“I hate the c-word! What even is a celebrity?” said Drew Barrymore in an email, in regard to why celebrity beauty endorsements have transformed so much in recent years. It’s a valid question in a time when there are no longer just A- through D-list celebrities, but those who could arguably rank E-, F- or G-list, as well.
However she defines it, Barrymore is most definitely a celebrity, known for everything from “E.T.” to “Charlie’s Angels.” She’s also a beauty entrepreneur, launching in 2013 the makeup line Flower Beauty in partnership with Walmart. While at first it seemed like just another star-studded sponsorship — she herself had just wrapped a 7-year contract with Covergirl — Barrymore proved otherwise. She took a break from acting to build Flower Beauty and has since launched new products yearly. Although Walmart declined to offer figures, Flower Beauty will be launching its own e-commerce site later this month. Since 2014, the brand has also scooped up three of Allure’s coveted Best in Beauty awards for products like the Lighten Up! Brightening Concealer and the Miracle Matte Translucent Finishing Powder.
Barrymore’s prestige-beauty-at-mass-price effort is one of several efforts by high-profile celebrities to launch their own products, rather than simply enorse existing products. Eva Mendes in 2015 launched Circa Beauty, sold at Walgreens. Gabrielle Union just announced the release of a haircare line, Flawless, which will be available at Ulta. Salma Hayek entered the game before them all, launching Nuance Salma Hayek in 2011 at CVS.
That’s four major drugstore companies that are now in cahoots with celebrity beauty brands. Once content to simply smile for the camera or show up and say a few words on press day, celebrities today prefer to have greater ownership over the products they endorse, opting to research ingredients, design packaging and sample products until they’re satisfied with the results. Oh, and they want ownership stakes, too.
The social factor
One big change in celebrity culture is how social platforms from Facebook to Twitter to Instagram have allowed them direct connections with their fans. That comes also with an expectation when it comes to endorsing products.
“With the new transparency and authenticity of social media, brands — and the people behind them — are having to become much more accountable for their products, brand promises and points of view,” said Barrymore.
“Today’s consumer is so savvy and understands the difference between a paid spokesperson and someone who truly has ownership of a brand,” said Andy Rah, the vp of global marketing for Union’s new line. “In addition, celebrities now have the powerful reach of their own social media channels to speak directly to consumers and don’t have to rely on big brands to reach them through traditional media channels like print and TV.”
There’s an ongoing debate about celebrities using those very channels to shill product — call it the Kardashian effect — often without disclosing that they were paid. However, when it’s their own product line, one they seem genuinely invested in, endorsements appear less prone to attack.
“In my 42-year-long career, I have never slapped my name on something, promoted it for a bit, and then walked away,” said Barrymore. “I wouldn’t know how to do that. I would fail miserably at it.”
Any skeptical customer might be quick to dismiss such a comment — she was a Covergirl, after all. But, then again, Barrymore did stop to provide an interview on her line, during a busy press tour for her new Netflix show, no less. It was certainly more effort than the Nuance and Circa Beauty teams were willing to afford — reps for CVS and Walgreens treated inquiries on Hayek’s and Mendes’ participation in their lines like Sean Spicer hearing questions about the size of Trump’s inauguration.
But according to Rah of Flawless, Union will be following in Barrymore’s footsteps: “Gabrielle has been interested in creating her own haircare line for quite some time, and it just hasn’t worked out until now,” he said, noting that she brought an entire line of products she liked to their first meeting, along with concise notes about how to take them to the next level.
Rah insists that Union is “100 percent active” in the day-to-day operations of the brand. He said “not a single product has been produced without her testing and feedback.” Union also worked in conjunction with the company’s innovation, creative, education and brand teams to settle on final fragrances and packaging. The range, comprised of everything from shampoos to styling gels, was created with blends of Marula, Argan and avocado oils to address the issues women with textured hair face most: dryness, split ends, damage, brittleness and frizz.
Ulta, for its part, has operated more like a consultant, offering feedback on products, given their expertise in the field, and providing future retail and event space for the brand. Those events will include lucrative planned and surprise in-store visits from Union when the brand hits shelves on April 16.
According to Barrymore, Walmart plays a similar role for Flower Beauty. “They have really taken the the time to do their homework on learning everything they can about their customer,” she said, presumably saving her some time to focus on the “fun stuff.”
“One day, we’ll be working on component design, the next day, we’re seeing how far we can push a pigment to make sure the color payoff is just right. Recently, we took a trip to Asia to research all the leading innovation happening in K-Beauty and [are now] bringing those trends back and incorporating them into Flower formulas,” Barrymore said. And with 6.2 million Instagram followers, what she says and does (consistently) matters — because, as she points out, her audience has nearly equal power.
“These women are smart!” Barrymore said “It all goes back to social media, influencers and beauty bloggers. With all of the different platforms to share information, [they really] know their stuff when it comes to quality and value, and feel it’s their responsibility to share their opinions … for the greater good. You see it directly in their buying habits — they are not fooled by a name or the flashy advertising campaign behind a product. Name-slapping brands come and go so quickly.”
Today, there’s a more autonomous consumer who expects more and is not afraid to push even their dearest (“celebrity”) idols in that direction.