This case study was originally published on Modern Retail’s sibling publication Glossy.
Partnering with famous brands used to be somewhat of a right of passage for popular influencers-turned-celebrities as they established their online presence. But as their sponsored content has saturated feeds, many viewers have grown skeptical of the money advertisers are spending to woo them — especially in this economy.
Just like e-commerce, affiliate marketing saw a major spike during the pandemic with more than 50% of affiliate programs increasing their revenue during the lockdown. With brands unable to host the marketing events they traditionally relied on, many marketers used influencers to keep customers in touch with their brands. However, with the hashtag de-influencing recently trending on TikTok with 591 million views, skepticism around influencer marketing is rising, among consumers as well as brands.
Now that brands have resumed in-person events, marketers are striving to strike a balance between the newer world of affiliate marketing and traditional marketing channels, including events and experiences. In fact, in Glossy’s 2023 Q1 Research Roundup, nearly half of respondents (47%) said they allocate the majority of their marketing dollars to events over other traditional channels.
This report aims to uncover what companies are doing to effectively promote their brands through influencers both on socials and at curated brand events.
Since the original publication of this case study, Tarte has hosted more brand trips that went viral on social media, like the Tarte Island trip to Turks and Caicos and the F1 race trip to Miami. As Tarte continues to stick with its strategy to create viral moments through its brand trips, the Tarte trip to Dubai earlier this year continues to be a relevant case.
Tarte’s overarching goal for its Dubai trip was to create a socially amplified event that would pull consumer interest to the brand and its new foundation product. To do so, Tarte invited current top influencers with large followings, like Alix Earle (@alixearle on TikTok, 4.8 million followers), Meredith Duxbury (@meredithduxbury on TikTok, 17.8 million followers), the Mian Twins (@miantwins on TikTok, 6.9 million followers), Monet McMichael (@monetmcmichael on TikTok, 3 million followers), Christine Abraham (@christineabrahamm on TikTok, 906,000 followers) and Xandra Pohl (@xandrapohl on TikTok, 815,000 followers) to travel with the brand to Dubai.
Although the influencers weren’t required to post sponsored material, the Tarte team relied on the influencers to record their travels, post videos and hopefully create organic engagement on their platforms.
Maureen Kelly spoke exclusively with Glossy earlier this year and defended the team’s decision to prioritize a marketing budget for the company’s lavish trips. “We’ve never done traditional advertising, and instead we invest in building relationships and building up communities,” Kelly said.
Tarte also likely chose the influencer trip format to potentially save on cost. Typically, engaging mega-influencers can be a very expensive proposition. According to Influencer Marketing Hub, influencers with more than 1 million followers on TikTok earn over $2,500 per sponsored post. On Instagram, that can soar to more than $10,000.
Considering Alix Earle as an example, and using an available TikTok cost estimation calculator, the estimated cost for the 15 TikToks Earle posted during the Dubai trip would have totaled $35,000-$65,000. Based on a conservative estimate, Tarte would have paid over $1 million for posts from all 29 influencers had it taken this more traditional advertising route. Instead, Tarte opted to invite creators to generate original content by sending them on a trip providing gorgeous backdrops — with content engineered to prompt natural audience engagement, rather than sponsored posts, without the à la carte price tag.
Although she declined to share Tarte’s total investment in the Dubai trip, Kelly did disclose that the brand partnered with Sephora Middle East and other brands that provided free products to reduce total trip cost. Considering the large sums of money social media content creators charge for a single video, a first-class plane ticket and admittedly opulent room and board often serves as a more affordable option for brands.
Although the influencers on Tarte’s trip posted light-hearted GRWM and travel vlog-style videos, consumer commentary on the expense of the lavish trip soon bubbled to the surface of the online discourse. Many TikTokers speculated about the price tag of the event after getting a look at the flight and hotel arrangements, as well as the elaborate excursions included. This ignited a massive online debate.
Despite the bad press, Tarte did excel at creating an attention-grabbing event from scratch using influencers as a legitimizing anchor point. As consumers seek more relevant and authentic content, influencer trips that encourage organic content creation — even if the setting itself is manufactured — can be a great option for beauty brands to connect with potential customers. While not all brands can afford the extravagance of hosting a trip to Dubai, brands can learn from Tarte’s example of using partnerships with external vendors centrally within an event to generate buzz and create marketing material.
- Tarte created a flashy and luxurious event for mega-influencers to generate millions of views and more casual — though proven to be controversial — conversations with their audience.
- Tarte relied on influencers to generate organic content, allowing the brand to save money on paid posts.
Fashion week seating charts are taking a different shape as more influencers are invited to the events. Although some attendees are taken aback by the intrusion of this new generation of TikTokers, major brands and retailers are embracing the change. Kate Spade New York unveiled its fall 2023 collection with a presentation during New York Fashion Week at the Whitney Museum of American Art. The immersive presentation and collection focused on “the fun and joy of getting dressed,” according to designers.
As svps Tom Mora and Jennifer Lyu wanted the collection to “celebrate the moments in everyday life and the unexpected that can happen.” Therefore, it fit the brand’s vision to invite a set of influencers to its New York Fashion Week show who entertained many and kept trends moving forward virtually during the pandemic.
Kate Spade’s guest list included influencers Madeleine White (@madeleine_white, 4.1 million TikTok followers), Charles Gross (@charlesgross, 1.3 million TikTok followers), Simi Muhumuza (@simimoonlight, 291,000 Instagram followers), Taylor Hage (@tayhage, 1.6 million TikTok followers), Dylan Mulvaney (@dylanmulvaney, 10.8 million TikTok followers), Mary Lawless Lee (@marylawlesslee, 940,000 Instagran followers) and Kate Bartlett (@katebartlett, 1.3 million TikTok followers).
Aside from inviting influencers to engage with its new collection and the brand during fashion week, Kate Spade also partnered with fashion influencers Charles Gross and Madeleine White to co-host a livestream. Both wore the new fall 2023 collection and talked all things fashion with special guests via livestream. That included posing questions to celebrity personalities like late-night talk show host Ziwe and actress Emma Roberts, like “Describe your look in one word,” and “What’s your favorite piece in the new collection?” Viewers on social channels were given access to behind-the-scenes views of New York Fashion Week with commentary from Gross and White — both of whom are known for their extensive knowledge of high-end luxury designers.
To engage consumers, the event was broadcast on TikTok, Instagram and Facebook, as well as on katespade.com. The livestream was seemingly well received by FacebookWatch viewers, with 120 reactions, 106 comments and 17 shares. The show offered a more inclusive experience for viewers at home, who were able to see behind-the-scenes content live for a limited time and ask questions of brand reps, which they responded to in real-time.
The Kate Spade brand posted content created by Gross and White during New York Fashion Week, along with content from other influencers and celebrities, on its TikTok, Instagram and Twitter accounts. The posts received strong engagement — especially on Instagram, where the content received more than 50,000 likes. It also drove more than 64,000 views on TikTok and 163,000 Twitter impressions.
Inviting popular influencers aligning with the brand was a strategic move, based on the brand’s objectives. According to CEO Liz Fraser, “It’s so hard when you have a heritage as rich as ours — you want to stay true to the DNA, but push forward.”
“See and be seen … and then film yourself and take a couple more pictures, so they can see you again later.”
- Kate Spade selected influencers, like Charles Gross and Madeleine White, who align with the brand’s legacy image but also speak to a younger demographic that the brand is trying to target. That’s especially on TikTok where the majority of users are between 18-24 years old (71%).
- In addition to having influencers host its livestream, the brand reposted influencer content from NYFW on its owned handles. The re-posts were well received on all platforms, especially FacebookLive and Instagram.
Rather than create its own event, like Tarte did, Fenty centered its activations on the Super Bowl and its surrounding media moments to shine a spotlight on its brands. Similar to Kate Spade at NYFW, Fenty did not have to do the legwork of promoting the Super Bowl event itself. Instead, Fenty worked its brands’ touchpoints into the already established environment.
The brands created ways for fans, even those not interested in football, to participate in Super Bowl festivities. For example, lingerie-focused Savage X Fenty sold exclusive Super Bowl-related merchandise online and in-person at pop-up shops. Fenty Beauty released limited-edition football-themed beauty products, and shared the product details for Rihanna’s halftime look in Instagram posts. Fenty Beauty also enlisted NFL reporter Erin Andrews and singer-actress Sheryl Lee Ralph to wear the brand’s products, which were featured in behind-the-scenes videos on Instagram Stories. Popular products quickly sold out on Fenty websites after the halftime show performance.
“[These examples] are such a beautiful way of integrating Fenty without being too branded or over the top,” said Bilal Kaiser, principal of creative and influencer firm Agency Guacamole.
Fenty Beauty sponsored Super Bowl trips for popular influencers Bretman Rock (@bretmanrock, 15.2 million TikTok followers), Mikayla Nogueira (@mikaylanogueira, 14.6 million TikTok followers), Golloria George (@golloria, 1.1 million TikTok followers) and Stephanie Valentine (@glamzilla, 1.7 million TikTok followers). Traveling to Arizona for the brand’s “Fenty Bowl” weekend, the influencers brought along their millions of followers — sports fans and non-sports fans alike — to a series of events and their Fenty-sponsored hotel rooms.
Similar to Tarte’s approach, Fenty created an opportunity for influencers to want to participate in Super Bowl festivities and generate their own Fenty-related content. The influencers used the event’s slick set pieces and their exclusive behind-the-scenes access as a backdrop.
Bella Gerard, a freelance writer and influencer (@bellagerard, 107,000 TikTok followers), told Glossy that, for influencers, “optics are everything”. There are three reasons for this, according to Gerard, “First, you obviously want to look like you’re going to cool things for your followers, and you want to create cool content for them. To do that, you have to be in the cool spots. You want to look like you get invited to all the hottest things, and you want to be able to produce content that could potentially make you money at those things,” she said. If influencers want to be invited or included in events like these in the future, they will feel the pressure to post organically.
But interestingly — and perhaps because the Super Bowl event came on the heels of the Tarte Dubai trip controversy — the Fenty brands did not over-promote their use of influencers. For instance, on TikTok, Fenty Beauty only posted three videos featuring the influencers during the Super Bowl weekend and subsequent weeks. Instead, Fenty Beauty opted to post popular memes and soundbites from Rihanna’s halftime show performance, relying on the influencers to post on their own social media accounts to make their presence known. In comparison, Tarte Cosmetics posted seven videos on the brand’s TikTok account, and each attending influencer posted more than 10 videos individually.
Bretman Rock advertised his participation in the brand event with an Instagram post that was liked by over 1.3 million users. Mikayla Nogueira similarly posted on Instagram and received over 270,000 likes. In the shadow of a monumental event like the Super Bowl, this approach may have helped Fenty Beauty’s promotions feel less forced and more inviting for curious viewers.
Rather than serving up the influencers as the main event, like Tarte did, or positioning them to see and be seen, like Kate Spade, the Fenty influencers took a backseat to the big show. Instead, influencers were used not so much as celebrities, but as a point of connection for fans to feel involved in the experience. The Fenty team provided them access to a coveted event and let them do what they do best: connect with their fans organically. That allowed the influencers to engage their audiences around an event they may otherwise have ignored.
A potential result of using this different influencer-event strategy would be that members of these new audiences would then mention the Super Bowl in their own posts, allowing for more buzz post performance. In fact, following the performance, mentions of Fenty increased on digital platforms like Twitter and TikTok by 71%, and positive sentiment shot up 781%, with over half (56%) of mentions using joyous language and demonstrating audience excitement, according to Brandwatch.
Rihanna’s halftime performance garnered $5.6 million in Media Impact Value (MIV) in the first 12 hours for Fenty Beauty and $2.6 million in MIV in the first 12 hours for Savage X Fenty, according to Launchmetrics. MIV is Launchmetrics’ method of measuring and benchmarking the financial impact and value of earned media placements and mentions across channels.
Fenty used the massive popularity of the Super Bowl and once-in-a-lifetime Rihanna halftime performance to highlight the brand, likely driving interested consumers to seek more adjacent content or to shop on brand sites. Instead of locking into costly contracts to promote the Fenty brands, Rihanna’s company used an unsponsored moment that had a virtual guarantee of going viral to allow key influencers to duck the velvet ropes and organically promote the products.
- Fenty brands used natural event pockets at the Super Bowl to integrate advertising moments, such as enlisting celebrities and influencers to wear products on screen.
- Taking advantage of the most-watched TV event of the year, Fenty brands created a sense of inclusiveness for fans by releasing limited-edition merchandise.
Brands inviting social media influencers to curated events, rather than partnering on traditional sponsored posts, have succeeded in engaging and captivating viewers — mostly positively, but sometimes negatively.
Although a trip to Dubai, to New York Fashion Week or to the Super Bowl may not align with every marketer’s strategy, brands can learn from these examples of creating a siloed event specific to a brand or attaching a brand to a pre-existing moment. The event moments created by all three brands were shared in authentic ways through the lenses of influencers. That helped to make the experiences feel more natural and memorable to viewers.
- When creating an event centered around the brand, natural touchpoints to bring in viewers — like popular influencers with active fan bases — are needed to engage a larger audience.
- Tarte created from scratch a lavish, trip-centered event that revolved around the influencers, but it wound up feeling forced to many consumers due to the company’s apparent intention to promote the brand.
- If looking to engage a new audience demographic or widen the reach of a traditionally exclusive event with a limited guest list, social media technology like livestreams can offer valuable support.
- Kate Spade aimed to revitalize its brand, especially among a younger Gen Z audience, with a fresh collection presented to some of the most popular fashion influencers of today – while livestreaming to a larger audience with support from two of-the-moment influencers.
- If attaching your brand to an external event, like a festival or large stage, focus on tapping into advertising moments that are authentic to the brand.
- Fenty leaned into an existing, headline-making event that already centered around entertainment. As a result, the brand’s more purposive activations — like its own influencer gathering — felt more appropriate, especially alongside Rihanna’s larger-than-life moments.