Since Maureen Kelly, founder and chief executive officer of Tarte Cosmetics, founded the “eco-chic” company 15 years ago in her apartment, the rules of engagement have changed dramatically.

This story first appeared in the October 8, 2014 issue of WWD. Subscribe Today.

In a presentation titled “Embracing the Rise of Web Stars,” Kelly said that when she started, the credible sources were magazines and print. Since Tarte couldn’t afford celebrity spokesmodels, the company had to rely solely on p.r. vehicles and the makeup artist community to get products in the hands of celebrities such as Jennifer Garner and Rachel Bilson.

Back then, the ultimate social influencer was Oprah Winfrey, whom she described as “the most credible source” via print, digital and her TV show. She said when Tarte’s lip gloss made Oprah’s favorite list, it generated a 1,192 percent increase in business the next day. Other TV influencers were “The View,” the “Today” show, “Ellen” and “Dr. Oz,” and when products were featured, sales skyrocketed.

Now, Tarte looks for a new kind of influencer beyond traditional media and has turned to QVC. “It has a really different business model than brick-and-mortar stores and really sparked us to think about our communications strategy differently,” said Kelly. On QVC’s “Today’s Special Value,” segment, which is a collection of products available for one day, they can do $3 million or $4 million of sales in one day. Tarte partnered with 11 bloggers and vloggers such as Elle and Blair Fowler. It sent the women the makeup kit and they put it on Twitter, YouTube and Instagram “and the collection sold out. It brought hundreds of new names to QVC,” she said, especially younger customers.

Separately, the beauty firm partnered with Aqualillies, a glamorous synchronized swimming group, who wore Tarte makeup while performing. “They were the perfect muses for our summer makeup collection…and we got over three million media impressions,” said Kelly. This promotion was for products sold at Sephora,, Ulta,, and

The new class of media influencers represent a different kind of celebrity, said Kelly. “They create their own rules, they’re real women, most of them with real day jobs. They’re strong role models with positive philosophies,” she said. She pointed out that on Instagram, President Obama has 3.5 million followers, Oprah has three million followers, and blogger/vlogger Vegas Nay has 2.6 million followers. She said these Web celebrities are getting magazine covers, they appear on reality TV and are being recognized at the Teen Choice Awards.

Since 2011, Tarte has built a custom marketing campaign around grav3yard girl, who reviews products for the company. “She’s a real girl. She doesn’t always have a full face of makeup on….She speaks about depression and having anxiety attacks. Young girls relate to her,” said Kelly. She described a “meet and greet” with her, which was promoted on Tarte’s and her social pages. “Thousands of fans showed up. At 9 a.m., when the doors opened, there were 1,000 people lining along the street. By the afternoon, there were thousands. New York City Police had to put up barricades….Young girls were out there screaming her name. We more than doubled our sales goals,” said Kelly. “This represented a really new way for us to work with a YouTube star. It was a full partnership tailored around her following, our following, and it resulted in really significant dollars.”

She said generally branding is hard to put a return on. “This is instant and it’s measurable,” she said.

For holiday, Tarte is turning to singer-songwriter Kina Grannis, whose single on YouTube got 97 million views as part of the Doritos “Crash the Super Bowl” contest. “She’s the perfect muse for our holiday collection,” she said. “She’s real, eco-conscious and has a day job and has a huge global following,” said Kelly. “She has tons of views who probably never heard of Tarte. She’s the face of the visual campaign and it’s an interesting collaboration for us. We’re moving toward music, entertainment and lifestyle to really extend our reach.”

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