Should Big Budget Beauty Launches (And Press Trips) Be A Thing Of The Past?

A decade ago, when I was working in the heart of the beauty industry at one of the high street’s most well known names, ‘big beauty launches’ involved the following things: expensive in-store displays, a big discount offer, a PR push to magazines, lots of press advertising and (if you were lucky) a TV campaign that drove traffic to store. As consumers we got all of our information from glossy mags, celebrity ads and daytime telly, but impulse purchases while wandering through Boots were also big business. In less than ten years the landscape of beauty marketing has changed forever, with budgets being (in some cases) completely diverted away from TV and press altogether, instead spent on blogger endorsed campaigns and Daily-Fail homepage takeovers. With print media titles having been reduced to only a handful, that energy and budget is now understandably being diverted to the bloggers and vloggers who collectively have a larger audience than any of those glossy mags combined.

What started off as an overwhelming amount of samples floating around and being sent out to those they wanted to feature a piece of NPD, has evolved into the most extravagant and (in my opinion) cost-inefficient ways of getting the attention of those with a certain number of Instagram followers – and in 2018 for many of us it’s starting to feel a bit crass. For the longest time magazine editors were whisked away on all-expenses-paid trips to exotic locations, gifted designer handbags and given money-can’t-buy opportunities as a way to retain their attention and interest; but the important difference was that, until now, it was never visible. It all happened under the radar and without the consumer’s knowledge of how the industry really worked.

With the change in media landscape and the transference of print to digital, the important factor to consider is that now everything we do is only an Insta-snap, hop, skip and a jump away from being public knowledge. Every stage of that press trip is documented, every extravagant gift and experience shared; it all helps to form an aspirational and glamorous lifestyle that many of us can only dream of, with a side note of pimping out the latest makeup launch. Collectively we lap up those beautifully curated and posed beach-side shots, adore the Snapchats and Insta-Stories of their exotic breakfasts and new bikini purchases, but after a while does it get too much? The conversation across social media platforms has got me thinking so.

Don’t get me wrong, any one of us would happily say ‘yes please’ to an all expenses paid trip to the Maldives; the fault or issue in my opinion lies not with the bloggers, who are simply reaping the rewards for their years of hard work, but more with the brands, who happily spend hundreds of thousands of pounds flying influencers in from all over the world to celebrate the launch of a new mascara. Their objective is undoubtedly exposure and sales, and I wonder how many of these trips and gloriously shot Instagram images actually translate into readers handing over their hard earned cash – especially when the product is far from the focus. (The most recent press trip that’s gotten the bloggersphere all in a tizz? I’ve seen a bazillion pictures of them having a great time, and a singular stand-alone image to date of the new product they’re launching.)

As the industry becomes increasingly saturated, more and more brands are vying for the attention of those with an audience; it’s inevitable that they have to go in harder and more exceptional to maintain their interest and achieve the coverage they’re under pressure to deliver, but when it becomes a glorified jolly consumers start to query the purpose and whether it was really necessary. We collectively start to question the authenticity of the opinion when they’re being showered with gifts and trips, even if we are a more than a smidge jealous. We wonder how much of the retail price of products goes towards these expensive trips and experiences, and it opens up a can of worms about the ethics of the industry.

In the interests of looking at this issue from all sides, I asked you guys what you thought. In a Twitter poll I asked what you thought of the big beauty launches and the extravagant trips that went with them, and 59% said they felt a bit OTT and crass; 16% worried this impacted the price, while 25% said they thought they were fab and were a bit jel! (FYI there were over 750 responses, so a good and well-rounded baseline.) Here are some fascinating insights and thoughts from other bloggers and consumers that you may find quite thought provoking…

@OMGgemma: “I think they are a bit OTT. I don’t place blame with the bloggers or people invited though, anyone would take that opportunity but I do think we have got to a stage where brands have to go bigger and better to compete in the eyes of the audience.”

@BethXLouiseX: “I feel like some of them aren’t related to the product and are just a competition as to which brand can have the best holiday.”

@ChloeWitty: “I’d go on a trip like that in a heartbeat but I’m also very sick of seeing the same people being whisked away. They need to have relevance to the product otherwise I find them crass.”

@Lisa_Tait: “Bloggers on holiday isn’t making me buy a mascara, it’s making me want a holiday & wardrobe upgrade.”

@Coffee_Blogging: “I think they seem a little too much in all honesty! I like when you get to see the whole product in action; from design to actually making products and then even the packaging.”

@MummysCorner: “It’s amazing that bloggers have these amazing opportunities nowadays but luxurious holidays that have nothing to do with the product launch are totally OTT and unnecessary in my opinion!”

@Lil_Fairy_Doll: “I see it as just an attempt to sway bloggers /influencers attending… You hardly ever see them criticise these products and it totally prevents me from buying.”

@WellsyWoo: “I wonder how genuine the review/blog is after being taken on such an extravagant trip.”

@Mrs_Tubbs: “Most trips don’t seem very relevant to the product at hand. If the product is meh, it ends up looking like a bribe to overlook that basic detail and only talk about the lovely time you’ve had.”

@MikhilaMcDaid: “As a consumer, a blogger trip doesn’t make me want to buy the product any more and most of the social sharing has nothing to do with the actual launch. More ‘look how much fun we’re having’… This is why people hate influencers!”

@JayneKitch: “If the trip is irrelevant to telling the brand story then it’s just the brand bribing people to write about them because the product on its own wasn’t exciting or engaging enough.”

@NerdAboutTown: “I think it’s important that the campaign/launch should have something in common with said trip, otherwise it just looks like extravagant bribery.”

@ohaipatricia: “It puts me off buying from that brand. Completely unnecessary. A launch party with cocktails? Ok! A trip to the maldives for 10-20 bloggers? No!”

@alicekathleenb_: “They look fabulous but honestly they don’t make me anymore likely to buy the product. If anything I become disinterested because the trips have become so outrageous… I feel like people who usually barely mention a brand are suddenly all about said brand?”

So what’s my personal opinion? I don’t have any issue with bloggers or influencers being whisked away on incredible trips whatsoever; we’ve all worked hard, over a period of often years, to build up an audience and loyal readership that really does compete with other forms of media. Having been away on many a press trip myself, they’re often informative and leave you with a real understanding of the brand and product in question that you can retain for years to come – if they’re done right. One of the best experiences I’ve ever had as a blogger was a trip to the L’Oreal labs in Paris, which combined a rather fancy hotel stay and extravagant dinner with a hardcore full days work getting to know the science behind the brand and what they had coming up in the year to come. (I generated no less than six Instagram posts and four blog posts from those 48hrs in Paris!) They’re not supposed to be a jolly – they’re supposed to be work, even if in a rather nice setting.

From both a blogger and brand point of view, I feel like these trips need to add value, build a relationship and tell a story; they need to provide amples of content and leave the creator in question itching to share everything with their audience. When a press trip is formulated effectively it really is work, leaving you feeling like you actually need a holiday to recover from the holiday, but more often than not they now appear to be nothing more than a way to keep influencers on side and offer a nice backdrop for a few outfit shots. Consumers are no longer buying it and are in fact starting to question the motives and the cost behind such experiences, especially with the economic climate the way that it currently is.

Jane from British Beauty Blogger summed up the latest controversy perfectly in a recent post: “Benefit has been heavily criticized for lavish and conspicuous spending at a time when economic power play isn’t as well received as it once may have been. I have a feeling one way and another that the launch of Badgal Bang is one of the last of its type that we’ll see. There’s a great feature in the Guardian that says, “When asked what comes to mind when they (Gen Z) think of global corporations, they typically volunteer words such as exploitative, selfish, arrogant, greedy, cheating and untrustworthy,” and bearing in mind Gen Z will form a large part of the current and future consumer for any beauty brands, how you present is crucial.” If brands are seen to lavishly spend on influencers who are in turn normalising experiences that often cost more than someone’s yearly salary, it leaves a bitter taste in the mouth of the consumer that’s more economically aware than they ever have been before.

So how can brands work moving forward, ensuring wise investment and effective PR while building relationships they can capitalise on in the years to come? Firstly, stop trying to out-do everyone else, and instead focus on creating an experience that’s relevant to your brand or launch; some of the best press trips I’ve seen have been to honey farms, rose fields and Swiss spas – not exotic beach resorts. Secondly, understand how the experiences are perceived by the consumer and take that into consideration; if your objective is to sell product, find interesting ways of telling that story instead of trying to make an influencer your best mate. (The reaction to the latest influencer trip says a lot about the state of the beauty industry and how it needs to evolve to stay relevant.) Thirdly and finally, don’t always default to a trip away when there are so many other ways of engaging with your audience.

And as @iamkristabel said: I would have preferred that the brand spend the money formulating a decent foundation shade range instead…” Just a thought.

What are your thoughts on extravagant beauty launches and influencer press trips? I’d love to hear from bloggers, brands and consumers – do they work, do you like seeing them and do they help inform your purchasing decisions?  

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25 Comments

  1. Terri Lowe
    February 8, 2018 / 10:20 am

    I find the extravagant trips all very confusing. They're irrelevant to most of the products and also seem like a bit of a pissing contests between brands, rather than putting the consumer and their buying habits first. I must admit, I rarely buy stuff any more based on influencer recommendations, as I know a lot is hype and press samples. I've found myself actually succumbing to the opinions and hype from real people on a facebook group called 'Mrs Gloss and the Goss'. It's actually interesting, as most of the stuff they recommend is ALWAYS sold out in store upon launch. The L'oreal Paradise Mascara and MUA concealers are two examples. I've not seen any blogs really mention them, but daily they're on this group and every time I'm in store they're out of stock!

    • Hayley Hall
      February 8, 2018 / 1:03 pm

      That's a great group! Unfortunately the majority ruin it for the minority that genuinely do only recommend products they love; I for one don't care for keeping relationships with brands over readers, because if your readers can't trust you you have nothing. I've taken to going back to buying stuff and diversifying what I feature, because just talking about press samples is quite limiting.

  2. fakefrenchgirl
    February 8, 2018 / 10:29 am

    I've been following along with this one via instagram. Then I looked at how much it would cost for my husband and I to take a trip to the Maldives. A night in an average room without all the extras is about $900 a night. Then I thought about all the people that went, their husbands/boyfriends, all the food they ate, the excursions they went on and the first class flights they had to take to get there. Benefit must have spent a small fortune for that trip and I still don't even know if the mascara is volumizing, lengthening or waterproof yet.

    • Sasha G
      February 8, 2018 / 11:04 am

      Lol! It's very true, I'm not entirely sure of the major selling points of the mascara yet either!

    • Áine McGovern
      February 8, 2018 / 12:10 pm

      Definitely! We were going there on our honeymoon and it was expensive, we had to save for ages for it – sadly I got made redundant and that all came to a stop. I've read about the mascara from bloggers that didn't go on the press trip and it seems to be all three – volumizing, lengthening and waterproof! It actually seems decent, it just made me laugh that I had to read if from other people.

    • Hayley Hall
      February 8, 2018 / 1:05 pm

      Yep, same. I've got the mascara (review to follow) but haven't learned anything from those on the trip. This isn't about the bloggers or brand specifically that are in the Maldives FYI, but more the way the industry has moved and how there's a disconnect.

  3. Lena
    February 8, 2018 / 10:41 am

    Big influencer trips haven't been something that makes me buy the product. More than anything, they make me want to go to the location! I've heard nothing about the performance of the mascara. Same with Tarte's big trips. Seeing cocktail parties etc doesn't really excite me either. I attend parties as a blogger but try to post more about the products or the brand if it's a more general event than 'look at me having fun'. It must cost a fortune and I wonder what return they get on it. I suppose it's got us all talking, and the brand is in our heads now? Like you say, traditional press is on the decline. I used to buy magazines weekly and monthly, now I buy a handful each year and spend hours online instead.

  4. Jo Lusher
    February 8, 2018 / 11:00 am

    I don't have any problem with it at all. For me watching vlogs and reading blogs is purely entertainment/escapism. I watch top vloggers purely because of their lifestyles. I will never have any of that (Most if it I wouldn't want) but it doesn't take away from the fact that I'm very interested to see amazing things. I'm just interested in it all, the beauty/vlogging industry and the vloggers lives and them. So seeing fave vloggers enjoying the Maldives is just fun to watch! If they were sitting in dingy houses with horrid clothes talking about cheap brands I would simply not be interested. It's seeing the lives of 'the other half' that's interesting to me. I think you also need to think of it as each part of the trip is an ad, they are not just advertising the mascara. They would have deals with the hotels, the clothes companies, the flights etc. Everything you see is an ad. But that's fine by me, I can pick and choose what I want to spend my money on. Clearly it works though, otherwise these big brands wouldn't do these trips. It has clearly got us all talking and consequently talking about the product and 'hyping' it even more. I think the point about influencer opinion and whether it's relevant to the product is actually irrelevant. It's a pretty backdrop, it gets people talking, simple. We all know when a vlogger/blogger is hyping a product because they have been paid to over their actual opinion. But again it's irrelevant, its the exposure of that product that counts. What opinion the influencer has on the product is not important to me, I will form my own.

    • Anonymous
      February 8, 2018 / 12:44 pm

      “It has clearly got us all talking and consequently talking about the product and 'hyping' it even more.” I disagree, virtually nobody is talking about the product, including the bloggers! Everyone is talking about the extravagance of the trip! I know nothing more about the mascara than I did a week ago, other than it having some space-age technology which not one single solitary influencer has tried to explain or discuss.

    • Hayley Hall
      February 8, 2018 / 1:07 pm

      Just on this point: "Clearly it works though, otherwise these big brands wouldn't do these trips." It doesn't necessarily, it's just what's always been done. I imagine these trips will be no more once they realise the ROI isn't necessarily there.

  5. Steph Shaw
    February 8, 2018 / 11:19 am

    I couldn't agree more with everything you have said. I am fully aware that benefit has a new mascara due to the images of the lovely holiday being all over social media, however had no idea what this mascara was called until now. Not so effective marketing after all. Also I found the idea of Generation Z being more economically aware fascinating. Companies are going to have to think more about building their brand in a far more economical and environmental way, I don't see these kind of trips having much appeal for that much longer. Steph x

    • Hayley Hall
      February 8, 2018 / 1:08 pm

      It's fascinating that we're all now so much more interested in the ethics of a brand, and where they spend their money. IMO spending all this money on a charity campaign and doing good with it would have had so much more impact – but that's just me 😉

  6. Dagmara K
    February 8, 2018 / 11:38 am

    Loved the post, Hayley! As much as I love seeing hard working bloggers having the opportunities of their lifetime I don't want to see them being whisked away on super luxurious holidays as a part of a new product launch that has nothing to do with the trip or destination. It feel it's almost a bribe because it doesn't add anything valuable to the brand or product in the eyes of a regular customer but leave us a bit jealous and questioning how honest those influensters are in their 'reviews'. xMummy's Beauty Corner

    • Hayley Hall
      February 8, 2018 / 1:10 pm

      This is a view I've seen pop up a lot. I think it has an impact on the industry as a whole and how bloggers are perceived; it's no wonder we're seen as frivolous and vacuous when trips like this are all over social for a makeup launch! I do think they have value and I wouldn't begrudge anyone for going, but it's about making it fit and add value for the consumer.

  7. Áine McGovern
    February 8, 2018 / 12:08 pm

    I agree a lot on this. When I seen the coverage from influencers that I love, I thought it was massively overdone, it's a mascara. I prefer to read up on trips that actually give more information, that let you know what is going on with the product. I like to see the behind the scenes side of things much more so. Hopefully more brands will move in that direction, rather than an OTT press trip that doesn't really do anything for the product. If I was offered that trip, I would've snapped it up in a heartbeat, it just a shame that there wasn't more substance to it. Honestly Aine

    • Hayley Hall
      February 8, 2018 / 1:11 pm

      Yep absolutely. I'm really interested to see the takeaways and blog posts that follow – maybe we've all missed something eh?!

  8. Frankly Flawless -
    February 8, 2018 / 4:46 pm

    I've nothing against brand launches and events and I wouldn't say no if I was invited (not that i would be!) but context is key. I follow many mainstream bloggers who do get invited to these types of things and when I read these posts my focus is not say the mascara, but what they wore, the destination and it's kind of like a wanderlust, editorial type focus that I have rather than thinking – i want to buy that product. If i want a mascara or anything else, i'll buy it because it appeals to me – the beach etc etc has no bearing over it. Even big name brands like Dior do some lavish things, which fair enough they can warrant but in all honesty the collection will be available in any department store and in some cases even pharmacies. It's not like you can only purchase it in the South of France or Iceland! In fact, most of my inspired purchases have come from the smaller bloggers who not only talk about the product in real terms, but visually present it in an authentic manner that is actually more appealing to me.franklyflawless.com

  9. Mrs Tubbs
    February 9, 2018 / 10:43 am

    I can see how great it would have sounded in the planning meeting, “Let’s take our top influencers away for a dream trip for the launch. Great way to say thank you. Lots of noise on social media. Big sales”. But the sales process isn’t a strict progression, more a big ball of wibbly wobbly with lots of factors coming into play. For some consumers, social media noise is irrelevant if the product doesn’t tick other boxes. I won’t buy Benefit as it isn’t cruelty-free. Attitudes to corporate gifts and hospitality are evolving outside the blogosphere. My company says that corporate gifts and hospitality should be reasonable, appropriate and business focused. There’s annual training on avoiding conflicts of interest, bribery or undue influence etc. I’m sure that’s changed my perception of this kind of event. The holiday of a lifetime in exchange for some posts about a mascara seems a bit 80’s and try-hard. A two day stop over to meet the staff who developed the product, a decent hotel and a good dinner seems more like it.

  10. Xazzee
    February 9, 2018 / 2:06 pm

    I hardly follow blogs, you tubers, vloggers and so on since the word "influencer" started being used. I really dislike the word. I don't want to be influenced, I want to be informed. I want to know it a new whatever is better than any other whatever and if so, how.I find trips like the mentioned Maldive one bribery and I would not believe what is said about the product after someone has paid by the brand like that.It also stears me away from the product, and the brand, and the influencer. I like the FB group mentioned earlier, and I follow a few bloggers whom I find trustworthy, and that's it. I've not even seen any mentions about the trip you are talking about, so maybe I'm the wrong person to say anything about this, but here it is anyway, my humble opinion.I really did like this blog post, Hayley. Thank you so much!

  11. lena_halo
    February 10, 2018 / 5:34 pm

    Way way way over the top in my opinion. I think I saw the mascara mentioned once in the coverage I saw of the Maldives. Just makes me not want to buy any Benefit products to be honest, the company clearly have way too much cash as it is!!

  12. Danielle Alexa
    February 10, 2018 / 6:43 pm

    I love this post. Since the recent Benefit trip to the Maldives I have been thinking about whether it is a brand that I want to buy from. I don't spend my hard-earned cash in order to spend people on expensive ass trips. I would rather that money go back to the consumers in some way or another!Danielle xxhttp://www.fashionbeautyblog.co.uk/

  13. Erin Russell
    February 11, 2018 / 1:38 pm

    Haha I LOVE the comment about the shade range – so true! I personally think that I can see a time and place for big fancy trips, and how they could potentially have their value, but I think the way they go about it can be wrong. If you are going to whisk them off to the Maldives, how about taking BEAUTY bloggers? Like its a beauty product, take someone who is beauty – who will appreaciate it, want to learn about it, will SHARE the learning with their following, and will probably post constantly about the product, vlog the experience and get people wanting the item. Instead they seem to pick people with huge followings, who are fashion, or lifestyle, and have simply said "oh yeah im here with benefit" and that is it *facepalm* It feels false then, like they have no idea of what they are doing other than spending pointless money. It's made me not want the product. But if they had taken the likes of Tati, Shaanxo, Jamie Genevive, BEAUTY people, they would have done it well, and had we wanting the hell out of that mascara lol Erin || MakeErinOver

    • Anonymous
      February 13, 2018 / 4:18 pm

      Jamie Genevieve was on the Benefit Maldives trip as was other beauty bloggers like Chloe Morello.

  14. Areilia Skyes
    February 13, 2018 / 2:38 pm

    Fantastic post which pretty much sums up how I feel. I have no issue with people being taken on lavish trips if It's relevant, but as far as the Benefit one goes – I still don't know anything more about the mascara than I did before. I wouldn't buy it based on hype from people on a lavish holiday, I want a real unbiased review to help me make the decision!

  15. Petra
    February 28, 2018 / 4:01 pm

    Hi Hayley, loved this post so much! In fact I am actually conducting a research project for my final year at uni all around this topic of brand trips and if they are actually effective. Would I be able to contact you by email or whatever is easiest as I am actually looking to interview someone who works in the industry about their thoughts and insights on the topic!

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