Knowledge Bomb No. 14 - Cosmetic Changes

To significantly misquote Barack Obama, “you can put lipstick on Nigel Farage, but it’s still Nigel Farage”.  And yet as hideous as that image may very well be, the UK beauty market has proven hugely resistant to some of the more apocalyptic Brexit predictions by exceeding the £4bn mark in 2016: bigger than France, twice the size of Spain and Italy and second only to Germany across Europe. “We cannot speak for the category as a whole,” said Vita Liberata founder Alyson Hogg. “But in the week immediately following Brexit we saw a 34% spike in sales compared to last year”. With analysts still arguing as to whether this can by attributed to the Lipstick Index – a theory that in harsh economic times, women seek retail therapy in relatively low-cost luxury items – in Knowledge Bomb 14 we look at ways beauty brands are evolving, innovating and reaching new audiences.


The idea of co-creation is nothing new. From customizable Converse through to Domino’s personalized Pizza Legend – not to mention brands like H&M, Toms and New Balance offering design-your-own-clothing activations at UK festivals over the last few years – marketers have been keen to get customers hands-on with their products. The reasoning behind it is clear: in our UK Millennials Report, we showed that brands that offer co-creation to their audience are seen as more authentic by 34% of 16-34 year olds. Traditionally, beauty brands haven’t been able to enter this space but that now seems ripe for change. US startup LOLI – a cute acronym for Living Organic Loving Ingredients – offers subscribers a monthly box of blend-it-yourself beauty treatments, meaning customers can customize their own personal products. So far, the response has been enthusiastic, with coverage from media heavyweights like Vogue and Harper’s Bazaar and a plethora of influencer videos. Taking a similar route last Christmas was The Body Shop, who installed Body Butter personalisation stations in many of it's stores worldwide. Allowing shoppers to print their (or their loved ones) names onto individual tubs, the initiative allowed the brand to offer real value exchange to its customers.


In a recent survey by, over half of British women said that the men in their lives – be that fathers, boyfriends, brothers or otherwise – use their beauty products on the sly at least once a month. Coupled with Mr. Porter reporting a 300% increase in sales of male grooming products last year and the recent debut of James Charles as CoverGirl’s inaugural CoverBoy, it seems as if male beauty is having a moment (despite Charles’ efforts to sabotage his own success through highly injudicious use of Twitter). Through a combination of the rise of gender fluidity (56% of 13 to 20 year olds say someone they know uses gender-neutral pronouns, JWT reported last year) and the still relatively cash-rich British consumer, high-end products ranging from L’Oreal’s Clean Power – deodorant designed specifically for shaved male armpits – to shampoos such as Brave with a £27 price point have seen significant growth.



E-commerce and beauty have always been uneasy bedfollows. With consumers having a strong preference for physically trialing products prior to purchase, big brands have long been looking for ways to make the digital experience more tangible. To this end, earlier this month L’Oreal announced the first intake into its new partnership with Founders Factory, which will see five disruptive beauty tech startups hothoused each year. The class of ’17 covers a broad range of business models and geographic locations, with high-potential ventures from the US, Lithuania and China demonstrating products such as the Nailbot – a device and app that lets users design art on their smartphones that is then printed directly to their nails. London-based insitU, founded by Oxford-educated nuclear physicist Dr Maria Salichou looks to tap into tech-led personalisation trends by asking customers to complete a survey and upload a selfie. Following both human and algorithmic analysis, insitU then formulates a unique product set – branded with your name and shipped out within 48 hours.


Even at a time when disruption and innovation is revolutionising whole sectors at an unprecedented pace, the rate of change within beauty is something to behold. In order for brands to stand out from the crowd, their marketing and communications strategies need to tap into culture more than ever - and they need to ensure that's happening authentically and with agility. Inkling specialise in converting our clients' audiences by offering value exchange at the cutting edge of culture.

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