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The Global Anti-Social Media Policy is a grand title for a high-stakes marketing decision by British cosmetics brand Lush. It’s the name of a new pledge by the brand to stop posting on four major platforms – Facebook, Instagram, Tiktok and Snapchat – in a move that is sure to be closely scrutinised by marketers throughout the cosmetics sector.
Lush has a history of taking up political stances, from combating animal cruelty and partnering with Allout on its 2015 #Gayisok campaign, to donating profits from sales of its Error 404 bath bomb towards grassroots digital activists working to keep the internet free, open and safe.
The British handmade cosmetics brand has even claimed in the past to be a campaigning organisation fronted by a soap shop. Next up on its agenda is social media — and the new Global Anti-Social Media Policy, being rolled out across 48 countries.
Brands and influencers are rethinking their social media feeds, preferring short-life content that does its job, then disappears.
In place of social media, the company is planning a series of initiatives, including growing its Youtube presence, using Twitter for customer care, producing email newsletters for campaigns and tapping Pinterest for inspirational content. Offline, it will invest in more physical events, community activations and maybe even old-fashioned postal catalogues.
Lush isn’t the first brand to rethink its social media strategy. Bottega Veneta made a surprise exit from social media in January before launching a quarterly digital magazine called Issue in April. In June, Balenciaga wiped its Instagram grid clean and has done so periodically since. Nicolas Ghesquière followed suit ahead of Louis Vuitton’s Spring/Summer 2022 show. Two videos of his show remain on his grid.
Beyond brands, influencers have been moving towards ephemeral content, which is content shown for a shorter period of time before disappearing.
Lush is moving away from major social media platforms and investing in its print magazine, Lush Times.
“We’re starting to see some trailblazing brands move in this direction,” observes Sabrina McPherson, senior MD and management consultant lead for consumer products, at digital business transformation consultancy Publicis Sapient. “People are looking for brands living their values and prioritising the right kind of relationship with customers rather than any relationship for easy bucks.” This requires a shift in success metrics, she continues. “You’re trading short-term revenues for long-term loyalty.”
For Lush, the move was prompted by broader news about social media whistleblowers and the negative impact algorithms have on users’ mental health — an issue that is particularly relevant to Lush’s core demographic of young girls. “Social media was not designed to look after people’s health, but our products are,” explains Lush chief digital officer Jack Constantine. “It is counter-intuitive for us to use platforms that keep you hyper-tense, engaged and anxious.”
Lush has taken a stance against social media before. In March 2019, the company announced it was switching off — or, as Lush put it, “switching up social” — tired of fighting algorithms and unwilling to pay for newsfeed real estate. During the nine-month break, Lush encouraged customers to engage with its staff and stores’ individual social media accounts, Lush hashtags, its e-commerce site and the Lush Labs app. After that, the pandemic hit and its digital team saw little option but to return to social media.
Constantine acknowledges that the company faced difficult choices. “We were a bit ahead of the curve,” he says. “Social media is addictive, and we struggled to convince our team to go cold turkey. During the pandemic, shops were closed and social media was the best way to engage with customers, so we used those tools again. Now feels like a more stable time to re-establish our position and stand by our digital ethics.”
While other brands sit back and watch, there are potential benefits to pioneering a shift such as this. “The move will create a buzz for Lush, and people will start seeing the company as a champion of this movement,” suggests Jared Watson, assistant professor of marketing at New York University Stern School of Business, but he points out the need to stay with it: “The fact that Lush has tried this before might undermine the perceived authenticity of this strategy.”
Watson argues that the growing apprehension and mistrust around social media gives companies such as Lush the opportunity to create “a zero-party relationship” with customers, but how that will pan out long-term remains to be seen. “If we go into this hyper-compartmentalised approach, there will be less variety-seeking from consumers. That might instil brand loyalty, but it makes it harder for Lush to win back customers that defer for whatever reason. If all companies do it, we might see a cyclical pattern of people expanding and contracting their own marketplace – similar to the shift in digital media from fragmented television channels to cable bundles, and individual streaming services to streaming bundles — so we’ll come back to where we are today.”
Lush is hoping to reach customers through its website and app, as well as physical activations like its Snow Fairy tour stall at Comic Con (left).
There are other benefits to marketing in less obvious places such as owned print magazines, email newsletters and community activations, says Watson. “On social media, our persuasion knowledge is activated, which means we’re aware that marketers are trying to convince us to purchase. Reaching people on other platforms might surpass that.”
This won’t work for every brand. “If you don’t have brand awareness and customer loyalty, a move like this could be detrimental,” says Watson. “[But] if you have other ways of reaching your community and strong word-of-mouth referrals, coming off social media could increase perceived exclusivity and authenticity. Consumers might feel closer to the brand because it isn’t trying to communicate with everyone.”
Constantine is prepared to be patient. “We have ten million followers across our social media platforms that we won’t be able to talk to using those tools,” he says. “It’s an exciting challenge, figuring out how to engage with them in other ways, but it won’t happen overnight.” CEO Mark Constantine — one of Lush’s six co-founders and Jack’s father — has a dedicated email address for customer feedback, and the brand has an active Reddit page instigated by its followers.
Publicis Sapient’s McPherson says Lush will need to leverage good data reporting and analytics to understand the impact of its strategy and what it stands to lose. “Social media is here to stay,” she points out. “As consumer sentiment shifts, brands need to figure out how they activate best on social media and who they should target.”
The risks are acknowledged by Lush. “I could be risking my career by doing this,” says Jack Constantine. “And you can’t deny there’s a commercial risk, but we’re prioritising people over profit.”
Mark Constantine estimates that the company could lose £10 million in the short-term. However, Lush’s direct sales from social media — not accounting for people who are prompted on social media but purchase through other channels — account for just 0.5 per cent of total sales.
Jack Constantine says the move won’t have much impact on digital marketing budgets. “We focus on content creation, which is used across platforms. We will repurpose where that content lives, but we weren’t doing paid social anyway, so we won’t be moving or losing budget there.”
The brand has also developed Lush Stories, a portrait video format similar to Snapchat and Instagram Stories, which will feature in its app, product pages and website.
It’s important to emphasise this is not a total social media blackout. Lush will retain its social media handles and accounts for brand protection, it just won’t be actively posting or replying to messages on the four platforms. “We will be monitoring those platforms more than ever,” says Jack Constantine. “The last thing we want to do is ignore customer feedback.”
The company has a reputation for breaking the rules. “Lush is something of a cult, and cult members find each other one way or another,” jokes Mark Constantine. “And if there are changes to these social media platforms, we will go back to them. We would need to see them move away from the purposeful, addictive algorithms they use and follow the advice of their own research.”
Comments, questions or feedback? Email us at [email protected].
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