7 million followers), and Kathleen Lights (1.4 million followers).
First, I asked them their strategy for hitting up brand booths, because I had been nearly trampled by eager attendees when the doors opened. “We’re doing the biggest brands first. We kind of run there — or speed walk,” Teena says. “The bigger brands give out better stuff. We waited at a small one and they only gave us a little sample size.” They agreed that the full-size foundation from Bare Minerals was their best score so far that day.
The whole point of Generation Beauty, to be thoroughly cynical, is to ultimately sell stuff – influencer/beauty brand symbiosis has been a well-documented home run for sales when done right. But are the teens buying it, literally and figuratively?
Of Instagram and YouTube reviewers, Teena said, “Sometimes you can see that [a brand] is just sponsoring them. I like when they give their honest opinion.”
But how do you know when they’re being sincere?
Ah, there’s a tell. Apparently if someone reads copy directly off the bottle or package, that’s a dead giveaway that it’s sponsored. “Usually if you really like a product you know the name and everything,” Teena said, sagely. Everyone agreed on this point.
But don’t worry, beauty brands. These teens are definitely still influenced by the influencers. One said that she bought Benefit’s Ka-Brow and brow primer and a MakeUp ForEver foundation when she saw Lustrelux demo them. Benefit works closely with influencers and they brought a large group of influencers and a small group of beauty editors, including me (897 Instagram followers), to Las Vegas to launch its brow collection with a splashy press trip a few months ago. So while subsequent posts may or may not have been officially sponsored, Benefit was definitely counting on some buzz afterwards. Yep, that worked.
The teens got really animated and excited when the conversation turned to collaborations between brands and internet personalities. One said she bought “all” of the pieces Kathleen Lights did with indie brands Ofra and Colourpop. The big winner, though? Jaclyn Hill’s collaboration with Becca for the Champagne Pop highlighter collection, which broke Sephora sales records when it first launched. “Oh my god, yes, yes. Everybody started using that one!” said Teena.
With that, it was their turn to enter into the Tarte brand experience, so I left, enlightened and optimistic about the future.
For more from Generation Beauty, check out our conversations with Michelle Phan's amazing Ipsy stylists, Jaleesa Moses, Gabriel Zamora, and Lynette Cenée!
We're live at Generation Beauty By Ipsy with Michelle Phan 's amazing ipsy stylists, Jaleesa Moses, Gabriel Zamora, Lynette Cenée talking all things makeup, beauty and inspiration! ✨Posted by Racked on Saturday, September 17, 2016