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Influence Peddler: Kandee Johnson Moves the Needle for New OGX Hair-care Collection

OGX, the leader in mass-market hair care, tapped Kandee Johnson for its first influencer collaboration.

Kandee Johnson is as tickled pink about her OGX Holiday Hair Care Collection as the color of her signature tresses. The beauty influencer, who has 1.7 million Instagram followers and counting, has partnered with Too Faced on color cosmetics, but this deal marks her first foray into hair care.

It is also the first time OGX, the leading brand by dollar volume in the mass-market shampoo and conditioner business, has ever teamed up for product creation.

The shampoos and conditioners, called Candy Gumdrop, Frosted Sugar Cookie and Sparkling Cider, just hit mass-market retailers and are already visibly selling out.

According to IRI data in mass market doors, OGX shampoo and conditioner sales exceed $250 million per year. The holiday collection is expected to bring in incremental dollars — not only for its giftability factor, but the pulling power of Johnson.

“We’ve always looked to build organic relationships and that’s how we’ve been so lucky to maintain earned media. When we decided to try our first collaboration and, to our knowledge, the first mass hair-care brand to do so as well, there was no question in terms of who we’d partner with,” said Courtney Connelly, senior brand manager, North America for Vogue International, which markets OGX.

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Johnson’s confection-inspired hair care is the latest partnership in a résumé that includes a color collection for Two Faced Cosmetics and nail lacquers for Sinful Colors.

Her Too Faced Collection, I Want Kandee, sold out most of its items on Ulta Beauty’s web site on the day of the release. Sinful Color’s two collections by Johnson, Pretty Vintage and Vintage Anime, came on the heels of SinfulColors’ partnership with Kylie Jenner. With it, Johnson proved she  maintain the brand’s sales momentum. Retailers applauded the muscle Johnson put behind the shades, which included frequent social posts and willingness to make store appearances.

Kandee Johnson Is One of the
Kandee Johnson at NACDS.

It seems no act is too hard for Johnson to follow. Last April, when Revlon ambassador Gwen Stefani fell ill before an appearance at an industry event, Johnson adroitly captivated the audience of top mass-market executives, many of whom had no inkling of the inner workings of the influencer community. “I was so afraid I was going to disappoint everyone because I wasn’t who they came for,” Johnson said. Instead, she provided a primer on what it takes to be a social media star and why consumers react to what she posts.

When it comes to content creation, however, Johnson is hardly a follower. At 39 and a mom, a slightly different profile than the emerging social darlings, she’s considered one of the pioneers of the digital beauty influencer world.

Johnson started out, like many content providers, in makeup artistry. Her grandparents gave her a video camera that she used to upload transformation tutorials to YouTube back in 2009. In the early days, she was in uncharted waters, but quickly built a following sporting more than 7 million fans across all social media. Fun fact: she was even a featured voice in Dreamworks’ animated film “Trolls.”

She’ll be a host at the upcoming American Influencer Awards on Nov. 18 in Los Angeles along with Patrick Starrr. “I got my dress and I know Patrick will set the bar really high,” laughed Johnson in regard to Starrr’s bold fashion sense. “We’ll have a dress off!”

Here, Johnson talks about walking away from some beauty deals, why she doesn’t like the term “influencer,” bird-poop facial masks and why McDonald’s vanilla ice cream is dear to her heart.

WWD: What social media sites do you first look at in the morning and the last at night?

Kandee Johnson: Instagram — I have probably fallen asleep with Instagram. It has kept me up way too late. And then I probably go right back to Instagram in the morning. I do both Snapchat and Instagram Stories, but I love the Snapchat filters. I still use Facebook every day and there are some things I post on Facebook that I know get more views than YouTube because people share things so easily there. It is like speaking a different language….Facebook speaks to some people, Instagram to others…I want to speak to all people.

WWD: What beauty projects are you involved in?

K.J.: I can’t tell all… but I can say there is something in tools in the future and something that involves TV in the coming year.

For [my collaboration with] Sinful, it was amazing because they gave me so much freedom and control. There were no restraints — textures, sparkles and even naming the colors. Nail polish, whether you wear makeup or not, is something everyone uses.

With Too Faced and [founder Jerrod Blandino] it was just like talking to my friend and asking his opinion and one morning he said, “Do you want to do a collaboration with Too Faced?” I was like, “Are you kidding me!” When I look at my bathroom counter and there is a palette with my name on it, it doesn’t even feel real.

WWD: Do you ever see a Kandee makeup line of your own?

K.J.: It is something I have wanted to do for so many years. I would love to create everything I’ve ever wanted, things that don’t even exist. That is still a dream in my heart. I hope at some time I get to say I did that.

WWD: What’s the best way for a brand to interact with you? You must get so much product. Is it overwhelming?

K.J.: It is crazy now. In the beginning, when I first started doing YouTube, nobody sent anything. Then it escalated to one thing a week and I was in makeup heaven. I love makeup, I use everything. But as impersonal as the digital world is, there still needs to be a personal connection. I get things addressed to the wrong name, or it just says “hey beauties,” and I know that is going to everyone. I love hearing stories, like why a brand was created to make a difference such as help with eczema or other issues.

WWD: Would you walk away from a brand if the message didn’t resonate with your values?

K.J.: Being that I was one of the few people doing beauty videos before it was a thing, there was a lot more freedom. When brands first approached us, they were not paying. You’d be so excited when they sent a free mascara. The freedom was huge and you could do what you wanted because you loved the products. Then it progressed and now people have this huge list of talking points. For me, it has to be that I like this product and I’m going to tell you what I like. I won’t let someone tell me why I like something. I’ve walked away from offers because my integrity means more than dollars. With beauty brands, I know someone is going to spend hard-earned money or some young girl is going to ask her mom for money to buy something that I mentioned and I want to make sure it is something I believe.

WWD: Talking about something special to you, some questioned when you posted about McDonald’s, but there is more to that story, right?

K.J.: I don’t eat there every day, but I do love me some McDonald’s vanilla ice cream cone. McDonald’s is a huge thing in my life…I had gone through a time where I didn’t have a lot of money and I would go to McDonald’s and hope I found enough change to buy a 29-cent cheeseburger. Sugar packets and creamers were my meal. To see that McDonald’s reached out to me was surreal and made me cry about my life and what it has become.

WWD: Do you like the term “influencer?”

K.J.: It makes me want to throw up [she giggles]. I didn’t love “beauty guru” either. “Influencer” doesn’t make us sound influential…it is just blah. My mission is to come up with a new term.

WWD: What’s the strangest beauty product you ever tried?

K.J.: A friend made me try a face mask made of bird poop — they said the poop had been cleaned. We put it on and I didn’t see a difference because I rubbed the bird poop on and then quickly rinsed it off. I didn’t see any glow!