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Inside Beauty’s Big Bet on Entertainment

From quick-selling product collaborations to long-form content formats, beauty is betting big on the small screen.

Beauty is headed for the small screen.

Pat McGrath Labs, Sephora, Neutrogena are among the big beauty names that are embracing entertainment as the newest means of engagement.

It’s a departure for brands that have relied heavily on bite-sized social media content to spur sales in recent years. Now, with entertainment collaborations, brands are creating long-form content of their own, such as Neutrogena’s “In the Sun,” an educational short film on skin cancer prevention. Sephora also sold a documentary to HBO Max on the history of brand Fashion Fair. There’s also collaborations like Pat McGrath Labs’ partnership with “Bridgerton,” which aims to supercharge brand awareness, and brand-entertainment partnerships like that between Biossance and Reese Witherspoon, which includes products and content.

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“Through witnessing the advent of social media over the last 10 years, beauty has become such a prominent force in the creator world,” said Brooke Wall, founder and chief executive officer of the Wall Group. “We’re seeing through technologies, different ways of celebrating that.”

The opportunities in the space are myriad. Neutrogena, for example, wants to stimulate engagement with its educational pillars via longer, more produced types of content that doesn’t smack of a marketing effort. “Seventy-four percent of consumers are engaging in advertising avoidance,” said Tyler Rochwerg, creative content lead at Neutrogena Studios. “When you see something like that, you have to think, how we can get our message through to consumers. Therein really came the idea that we needed to create stories as entertainment, not advertising.”

For the mass-market skin care giant, putting muscle behind entertainment was a no-brainer, given the complexity of its messaging. Its first film, which debuted last year on YouTube, was called “In The Sun,” and its goal was to educate on the need for sun care in skin cancer prevention. “We have been leading in the space of skin cancer education,” said Sebastian Garcia-Vinyard, studio content director, Neutrogena Studios. “We were taking stock and assessing how we were going about education, and we were realizing the information was still hard to get.”

The solution was Neutrogena Studios, which provided the opportunity for both logical and emotional appeals to consumers. “We thought to ourselves, we tell stories. Human beings are so programmed to respond to stories, and speaking to someone intellectually and emotionally and making a connection to get those stories to stick. We think we’ll have a much higher possibility of inspiring the change that we need,” Garcia-Vinyard continued.

Now, the division is experimenting with different formats and lengths of content, from short-length documentaries like “In the Sun,” which has over 8 million views on YouTube, to feature-length films. “Beauty and entertainment have always had this symbiotic relationship with how they influence culture,” Rochwerg said. “There’s so much space for beauty brands, and a skin care brand like us, to play in the entertainment sphere…there’s really limitless potential here.”

Neutrogena Studios' "In The Sun"
Neutrogena Studios’ new film, “In the Sun.” Photo courtesy of Anthony Blasko, For People With Skin.

Other brands are taking the entertainment route. Jerrod Blandino, chief creative officer and founder of Too Faced, is in the editing phase of a behind-the-scenes documentary of day-to-day life running a cosmetics brand, and is also toying with the idea of a reality TV show.

“Jeremy [Johnson] and I met over 26 years ago, fell in love, and created Too Faced less than two years after we met. It’s been a love story, and with a love of product and a love of our customer,” Blandino said. “Everything that we do has been a labor of love, and we wanted to show that so our fans and the world would understand that it’s more than makeup. To us, it’s a movement.”

The emotionality of beauty makes it easily adaptable for long-form content, Blandino said. “In our industry, we’ve all seen a dress get made, and how that works. There have been peeks behind the curtains in the food and fashion industries, but never beauty,” he said. “I thought maybe it would be a good idea to show how you create a brand, how you develop it and get it to market.”

Blandino posited that consumers’ hunger for content is not new, although finding an avenue outside of the social media creator economy felt more on-brand for his message. “The development of social media and the ability to connect with consumers was a revolution in our industry,” he said. “But there were some difficult, angry people who used the industry to get attention. We’re at a point where we’ve let all that go, it’s not a sustainable form of entertainment.”

Although details of the documentary — including its name, length and release date — are still under wraps, Blandino said the content focuses more on the brand’s core value proposition, and not on product education.

“You’re going to see the great, creative, artistic, heartfelt heartbeat behind the brand,” he said. “It is reaching outward into areas and audiences that have never known or cared about Too Faced before… There’s a whole other world out there that might not be beauty fanatics, but there’s an emotional connection.”

In an age of product and brand proliferation, Blandino believes that creating that kind of emotional connection is a key component of success. “You can tell when a brand has a heartbeat, like Tom Ford, Huda Beauty or Jackie Aina,” he said. “There has to be a human being with a heart and a passion. You cannot just make something to make money, it cannot just be about commerce. It has to be about entertaining and activism, activating them to check out your brand.”

Brands are also using long-form entertainment to convey their values. When Amyris-owned beauty brand Biossance tapped Reese Witherspoon to be its global brand ambassador, it also included a deal with her production company, Hello Sunshine, to produce a content series to debut across channels later this year. The series will cover topics such as sustainability and product usage.

Witherspoon told WWD at the time, “I know what I’m really good at. I’m really good at making movies and television shows. And in some ways, this partnership is about expanding my own knowledge.”

“On the content side, we are really dreaming up what the next level of beauty content looks like,” said Catherine Gore, president of Biossance. “It’s essentially a branded entertainment series with Reese, and other experts, and we go on a journey together with them. It will feel fresh and inviting, and have a lot of expertise, because the beauty industry is still a confusing space, and we’ll be able to clear up a lot of questions around skin care, physiology, usage, etc.”

Biossance also gains exposure to Witherspoon’s vast fanbase. On Instagram alone, the actress and producer has over 27.5 million followers.

“Today, we want to meet the consumer where he or she is,” said Gore. “The consumer today is so savvy, and picking up snippets from all types of different places. What the entertainment industry has done an excellent job of is meeting that consumer where they are, and the beauty industry has so much to offer in that space, and has a real magnetism too in terms of content. It’s long overdue these two worlds are coming together, in many ways.”

Gore is optimistic about the series, given the varying interest consumers show in content of all sizes. “There’s this juxtaposition between wanting snackable content, and at the same time, going through an entire Netflix series in a day,” she said. “If you sit down and get lured in by a series, some people could watch the entire series in one sitting. What we’re bringing, in this case, is certainly more long-form content, and it also takes that to get through some of the concepts we want to share. There’s still a lot of confusion around skin care, and yet it can build confidence in such a meaningful way to find a really good beauty regimen.”

She also looked to what works well on the brand’s social channels to guide broader content strategies. “Entertainment and education are the yin and the yang. Certainly entertainment is on the rise, but some of our most popular posts just get down to the clinical and nitty gritty of ingredients,” she said.

The partnership is also extending to the product side of the business, with the April launch of the Sunshine Set, comprised of Witherspoon’s favorite products packaged in a blush-colored train case.

Beauty Bets Big on Entertainment
Biossance’s product collaboration with Reese Witherspoon. Photo courtesy of Biossance

Pat McGrath Labs, too, is dipping into product collaborations with the entertainment world. The brand introduced the second iteration of its collaboration, including eye and cheek palettes, eye liner and a lipstick, with “Bridgerton” on Mar. 24. It follows the collaboration’s successful first drop, and a previous collaboration with “Star Wars.”

That collaboration is timed to the release of the second season of the record-shattering show, which hit the streaming platform on Mar. 25. When the show first aired in 2020, it hit an all-time high in viewership for the platform, with over 82 million viewers.

“You are definitely meeting a new audience,” McGrath said, of the idea behind such partnerships. “It’s about meeting diverse and new audiences: that’s the fun, in meeting the people that are totally obsessed with ‘Bridgerton,’ or meeting those totally obsessed with ‘Star Wars.’”

Beyond reaching new demographics, McGrath said the creative challenges also feed into her brand-building philosophy. “It’s about being able to fuse different universes. It helps to bring a new dimension to beauty, in terms of the actual formulas, all to the packaging. It reminds me of working with the most incredible [fashion] houses, it’s the same working with movies.”

Pat McGrath Labs' second collaboration with
Pat McGrath Labs’ second collaboration with “Bridgerton.” Photo courtesy of Pat McGrath Labs/Jon Paterson

Brand awareness is one of the most significant goals of entertainment partnerships, other beauty brands agreed.

Beekman 1802, following a collaboration with “Schitt’s Creek,” has also inaugurated a collaboration on limited-edition products with “Bridgerton” consisting of a candle, a soap collection and a lip salve. They range in price from $34 to $50. “We live in such an attention economy, and you’re always fighting with other people to get in front of a consumer,” said Brent Ridge, the brand’s cofounder. “Strategically, that’s why collaborations are so important. It puts you in front of a completely different consumer set, one that you might not be competing with other people already.”

Added Beekman CEO Jill Scalamandre, “The two most strategic advantages are new customer acquisitions, and then awareness to new communities that would be more likely to buy your brand.”

Beekman’s initial skin care collaboration with “Schitt’s Creek” gave the brand confidence to explore other similar partnerships. “Over 20 percent of the people who originally discovered Beekman 1802 just because they’re fans of “Schitt’s Creek” subsequently came back and bought Beekman products unaffiliated with the show,” Ridge said. “Those people had affinity for our brand and affinity with our content partner.”

The “Bridgerton” collaboration, which launched last week, is already seeing a spike in demand. “We had our influencer event, and we already have influencers posting the soap. We have around 7,000 pre-orders on our website. We have some content on TikTok happening as well, and it’s started to gain traction,” Scalamandre said prior to the show’s release.

Bridgerton
Beekman 1802’s collaboration with “Bridgerton.” Photo courtesy of Beekman 1802.

Dashing Diva, the at-home nail care brand, also announced its first partnership with Disney and Pixar for the companies’ “Turning Red” film, which was released in February. It encompasses nail strips in a variety of limited-edition designs inspired by the film.

“In order to have a successful collaboration and partnership, the brand and whoever we partner up with has to have their ethos aligned for it to work well. This movie is all about confidence, self-love and being bold, which is exactly aligned with our ethos,” said Gina Chang, senior manager, marketing at Dashing Diva.

The collaboration is intended to reach a younger set of consumers, meeting them on their own terms. “It reaches a younger audience that we haven’t been able to reach for,” Chang said. People are looking for that connection to brands and when you find a certain entertainment or talent they follow and connect to, they can connect to the brand.”

Product collaborations are also key to keeping a brand relevant. “We just want to be a part of the conversation that our customers are already having,” Ridge said. “If we see something that is resonating with them, and it’s also resonating with us, we know we’re going to have a win-win.”

For more from WWD.com, see:

Beauty Brand Founders Talk Growth Without Racial Labels

Fashion Searches Spike After Premiere of ‘Bridgerton’ Season Two

Inside the 2022 Vanity Fair Oscars After Party, Where Will Smith Headed Post-win