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Can Celebrity Skin Care Go the Distance?

Can Celebrity Skin Care Go the Distance?

“They’re the new celebrity fragrances,” said Lucie Greene, founder and chief executive officer at consultancy Light Years, of the crowded celebrity skin care market.

The past year alone has seen numerous launches, with the latest offering coming from Kim Kardashian. At a pricey $630, Skkn by Kim is a direct-to-consumer, nine-step system, including a toner, exfoliator, hyaluronic acid serum, vitamin C8 serum, face cream, eye cream, oil drops and a night oil, that will launch on June 21.

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The reality star joins a long list of celebrities like sister Kylie Jenner, Rihanna, Jennifer Lopez, Alicia Keys, Jessica Alba, Cindy Crawford, Miranda Kerr, Scarlett Johansson, Pharrell Williams and others who have also parlayed robust followings into skin care businesses.

And more are in the pipeline, with Hailey Bieber’s Rhode set to launch this summer at a much lower price point than Kardashian’s, with all products priced below $30.

“It’s not only crowded, but it’s competitive,” said Jefferies analyst Steph Wissink. “There are hundreds of brands in skin care and the category is increasingly globalizing, meaning regional leaders are needing to expand their competitive scope to take in cues from international brands not historically accessible to regional consumers. Layer in celebrity brands and what typically happens is the industry share starts to fracture as consumers experiment with more product from more brands.

“In three to five years from now,” she predicted, “there will be a shake out and share will consolidate again.”

Unlike other disruptive brands in skin care that have to spend on awareness, Wissink said celebrity brands come to the market with an embedded following and therefore have heightened performance expectations from the start, although she cautioned that this doesn’t necessarily imply an ease of success. Tribe Dynamics, which tracks the top brands garnering earned media value, found that celebrity skin brands tend to have very splashy debuts, but may taper out more quickly than other skin care brands.

However, there are exceptions like Keys’ Soulcare and Williams’ Humanrace, according to data from Tribe Dynamics.

Keys’ Soulcare collected $3.8 million EMV from January to April 2022, a 23 percent year-over-year growth. The brand earned mentions from 741 content creators, a 56 percent year-over-year surge, while its 1,900 posts represented a 21 percent year-over-year spike.

EMV assigns a unique value to a piece of content based on engagement that this content receives from users (likes, comments, shares, views), as well as the platform that this content was published on (Instagram, YouTube, TikTok, etc.), and attributes that value to brands mentioned in this content.

Humanrace, which Williams launched in partnership with dermatologist Dr. Elena Jones, pulled in $1.4 million EMV from January to April 2022, an 87 percent year-over-year increase. Tribe found that while the brand’s community size and post count both declined, the brand’s potency — the amount of EMV generated per creator — more than doubled, meaning that Humanrace has identified a very passionate user base.

So what does a celebrity skin care brand need to be able to go the distance?

According to Wissink, pretty much the same attributes that all brands are judged by. “Having an authentic origin story, strongly efficacious and inclusive product, a bias toward sustainability, and affordability will all be essential to borrowing share (or taking over time) from the global leaders,” she said. “If the brand can find its voice among trusted guides in the industry — aka dermatologists and aestheticians — then it has a better chance of thriving longer term. Celebrity alone hasn’t proven enough; but celebrity (visibility) plus science (credibility) plus trust (repeat use) are all necessary to build a brand to something of meaningful size.”

Greene added that they need to stand out in a crowded market where she is seeing a lot of “blanding.” “The Millennial direct-to-consumer aesthetic is just looking completely interchangeable yet continuing to get a lot of venture capital investment and the same thing is happening with celebrity brands. I think they’re not thinking enough about making brands distinctive. There’s a lack of bravery,” she said. “There’s a templating of the visual style and culture and not enough of a distinguished ethos or philosophy of these things. So I think it’s inevitable that there will be a fall off with this stuff. In the same way with direct-to-consumer brands, there’s not been enough emphasis on innovation.”

She believes, though, that Kardashian’s system offering is both differentiating and interesting. “It’s not one hero product. The system is the hero,” she said, stressing that Kardashian has more credibility in the space, having already done beauty whereas some of the other celebrities haven’t. “It feels a bit more transactional when a celebrity has no record.”

And perhaps most importantly, longevity depends on how long the celebrity in question can remain relevant and if the brand can even transcend the celebrity.

“Jennifer Lopez is probably going to be around. Kylie and Kim for hell and high water I’m sure will do their best to stay relevant. I wouldn’t put anything past that family in terms of their ability to stay relevant,” said Olivia Tong, an analyst at Raymond James. “Are Selena Gomez or Ariana Grande going to be relevant in 10 years when their core customer is now not 13 but 23? Are they going to be able to attract the next tranche of 13-year-olds to fill that funnel? Will the 13-year-olds in 10 years still be interested in the product lineup? Probably not.”


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