Aspiration Over Inspiration: Ethical Values And Consumer Choice Behaviour

We were used to flipping through magazines, taking notes of the lipsticks and eyeshadows that models were wearing in beauty ads. Now, with a simple Youtube search, we see a swatch, which in makeup lingo means “applying a sample of (paint, makeup, etc.) to a surface or one's skin to test or demonstrate the colour and texture.” We want to raise questions and get personal responses. The truth is, makeup is personal – and there is nothing more personal than getting a virtual experience of your next-to-be-purchased product from the comfort of your smartphone today. 

 

This is where influencers come to play – the most exploited tool of communication between a brand and its consumers. According to Forbes: “Global spending on influencer marketing has skyrocketed in recent years, rising from an estimated $2 billion in 2017 to about $8 billion in 2019. One forecast shows that spending is expected to jump to $15 billion by 2022.” Consumers tend to trust influencers that most match with their skin tones, style and personality because they want to identify with them, feel represented by them. 

However, losing trust is as quick as gaining approval. Since many brands pay influential personalities to sponsor their products, the line between what is true and what is not is often blurred. That is why influencers who openly disclose their endorsement deals and are willing to give negative reviews, when needed, are more likely to be followed by their fanbase. Nevertheless, consumers are more informed now. They want to test the efficacy of a product – as much as a label’s name or its founder’s may intrigue, it is not enough to push people to purchase. 

 

Many celebrities and influencers to the calibre of Kylie Jenner, Rihanna, Huda Kattan and Jeffrey Starr have launched their own cosmetics lines with the goal of reinforcing the loyalty of their community. Some are being rewarded for their inclusive approach, offering foundation ranges that adapt to every skin tone, others are focusing on all-natural ingredients, against animal testing and suitable for all ages and genders. Choosing to invest in the beauty market is the result of a strategic move to mobilise sales as it is not only considered more affordable to the younger generation, but also a very powerful tool of engagement and entertainment on social media. Just think of The Ordinary Peeling Solution that went viral on TikTok. According to InStyle, over 52,000 people bought the product after @kaelynwhitee posted a split-screen video of her skin, showing its state before and after.

However, consumers have sharp eyes when it comes to observing influencers and celebrities’ practices. Stranger Things actress Millie Bobby Brown was called out by fans and media outlets for having posted a video of her new beauty brand, Florence by Mills, performing a facsimile of scrubbing and rinsing her face without using the actual products. The incident led to a public apology on Instagram where the teen star stated: “I’m still learning the best way to share my routines as I get to know this space better — I’m not an expert. I thought doing a quick video replicating my personal process for that night was okay, but that’s not what was conveyed.” This episode proves how authenticity is just as important as the products that are marketed.

According to a survey run by global communications firm Edelman, consumers are as likely to express purchase intent after seeing a values-led communication as they are after seeing a product-focused message. “A brand must understand its audience and think long-term so that the stand it chooses authentically connects its values to its customers,” states Amanda Glasgow, U.S. chair, Brand, of Edelman.

Erika Boldrin, former Italian influencer and founder of Honieh, has been grounding her skincare line on integrity since its birth. From packaging to product formulas, Honieh – which is the acronym for “Healthy, Organic, Natural, Italian, Ethical” – is completely organic and vegan. “It’s been a long journey as it’s not easy to find companies that produce biologic and natural cosmetics in Italy. I wanted to create something young and fresh – a brand that people could relate to – without using unrealistic stereotypes of perfect girls that we are used to seeing on catwalks. Honieh’s representatives are normal girls from different body shapes, backgrounds and ethnicity.” 

Erika’s goal is not only to reinforce a community that takes care of their wellbeing, she also aims at positioning Honieh in the international beauty market as a reliable skincare brand that is ‘proudly made in Italy’ as stated on its Instagram bio. “There are a lot of beautiful, vegan skincare brands, famous for their clean packaging and natural formulas out there. I was tired of purchasing products from other countries, I wanted to support my own,” she explains. 

Surely, the fame of a brand can be influenced by its founder’s notoriety and impact on social media, but when does reputation turn into recognition? 

“Although Instagram is my original source of income, I don’t intend on exploiting my platform to push Honieh. I want customers to be objective. They need to pick Honieh consciously, perhaps because they heard it from a friend or got encouraged by the brand’s communication,” she explains. “Obviously being backed up by fellow influencers and journalists is an advantage as I have been able to send them samples and get feedback but that’s only a starting point. The true satisfaction is to witness Honieh’s bloom – not because it’s a temporary beauty trend, but because it makes people feel represented.” Honieh’s aesthetic is minimal and clean, its tone of voice is friendly and approachable, its messaging is direct, at times educational – the brand’s success derives from its ability to instil a sense of identification and realism to its customers. 

For over a decade, we have witnessed the rise of social media, being pawns in the hands of a society that strived to evolve. With its pros and cons, technology has changed consumerism, and the way we experience shopping. From embracing a new makeup trend to changing skincare routine, every single purchase is made accessible thanks to new, advanced digital platforms. Influencers can be an important key factor for the growth and development of a brand – as well as its own downfall. Their strength lies in their social media presence, allowing to create a deeper connection and sense of belonging with their audience. However, fame does not guarantee trust, and therefore does not necessarily turn into a sales driver. 

From a marketer perspective, what should not be underestimated are the values upon which a brand is founded. Influencer strategies need to be intrinsically linked to the label’s foundation of consciousness, transparency, and integrity – or else it’s just a shiny new toy destined to be left on a corner, once the hype is over.

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