On the surface the beauty industry appears to simply arm customers with products to enhance their confidence, alter their appearance or provide a sense of glamour. But it has long been so much more than that. Dating back to the Suffragette movement, the use of red lipstick was a powerful political statement, arming women with the bold and powerful armour needed to stand up independently and fight in the face of inequality. Today, the beauty industry remains saturated in activism. Something which is extremely important in an era dominated by a turbulent political landscape. The consumer journey is now so much more than simply purchasing products; customers want to support businesses that are driven by a strong political message which aligns with their own.

“Aligning ourselves with beauty brands that are using their platforms to empower, embattle and break down boundaries, puts the power back in our hands,” says Cult Beauty founder, Alexia Inge

In May of this year, the world was spun into global unrest regarding the futile murder of George Floyd. Many large beauty companies were quick to utilise the reach their social media platforms have in supporting the Black Lives Matter movement; and in speaking out against these injustices. While these words of support are important for educating their consumers on such issues, it’s also important for these brands to act. American beauty giants, ColourPop, extended their condemnation of such inequalities by pledging to donate to organisations working to support black communities. To coincide with this, they stated that they were also committed to create change by promoting representation and inclusivity.

Beauty brand, Deciem, also showed support for the Black Lives Matter movement.

The beauty community’s relationship with inclusivity has not been observable throughout the decades. In 2018, Tarte received backlash as they debuted a new foundation with a range of only 15 shades, with only 2 of these accommodating darker complexions. These static beauty standards had once again neglected a huge proportion of its consumers by excluding those unable to find their match. It is surprising to learn that just a few months later, the Fenty Beauty brand burst onto the scene having an explosive impact later named #TheFentyEffect. The brand was launched with 40 foundation shades – a far cry from what Tarte had released just months earlier. It would be selling the Fenty brand short to label this effect as anything short of innovative, as this range of shades has now become the norm and consumers are refusing to accept anything short of this!

David Kirkpatrick, writing for MarketingDive, found that while social media has provided companies with many benefits, from growing consumer bases to engaging in fast communication with customers, the negative effects can prove detrimental to companies. He found that 81% of U.S. consumers believe social media has rapidly increased brand accountability. Q3 Sprout Social Index administered a study, which uncovered that consumers are prepared to call our brands on social media, with millennials being the most likely to do this. It is interesting to note, 56% of these millennials had admitted to having complained about or had called out brands on social media. This research indicates the emphasis brands must now put on reputation management to ensure they do not encounter the same hurdles Tarte did.

More recently, beauty brands have been exercising this political activism in emphasising the importance to their consumers in voting in the upcoming US election through various social media driven campaigns. While many companies have been forthcoming expressing their political opinions; history was made when a new brand appeared on the scene as “Biden Beauty”. Yes, you heard right, Biden Beauty is in fact a real beauty brand! The company is selling a blue, beauty makeup sponge and encouraging their consumers to use this to create a makeup look to wear to the polling station. All profits from the company are being contributed to the Biden Victory Fund in hopes that this will secure a win for the Democratic party.

Beauty brand, Alleyoop, was also in favour of encouraging their customers to vote. The brand has pledged to give away a free item with a value of up to $20 to everyone who makes the trip to the polling station. The first 50,000 people who vote will be able to avail of this. This product giveaway could potentially cost the company $1 million. Brand owner, Kashani, described how they must do something crazy to change the voting statistics. Well, it’s definitely crazy!

Sharon Chuter, founder of inclusive makeup brand, Uoma Beauty, stated that “Gen Z is putting their money where their values are…”. She believes consumers are more willing to shop with companies who use their platforms to spread awareness of political issues; and who share the same values as their consumer base. However, it is important for brands to navigate this uneasy landscape with care as consumers are becoming increasingly aware of performative activism. In which companies are aligning themselves with political activism simply to appeal to consumers and drive sales; but the heart of the company is not in creating change. Chuter again shared her opinion on this issue, depicting her worry that brands will now see activism as a marketing tool, which will quickly become more dangerous than helpful.

On the surface, the beauty industry appears to simply arm customers with products to enhance their confidence, alter their appearance or provide a sense of glamour. But it is and always has been, so much more than that.

Cheyenne Doyle is a final year BSc Communication Management and Public Relations student at Ulster University. She can be found on: Linkedin – Cheyenne Doyle and Instagram – Ch.eyenne

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