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Beauty Brands Are Using Video to Turn You Into a Brand Addict

Could those annoying live videos be secretly wooing you?

Photo: Kevin Tachman/Trunk Archive

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In this era of waning brand loyalty, beauty companies are betting on one thing to be their secret weapon to securing diehard fans: video.

There’s no question that social video — be it on YouTube, Facebook Live, Snapchat, Instagram Stories, or any other site or app — is in the spotlight right now in general. According to a Social Media Examiner survey, 73 percent of brands said they increased their use of videos last year, and according to Cisco, video made up 60 percent of total mobile data traffic in 2016. But it’s especially important in the beauty space, where consumers have a special appetite for all things video — according to Statistica, content in the beauty category snagged more than five billion views on YouTube last June alone. So it’s no surprise that brands like Benefit, Maybelline, Birchbox, OPI, and NYX, have been diving head-first into the clip-filled waters, while newcomers like Milk Makeup leaned on it in getting their brands off the ground.

What they’re finding? Going sleek and overproduced is not the way. “While longer format, high-production-value videos will always have a place, an explosion of video consumption and channels to consume video on has meant that brands simply can't satiate viewers with enough content if they adhere to strictly super-polished video,” explain Apu Gupta, CEO and cofounder of the visual marketing platform Curalate. The result has been a dramatic increase in videos that are seemingly unscripted and much closer to real life with less perfection in lighting, setup, and overall feel. “Stuff that you'd never do in polished video — looking right at the camera, for instance — is par for the course today.”

When it comes to the platforms themselves, the 24-hour lifecycle of Snapchat isn’t holding brands back from spending energy there. With 150 million people using the app per day, it’s a major method of reaching consumers — plus, because they have to seek out the content, the views are quite valuable. While permanent platforms like YouTube are still great for giving consumers information they may search for, as writer Jonathan Crowl recently pointed out in a piece for the content marketing technology and services company Skyword Inc., Snapchat’s “watch or you’ll miss it” aspect pushes a sense of urgency. Think “Buy this limited-edition palette today, right now, this instant.” Snapchat’s popularity is also why video is becoming increasingly vertical — the platform’s orientation in smartphone screens means brands are having to rethink the once-ubiquitous wide-angle video that fits YouTube players and switch up the angle for the specific platform the content lives on. Gupta also points out the vertical video tends to be shorter, as the idea is to create quick clips the audience can click through.

Regardless of the platform, the goal is for these videos to feel intimate — watching someone in real time means you’re not looking at an image that’s been carefully posed for hours and airbrushed to perfection, and ditching the script means it all feels more authentic. It’s perhaps one of the reasons Glossier’s Get Ready With Me morning-routine series has seen so much success. It also give insight into why heavy Snapchat users like Jen Atkin, the hairstylist behind the haircare line Ouai, have managed to find a devoted following by creating short clips of behind-the-scenes glimpses of their work with their famous clients. Magazines have even jumped on as well, notably with’s “Beauty Secrets” series shot with celebrities chatting into a bathroom mirror.

Gupta explains that for brands, this approach establishes the feeling of connection and positions them more as a friend and guide than just as a company trying to sell products to the consumer. That makes sense when you consider that YouTube is one of the most trusted sources of information for today’s makeup buyer. And trust and intimacy — those are the things repeat business is made of. Which is why many brands are shifting their thinking on non-TV video from less of a traditional advertising tool and more toward an opportunity for engagement, a place to have an ongoing conversation with their audience.

“It has become a tentpole of our social media strategy,” says Claudia Allwood, senior director, creative and content strategy for Benefit Cosmetics, one of the early adopters of social video (if you can pinpoint such a thing in this landscape). When the brand’s Thursday unscripted, mistakes-and-all Facebook Live series “Tipsy Tricks” debuted, its first streams got 43,000 views, and one episode called “Complexion Perfection” that broadcast in October got 230,700 views. The show, which features a rotating cast of alcohol-sipping hosts showing off a makeup trick or Benefit product, is as helpful as it is silly — a common mark of a successful series.

And Georgie Greville, cofounder of Milk Makeup, factors it into the line’s fast success. In its short life, the one-year-old brand quickly spread through Sephora stores and recently announced it’s received backing by the private equity firm Main Post Partners. The brand came out the gate with a quirky “Looks” video series of fast-paced how-tos with fun graphics to set the tone for the brand. For a fledgling line, Greville calls the medium crucial. “It lets you in the minds and hearts of a brand like no other medium and helps you both educate and connect to your audience in a multidimensional, visceral way.”

That could help explain why so many of these successful video series are how-tos. They are, after all, one of the major reasons Facebook IQ’s recent report cited for people seeking out social media in the first place. Helping people know how to use your products help to ensure they actually use them.

What we can expect to see more of from here? Live broadcasts. According to Facebook, people spend three times longer watching a live video than one that is no longer live and comment 10 times more than on regular ones. Any of you old enough to remember “Must-See TV” from the ‘90s gets what’s happening there — watching something unfold at a specific time with the rest of the world feels like an event, the way, say, the Super Bowl does to sports fans. And, Gupta says, the goal remains for the content to feel “easy, natural. and personal” in the hopes that that will translate into a larger feeling of community. As for those still looking to get started, here’s his advice: “Overall, be original, and keep it short, vertical, in snippets, edgy, and personal.” The next move to think about? Perfecting graphics. Gupta says that increasingly, “it’s best to assume people watching your video have the sound switched off.”