Tracking the beauty industry involves staying up to date on what’s happening in the world of the beauty influencer. Most of the time this provides perspective on what’s trending with regard to products, ingredients and brands, but sometimes it provides the kind of entertainment one might typically find on reality television. While the drama might feel like big news to those of us watching the industry closely, it usually stays within the confines of beauty enthusiast circles, rarely seeping out into the mainstream. And so I knew a scandal of epic proportions was brewing when my sports- and video-obsessed 12-year-old son, who couldn't care less about beauty and what I do for a living, asked me, “Mom, what the heck is going on with James Charles and Tati Westbrook?” on the day the scandal broke. My head spun around so fast (how does he even know these names?), and I immediately reached for my phone and started to Google. What I unveiled did not disappoint. Pass the popcorn.
At this point many of us are well-aware of the story of the latest Dramageddon in beauty, featuring James, Tati and Jeffree Star, three titans of the beauty influencer community. Since the story broke, it has hit the mainstream in a big way, featured across all the major news outlets for several days. But while drama can impact follower count, does it impact sales and revenue? Is it true that, as the old saying goes, “there is no such thing as bad publicity”?
Outside of scandals and drama, we know the impacts influencers can have on product sales. Looking at weekly performance across makeup and skincare, we’ve seen many examples of how influencer-sponsored posts can boost dollar sales for the products they promote. There’s no question that influencers have influence, at least in beauty. But what happens when an influencer or a brand is impacted by scandal? In today’s environment of extreme transparency and “call-out” culture, observance of weekly data has shown that the initial shock to dollars can rebound over time. One example that immediately comes to mind is that of a U.S.-based brand accused of cultural appropriation after releasing a product collection promoting the Chinese Lunar New Year. The week following this scandal, brand sales dipped -7 percent, but average weekly sales thereafter averaged +10 percent growth. While there are typically short-term impacts on sales, scandals do not appear to affect overall brand performance if the brand had strong performance prior to the scandal.
At the end of the day, all this drama, while entertaining, can be exhausting. As we enter into what might be the age of influencer fatigue, it could have significant impacts on the beauty industry, which has become so reliant on influencer marketing. On the flip side, it could present an opportunity for beauty brands that intentionally keep personal drama out of their business models. Yes, it’s an old-school concept, but it just might feel refreshing after all the Dramageddons.