Free the birds
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Beauty, Branding

Why beauty brands need H.O.N.E.S.T.Y.

Nick explains the acronym by which beauty brands should live in 2019.

It is fair to say that 2018 was a time of division over pretty much everything. Whether Brexit, Trump, gender identity, race, influencer fraud or vaccinations, debate exploded online and in person, sometimes unpleasantly.

Avoiding conversations entirely isn’t possible for brands. The recent YouGov Social Voice of Brands report found 58% of Brits and Americans think it’s important that brands have a clear, transparent point of view on wider social issues.

The question then becomes, what should beauty brands have a point of view on?

It isn’t about politics per se. At Free The Birds we say, “don’t act ugly.” This means respecting each other, our clients and the wider world – acknowledging the most challenging areas of beauty consumerism and tackling them head on.

With that in mind, we’ve mapped the areas where today’s consumer expects brands to act beautifully:






T.ailormade we can.




So long the preserve of young, thin, white women, beauty is starting to open up to the gorgeous diversity of the real world. When the personal is ever more political, everyone needs to see themselves reflected by brands.

Following the Fenty effect, we’re finally seeing ‘Full Spectrum’ colour cosmetics in full flow. Morphe has launched a staggering 60 shades in its Fluidity foundation and CoverGirl offers a wide palette of Outlast Custom Nudes as well as a Full Spectrum Collection for deep skin tones.

If 60 is the new 40 for colour shades, this isn’t yet true for age – or weight, height or disability, for that matter. ‘Divine Diversity’ is still very much a frontier to cross. Last year saw some great strides made with Revolution’s strapline ‘Ageless, Unisex, Affordable, Yours’ showcased in its foundation campaign starring models age 20-90, of all genders and abilities.

‘Male Beauty’ finally came to the fore in 2018 in a day-to-day guise; we’ve seen Boy de Chanel launch in Asia and the US, David Beckham sport green eyeshadow in Love magazine and new UK brand War Paint creating “a men’s brand that makes make-up gender neutral”.


The Soap Co.


Change, extreme change, is now business as usual. Nielsen’s 2018 Future of Beauty report found although the top 20 cosmetics brands capture 90% of spend in-store, they now capture just 14% online, so it’s clear that legacy brands must up their game; standing out is essential.

An authentic ‘Powerful Purpose’ has to move emotions. Few beauty brands can match The Soap Co. – whose sustainable, eco-luxury products are handcrafted in the UK by people with disabilities – but they must boast something.

Innovation is challenging in an industry as old as beauty, but ‘Revolutionary Formats’ can purloin inspiration from other categories.

2018’s standout product has to be handbag-friendly nail polish remover cream Remove & Chill, while Amkiri created a unique, rubberised fragrance ink – taking perfume and making it visually tangible.

In a world full of information overload, having ‘Standout Simplicity’ in brand design really helps. Launched in late 2018, Glow Recipe’s Avocado Melt Sleeping Mask is an exquisite case in point, bringing the avocado hero ingredient to life effortlessly and elegantly.

Think also of the bold simple structures and colours of The One by Frederic Fekkai, Herbivore or Sunday Riley.

‘Taboo-Busters’ radically focus on the sometimes-messy reality of real human bodies. 2018 saw women’s razor companies Billie and Friction Free Shaving showing actual lady leg hair. See also new intimate beauty brands like Lady Suite proudly reclaiming the vagina from the ‘feminine hygiene’ category.




Wellness is high on the cultural agenda: Scandinavian trends like hygge and lagom, Marie Kondo’s advice to only own things bringing us joy and the growth of hybrid prescription beauty/health brands Hims and Hers highlight the growing consumer realisation of the connection between mind, body and wellbeing.

‘Bugs And Beyond’ – products to balance the microbiome – started in the gut but exploded onto the face in 2018, and 2019 is seeing it diversifying up to the scalp, with Gallinée launching its triple-biotic hair care range.

One in two of us will end up ‘Living With Cancer’, something beauty needs to fully recognise. Ozalys recently brought out the first fragrance for cancer patients, which reflects their olfactory changes, while La Roche-Posay has dedicated a new microsite and in-hospital beauty services to sufferers of the illness.

Despite all the tech talk, ‘Getting Physical’ matters. We’re animals influenced by our circadian rhythms, monthly cycles, sleep, pollution, the gym and more. In 2019, beauty needs to optimise consumer lifestyles.

This Works’ new Nap Spray gets you to sleep fast during the day, Face Gym’s new Training Sticks give you a facial as you exercise and restorative Epsom salts get a 21st century makeover with Verdant Alchemy’s beautiful new range. And no-one can ignore cannabis, now fully mainstream on every part of the body, with Holland & Barrett launching new brand CBD Beauty.


Two types of brands have been the beneficiaries of digital, cultural and economic disruption in recent years: direct-to-consumer (DTC) brands (mostly indie) and private label. DTC brands control the entire customer journey.

Without middlemen or retail overheads, they deliver more for less. Originally, it might have been the recession making people look to private label, but now 75% of European consumers think private labels are as good as named brands, according to Nielsen.

The response has to be ‘Value Maximised’, whatever the price point. Primark and beauty influencer Alessandra Steinherr’s niacinamide and squalane-packed range melds minimal cost and maximum style; Beauty Pie’s beauty club is doing the same in prestige. Whether it’s enhanced customer experience or loyalty rewards, brands simply have to deliver more.

Another way for traditional brands to compete is to go ‘Consumer Direct’ and explore new ways of engaging. Gartner found 83% of DTC brands are shoppable on Instagram, compared with only 34% of traditional ones.

Amazon (itself launching its own beauty label, find.) is becoming a must, as is AI messaging. Seizing the opportunity and making new channels work for brands, like Coty’s ‘Let’s Get Ready’ Alexa tool, or L’Occitane’s same-day delivery system for London-based customers, is the only way forward.

Fast beauty has turned the screws on legacy brands with their ability to respond almost immediately to social fads. Historically, big brands buy agility in, but ‘Better Faster’ has to be a motto for 2019.

Big companies have responded and 2018 saw in-house start-ups like L’Oréal’s Seed Phytonutrients and Revlon’s Flesh come to the fore. Shiseido went even further creating a platform, Cosmetic Press, to release time-limited pop-up brands, with successful innovations integrated into its core ranges.


Le Prunier


Last year saw people abruptly wake up to our plastics problem and demand a stop to single-use plastic. This is just part of increasing consumer desire for businesses to behave and do better on sustainability: what Mintel terms the ‘sub-zero waste’ trend.

It’s now about ‘Packaging Reimagined’: reduce, reuse, recycle is the mantra. That means making better choices about packaging materials. Leading the way is TerraCycle – dedicated to ‘recycling the non-recyclable’ – which is partnering with brands; Procter & Gamble recently announced reusable, refillable packaging for 11 of its brands to go into TerraCycle’s Loop system.

What’s inside the bottle also matters and ‘Inspiring Upcycling’ is fast becoming mainstream with brands reusing waste materials that would otherwise go to landfill. Le Prunier uses plum pits from prune production to make its hero facial oil, Marks & Spencer’s Pure skin care uses leftover grapes from winemaking and UpCircle’s scrubs, masks and soaps use coffee grounds and chai tea spices discarded by cafés.

With the world’s fresh water in increasingly short supply, transitioning to ‘Waterless Ways’ is essential. Noting 85-95% of water consumed in beauty happens during product usage, L’Oréal’s partnership with GJosa teams a super-low rinse shampoo (using 1.5l instead of 8l) and a 70% water reducing, low-flow, high power showerhead.

It’s about what’s actually in the bottle, what the bottle’s made from, how it’s made, how effective it is and who it’s helping.



It is hard to overstate the impact of smartphones. With penetration nearly reaching 100% for UK 18-35 year olds and 77% overall according to Deloitte, we hold a whole world in our hands every day.

With such intimacy and immediacy comes the desire for personalisation; Epsilon research found 80% of consumers were more likely to engage with businesses offering a personalised experience.

The past few years have already seen a plethora of brands focusing on a ‘Personal Touch’ and 2019 is taking things even further. Neutrogena’s MaskiD 3D prints a mask tailored according to face shape and skin needs; P&G’s Opté tool scans skin for hyperpigmentation and then precisely microprints over a corrective, covering serum; and La Roche-Posay’s My Skin Track pH wearable sensor measures and creates customised products to suit.

Traditional retailers have taken a battering, but physical stores will go nowhere if they keep ‘Inspiring In-Store’.

According to UM’s Retail Buying Study 2018, 76% of UK consumers begin shopping online but finish in-store. Personalised ‘phygital’ experiences definitely help keep it that way, as well as social media-friendly interiors, collabs and pop-ups.

Coty is doing particularly well on that front: its Wella Professionals’ new smart mirror uses AI and AR for hair style try-ons; facial recognition helps find previous looks and products purchased; and social-sharing is added on top.


Estée Laundry

Yes we can

Nothing typifies 2018 beauty more than the emergence of Instagram account Estée Laundry, a group on Instagram calling itself an “anonymous beauty collective” dedicated to “airing out the industry’s dirty laundry”.

By bringing to prominence stories like L’Oréal suing skin care brand Drunk Elephant for infringing its vitamin C patent or Herbivore offering its customers incentives for giving positive reviews, the account has lifted the veil of mystery over the beauty industry, but there is almost a sense of relief. Brands that have nothing to hide can be really out there and proud in 2019.

‘Frank Authenticity’ is the single most important thing that any brand can be about.

It might be about providing more information (through SmartLabel, Unilever is giving US customers the opportunity to see exactly what’s in its fragrances down to 0.01% of the product formula, simply by scanning the bar code).

It might be about being totally honest regarding brand/influencer agreements. All of it is about saying what’s actually in the bottle, what the bottle’s made from, how it’s made, how effective it is and who it’s helping.

After a turbulent 2018, 2019 is the time for H.O.N.E.S.T.Y. – a time to reflect on the reality we want to create for the future. It’s not about brands being perfect already. Who is? It’s about everyone going on a journey to get to a more beautiful destination; do come along with us.

Nick Vaus, Published SPC Magazine 28th February 2019