I use Instagram. But I don’t use Instagram in the way that my daughters use Instagram. More to the point, Instagram doesn’t use me in quite the same way it uses my daughters.
From the moment they were born, members of Generation Z have lived their lives on the digital record. Everything about their experience of life is recorded visually. So many of their decisions — food, drinks, holiday destinations — are viewed through the prism of what can effectively be described as “potential Instagrammability”.
It is a generation, too, that has money to spend. They might never be able to buy a house, priced forever out of property ownership by boomers and Generation X, but in the meantime, they have side hustles to create multiple income streams and apps on their phones to keep track of their spending; they’re a lot more financially savvy than their elders might give them credit for. And, crucially for marketers, they’re happy to spend eye-watering sums on the products they believe to be worth the online hype.
With her birthday money this year, my youngest daughter bought shampoo and conditioner. But not just any shampoo and conditioner. These ones are, apparently, tailored specifically to her hair type. Her name is written in cursive on the bottles. When she made the order she could choose everything about the products, down to the pastel colour of the liquid and the strength of its scent.
The shampoo and conditioner are made by Function of Beauty and they were endorsed by Kim Kardashian in February, when she posed next to her Function of Beauty products (pastel pink ones, of course!) and gushed about how great they were. My daughter, who hadn’t even heard of the brand last Christmas, by July was prepared to allocate a significant portion of her birthday money to acquire their products.
It was a significant portion, too. For one bottle of shampoo, one bottle of conditioner and a tub of hair mask, and after applying a 20% discount code, my daughter paid £48. That’s about sixty dollars. Sixty dollars. For liquid soap.
You see, then, it’s a lucrative game. And it’s a heady combination, the sweet-spot pairing of surplus disposable income with a life lived predominantly online. Crack the mysterious code of Instagram- or YouTube popularity, and that whole market is yours for the gobbling.
As a result, more than ever, packaging is vitally important. Because of those visuals. Packaging can make or break a new product, regardless of that product’s quality or provenance. If it doesn’t look good in an Instagram #shelfie, chances are it’s going nowhere fast.
And what I’ve noticed, more and more, is that in the skincare and beauty world it is impossible to ignore the new and growing trend for a particular, non-sugary, slightly medicinal pink. It’s called millennial pink, and it’s a colour that’s been on everything from walls to dinner plates in the past few years. But nowhere is it more prevalent right now than in the beauty industry.
On my own bathroom shelves, a quick glance is all I need to see that pale pink is everywhere. My Beauty Pie cleanser, Lixirskin Vitamin C serum and Frank Body coffee scrub all feature neat black writing on a delicate peachy-pink background. So does my Glossier Futuredew moisturising primer.
I didn’t buy any of these things after seeing them on Instagram, but I definitely judged them visually when I was out shopping. I don’t see myself as a particularly easily influenced consumer, but I’ve clearly already absorbed the message that there’s something classy and covetable about those bottles and tubes; that their contents must be worth a second look.
Glossier: Where It All Began
When Emily Weiss launched Glossier in 2014, she was ahead of the curve. “Millennial Pink” didn’t hit mainstream headlines for another 3 years, but Weiss’ vision was strong from the outset.
As well as her bold direct-to-consumer marketing strategy, which envisioned from the very start a brand based entirely online and marketed predominantly via social media, she had a clear idea of how her packaging would look.
Glossier branding is clean and clear. The font is sans serif, black and stark on a white background — but when colour does appear, that colour is pink.
When I visited the brand’s pop-up shop on Floral Street in London’s Covent Garden earlier this year (with my daughter, of course), Covid-19 was not yet a thing and hordes of teenagers and twenty-something girls were queueing several blocks deep to take selfies next to the pastel-pink rooftops and floral walls that formed the 3D backdrop to the flatlay-style cosmetics displays.
The actual stock was not on show. We placed our orders via sleek iPad screens touted by pink-jumpsuited staff members, who then retreated behind a pink curtain and brought our purchases out in iconic pink bubblewrap pouches, tucked into pink floral bags.
It was, honestly, a bit like being doused in candy floss. But my daughter loved it and she spent money. Most everybody in that tiny shop was spending. More importantly, everybody was documenting their spending online, thus promoting the brand for free. And it had already been growing fast online for 5 years.
Kylie Skin: Carrying On the Trend
Five years after Glossier’s soaring success began (from $2m seed capital, the brand had grown to $1.2bn by March 2019), Kylie Jenner launched Kylie Skin, the May 2019 addition to her existing cosmetic brand Kylie Cosmetics, which had begun in 2015 with her famous “lip kits”.
The lip kits were introduced in monochrome boxes, with white writing and graphics on a black background. The Kylie Skin product drop, though? Pastel pink, all the way. Put the name into Google and it’s a positive sea of pink.
Kylie Jenner, world-famous and a consummate veteran of the social media scene, knows her market inside-out. She, or her marketing team, knew that by choosing that particular shade they would be virtually guaranteed to enhance the inherent attraction of a range that, due to its founder’s huge fame, was already pretty much guaranteed to succeed.
Why It’s Going Nowhere
There’s something delightful, I think, about the use in serious big-dollar marketing of a colour so often associated historically with babies; with “sugar and spice and all things nice”; with dolls and cupcakes and candy.
Today’s pink is still an undeniably feminine hue, but it’s carving a noticeable wodge of space in an arena typically dominated by wordy, faux-scientific labels on brown glass bottles, or by monochrome, such as the white-on-black historically favoured by brands like Chanel or YSL.
Women in business don’t need to hide any more behind the sort of branding that they think will be taken seriously by men. It’s a subtle but definite shift. But it’s a shift, too, away from the Victoria’s Secret-style Barbie pink, the sort of pink that men think women like. This new pink doesn’t need to be sexy, and as a result, it’s somehow sexier than ever.
The pale Millennial pink used by today’s big hitters, with its clear neat logos and no-nonsense fonts, is a new force. It’s feminine but it’s not infantilising. It’s pretty on a bathroom shelf, but it speaks to the purported quality of the products it houses. It’s not just a pretty face.
Most importantly, it speaks to the people who buy it and the sort of world they live in.
If you’re launching a line of cosmetics in the 2020s, a decent bet for swift organic growth is to harness the power of social media marketing. And the best way to harness that is to make your product pop in pictures.
Millennial pink, clearly, is the colour right now to make that happen.