The launch of WePink, Virginia Fonseca’s influential brand, has transformed social media and burst the beauty bubble. And it made me think about many aspects of our industry…
Who would have thought that a make-up company could offer so much material to the internet and so much entertainment to those who consume it? Last week I was inundated with reviews, reviews, criticisms, and controversies about the new foundation of WePink, a brand founded in 2021 by digital influencer Virginia Fonseca.
She is one of the most followed influencers in the country. On Instagram alone, she has more than 42 million people following her daily life. On Tik Tok, she has more than 36.1 million and on Youtube, 11.4 million at the time of writing this article. And along with that audience, I’ve become a huge sales advocate. Phrases like “we sold R$ 10 million worth of serums in just one month” have appeared in business magazines, demonstrating their ability to convert followers into fans and customers of skin care products.
In case you have been disconnected lately, I will be explaining it to you in a Manu Gavassi-style spiritual retreat. The controversy is that Virginia launched a makeup base that cost R$ 199.90 and was widely criticized for its high price. Several people commented in the publications that at this price it would be possible to buy the same item but from the traditional and renowned international brands.
Then came the sales pitches, which included saying the product would be “dermo-mic,” meaning makeup that contained skincare ingredients like squalene, vitamin E, hyaluronic acid, and niacinamide that would help heal the skin. For the rest, he assures that it will be an excellent product and that there is nothing similar in the national industry, with that “imported quality”. This was the extra canvas the internet needed to make manga.
I have seen very informative videos and videos from market experts refuting a number of the arguments I have mentioned. In-depth analysis of the formula, Anvisa registration, packaging design, pricing, marketing strategy, branding, performance, durability, etc. they become content (and entertainment). But after all that, I wanted to do some reflections that could be layered like the multiverse.
In January of that year, the American influencer Mikayla Nogueira sparked a controversy that shocked the beauty industry and set us on fire. Strong on Tik Tok, she did an ad for L’Oréal Paris where she shows the before and after of Telescopic Lift mascara.
The problem is, as many point out, that she used hairstyles to show the effects of a product that, in itself, should give volume, length and curl to the hair. Many followers were outraged and considered the influencer’s lack of honesty, respect and ethics and felt that her intelligence was underestimated.
The public video has had more than 57 million views. The fallout has been such that even social media beauty legends have reinvigorated their media outlets to talk about what happened, such as Jeffree Star and James Charles. Since this episode involved exposing “counterfeit” mascara, it was dubbed Mascaragate, a reference to the Watergate political scandal. Soon after, the hashtag #deinfluencing halted the trend as influencers badmouthed products and brands in order to be outspoken, even trying to distance themselves from the angst Nogueira left behind.
Okay, but what does this have to do with the Virginia rule? Well, this firing of Mikayla shook the credibility of the digital beauty influencer community, as if it were a sign that the bubble was about to burst. Perhaps, this notion that influencers are an indisputable sales driver for being honest and engaging their audience is being tested. As if she actually met Virginia at the grill.
And when we think about it alongside the bankruptcy filing announced earlier this year by American beauty group Forma Brands, Morphe’s father, it takes shape. After all, Morphe is a brand that has grown and generated $400M in revenue (2019) with commercial model makeup collections co-created with mega-influencers. And the bankruptcy raises suspicions that the incubators’ sheer credibility, and therefore the ability to sell their certified products, is under scrutiny.
The beauty of Eldorado
Have you noticed that there is no shortage of cosmetics, skincare and hair care brands that have their roots in celebrities? Check out Rose Ink by model Rosie Huntington-Whiteley, Rare Beauty by Selena Gomez, Kylie Cosmetics by Kylie Jenner, Fenty Beauty by Rihanna, Flower Beauty by Drew Barrymore, etc. This happened because the beauty market is one of the most flexible and secure.
A popular term in between is lipstick pointer or, in a loose translation, “lipstick pointer”. Leonard Lauder, former chairman of the Estée Lauder cosmetics group, coined it to say that this could be an economic indicator of a recession. With the North American crisis of the late 2000s, he saw the sale of lipsticks grow and he attributed it to the substitution made by people, who no longer bought more expensive products such as clothes, jewelry and shoes, but continued to indulge in buying. Toiletries, which have a smaller bill.
This is how the idea of beauty for Eldorado was born, from a segment that suffers less from crises and manages to grow in inverse proportion to them. During the pandemic, when many people felt financial insecurities, there was speculation that the index would be more associated with skin care, boosting its sales, than, say, Lauder lipstick.
Now add to that the fact that Brazil is the fourth largest beauty market in the world, after the United States, China and Japan. Income prospects in a country with our own demographics and culture of personal care and beauty are high. This attracts people who aren’t always in the beauty niche and sometimes don’t have the experience or know-how on the spot, but see it as a good financial gamble.
Therefore, it is not strange or unusual for an influencer like Virginia, who does not focus much on beauty, to enter the market for creams, serums and makeup. Unlike other influencers who specialize in this field and who have also created their own brands, such as Bruna Tavares, Mari Maria and Bianca Andrade (Boca Rosa), among others. I think most of the time the difference is in the level of experience and involvement of these business influencers in innovation and development and in the level of demand for the final product.
Another aspect that caught my attention, in addition to analyzing price versus formulation, packaging, brand positioning and marketing strategy, is one of the arguments related to sales. To promote the launch of WePink, a post from the brand’s co-founder read “Domestic based with imported quality!”
However, I think it is important to say that the Brazilian cosmetics industry has evolved a lot. And much of this development is the result of many Brazilian digital influencers and brands that have been pioneers, innovators and tireless to achieve high levels of quality, thus accompanying the demands of the most demanding customers.
It is not surprising that this has even attracted the attention of the international press, which lives on such “imported” products. Who does not remember the 2021 Business Of Fashion article, the car that is a reference in the field of fashion and beauty, glorifying cosmetics made in Brazil? The movement even got a name: Beauty B.
Today, in my opinion, I do not agree that domestic quality is necessarily inferior to that of imported products and that this comparison reveals a general disparity. The reinforcement of this idea, in addition to being inaccurate, reinforces the hybrid syndrome that we have suffered since colonial Brazil, where everything that came from abroad was better.
It is necessary to organize
One of the controversial claims of the makeup was that it would cost more because it was “dermal makeup” and therefore contained active skin-treatment ingredients. Therefore, several technical reviews detailing controversial makeup formulations have issued two warnings. First, there is no official formal definition of what is or is not “dermomakey” because this term is not regulated by any body. The term, which joins “dermo” in reference to a skin treatment plus “makeup,” can be used without evidence of effects or results.
Like “dermatological cosmetics” and “dermatological cosmetics”, these are terms that can be used for marketing on packaging, advertisements and advertising without any kind of control. The second note is that from the list of ingredients of the foundation alone it is not possible to have an exact idea of the concentration of the active ingredients for skin care. Outside of Brazil, there are regulations that require that the list of ingredients of a product is always ordered from highest to lowest concentration. However, this is a convention, not a rule. That is, it is possible that this reduces the transparency of the final consumer.
I think it is important to review this lack of regulation, which is probably the responsibility of Anvisa, so that consumers can be more secure and informed about what they are consuming.