E.l.f. Cosmetics doesn’t want for creativity. After launching a TikTok reality show last year and turning a “Jeopardy” flub into a marketing win this year, the beauty brand is at it again — this time with a TikTok holiday “movie” called “Big Mood, Big E.l.fing City.”
The long-form video project, set to release on Wednesday, features high-profile personalities from the community, nods to viral trends and products from the Holy Grail makeup line, including a preview of an upcoming new product.
The term “movie” seems to be used loosely here, considering TikTok only allows videos of up to three minutes. But E.l.f. worked around the limitation by splitting the story into three separate three-minute videos, set to air on its official @elfyeah account. The company is promoting the project as a reinvention of the holiday movie and the first time a brand has launched a TikTok-native film, crowdsourced from the community.
“Big Mood, Big E.l.fing City” features well-known TikTok creators Fia James and Adam Ray, with appearances by Stephanie Valentine (aka Glamzilla), Kalen Allen and Vanessa Pena.
James plays Ash, the main character who heads to the Big City to surprise her best friend. When she finds out that he’s out of town, four elves — or “e.l.f.z” — step in to keep the cheer going and set Ash off on a holiday adventure. The magical new friends represent Holy Grail cosmetics Big Mood Mascara, Poreless Putty Primer, Camo CC Cream and the upcoming Power Grip Primer (voiced by Ray).
Power Grip Primer hasn’t been released yet, so “Big Mood, Big E.l.f.ing City” is akin to a sneak preview, or maybe a product placement, except one where the brand is fully in control. (Peloton may want to take note.) But the story and style was shaped by, and for, the social video network.
“We love to take emerging talents, creators and artists, and bring their talent forward, and we know how much that’s adored on TikTok,” Kory Marchisotto, chief marketing officer of E.l.f. Beauty, told WWD. E.l.f Beauty owns E.l.f. Cosmetics, as well as W3ll People and Keys Soulcare. “Giving the community the opportunity to engage in this longer-form content with a brand like E.l.f. gives these creators a platform upon which they can have a voice, and we can shine a spotlight on it. Being very native to the platform, this is a piece of entertainment that is created by TikTok for TikTok.”
A casting call went out on the social video network and winners were selected from the duets that rolled in. The movie’s content took cues from TikTok creators and cultural moments, using popular features like green screen effects and adding throwbacks to trends, including sea shanties and the “and it went like” song, plus other photos and vids.
The TikTok sensibility also extends to the aesthetic, which eschews refined production value to fit in with feeds bursting with smartphone videos. The choice lines up with the social media company’s research, which suggests users feel more connected to brands that share “unpolished content.”
This may be true, but the project is poised to attract a large audience regardless. The cast alone has a combined reach of almost 13 million, according to Marchisotto.
If that’s not enough, actress Sarah Hyland, from “Modern Family,” will add more star power to the affair. Although she doesn’t appear in the movie, she’ll celebrate the debut through her own TikTok account, watching the videos, glamming up with her favorite E.l.f. products and sharing her favorite holiday movie traditions.
The final touch may be the music. As the first beauty brand to release a music album and hit the Billboard top 20, the company wasn’t keen to skip over the soundtrack. So it’s invoking its original holiday album, “E.l.f. the Hauls” — a product of another crowdsourced campaign on music video app Triller — to put remixes of “Deck the Halls,” “Jingle Bells” and other seasonal tunes in fans’ ears.
“I think the TikTok enthusiast and E.l.f. super-fan will absolutely see this as an incredible moment of entertainment that brings the joy, positivity and range of emotions that they’re used to seeing from our brands,” Marchisotto said.
The campaign may seem like a simple feel-good confection, but Movers and Shakers, the creative agency behind E.l.f.’s viral #eyeslipsface challenge and its current holiday movie, argues that it’s much more than that. According to Evan Horowitz, the agency’s chief executive officer and cofounder, the effort is indicative of social media marketing’s next generation of “participatory entertainment,” and E.l.f. is at the forefront of it.
While conceptualizing “Big Mood, Big E.l.fing City,” he said, “we knew that consumers are hungry to be a part of their favorite brands’ stories. They don’t just want to see people like them, they want to personally be invited into the action.”
Figuring that out can take a lot of creativity. But that looks like Marchisotto’s specialty.
E.l.f.’s knack for social media preceded her, but she since she became chief marketing officer three years ago, the brand’s string of trending campaigns and viral moments has helped rack up business and market share, even during the pandemic. Now the company, which just reported $91.9 million in net sales in its latest quarterly earnings, may be heading for a cool dozen consecutive quarters of sales growth.
There were several reasons for that, including savvy supply chain management and the launch of new products. But TikTok campaigns and other viral moments — like befriending a game show contestant who thought “E.l.f.” stood for “ears, lips, face” — helped and apparently quite a lot. (For the record, it’s “eyes, lips, face.”)
Reportedly, TikTok has been testing a longer format in recent months, and if it launches, that could open up even more possibilities for Marchisotto. After all, if she can turn 15 seconds into a reality show and three-minute videos into a movie, imagine what she could do with five whole minutes.