How E.l.f. Went From TikTok to the Super Bowl

E.l.f. Beauty is going from TikTok to TV.

The beauty brand, famous for its musical TikTok ads, debuted its first-ever broadcast television commercial just before Rihanna performed at the Super Bowl halftime show. The comedic 30-second spot stars Jennifer Coolidge, fresh off her Golden Globe-winning turn in “The White Lotus,” and highlights the brand’s Power Grip Primer, which launched in 2021.

“This primer stuff sure is sticky,” Coolidge says in her breathy twang after applying a layer to her face. Soon, she finds herself in a “sticky situation,” and she is soon adhered to everything she touches — from her tube of E.l.f concealer to the shower door.

Stickiness has been a recurring theme for E.l.f. Beauty. The brand has been glued to the centre of the beauty conversation on TikTok since 2019 when it debuted on the platform with its original song and campaign #eyeslipsface. Power Grip Primer alone has 70 million views on the app. Customers won over by the campaigns have stuck around: in its third quarter ended on Dec. 31, net sales grew by 49 percent year-on-year to $146.5 million, marking 16 straight quarters of growth.

The Super Bowl commercial is a big jump for a brand that has found most of its marketing success online. It also was a big investment: Fox charged over $7 million to buy a 30-second spot during the big game, a record high rate, according to Bloomberg. And in addition to recruiting Coolidge, E.l.f also tapped “The White Lotus” creator Mike White, “Sex Lives of College Girls” writer and director Maggie Carey and Comedy Central’s Neal Brennan for what will eventually be a four-part series of ads, with more buys across networks and platforms, rolling out over the course of the month.

The shift to television shows the extent of the brand’s ambitions: E.l.f. may have won over TikTok, but it needs to reach a bigger and broader audience to take on legacy competitors like Covergirl, L’Oréal Paris and Maybelline.

“We want to get more eyeballs. We’re looking for a place where we can get mass reach,” said Kory Marchisotto, E.l.f. chief marketing officer. “The underpinning of all of this is to take E.l.f. to a bigger stage.”

Though E.l.f. has built relevance with Gen-Z and millennials on social media, something that has evaded many heritage beauty brands, TV represents an opportunity for increasing relevance elsewhere. And when it comes to building awareness, there’s no stage bigger than the big game.

“People always question the future of television, no matter what anyone says when you look at the stats, what better place [is there] to be able to capture over 100 million eyeballs?” said Gabe Miller, president of the Americas at Landor and Fitch. “You’re putting yourself in company with other mega … companies.”

However, he said, running an expensive ad on such a big platform is always a risk.

“What do you remember on Monday after your [Super Bowl] hangover? You don’t want to get lost, you don’t want misattribution,” said Miller.

Plus, there’s the Rihanna of it all — her Fenty Beauty, which she sported during the performance, released a new line of lipstick and limited edition “Game Day” merchandise. The next phase of E.l.f.’s campaign, with spots across 78 networks, is designed to keep people talking no matter what the singer pulls off Sunday.

While fashion and beauty are not strangers to the Super Bowl — Olay has done ads, and fashion tech company Rakuten is putting out a “Clueless”-inspired commercial featuring a look by Christian Siriano this year — beer and cars spots are still the norm.

“We’re not actually acting like a beauty brand,” said Marchisotto. “We’re transcending the product and the category into the zone of entertaining cultural relevance … One-third of Americans watch the Super Bowl.”

E.l.f. views its Super Bowl ad as more about brand building than driving product sales; the ad features an already-popular product released in 2021. It took cues from its TikTok community, where users have nicknamed it “sticky jam” and “sticky slime.” The internet-native team is used to responding to trends on the fly, turning the Coolidge ad around in three weeks.

The timing is right from a pop culture perspective: weeks after “The White Lotus’” finale, Coolidge and White remain buzzy. For E.l.f, too, the timing is serendipitous: It’s upping its marketing spend, but still seeing return on investment grow, chief executive Tarang Amin told The Business of Beauty after its last earnings call. On Feb. 1, the brand raised its full-year 2023 outlook — projecting sales between $541 and $545 million, up from prior expectations of between $478 million and $486 million.

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