By Katrina Froelich


At the WWD Digital Forum in Los Angeles on Nov. 14, companies like FabFitFun, Chanel, Tory Burch, Benefit Cosmetics, e.l.f. beauty, Pinterest and Perfect365 gathered to talk about how the fashion and beauty industry's marketing is currently undergoing a huge disruption.  

The main problem? Advertising to Gen Z. Which in case you didn’t know is us: the confused cohort of "young millennials" who take pride in being born in the 90s but also don't remember the decade in the slightest.   We’re not technically millennials. We’re something else, something much harder for traditional advertisers to understand.

The main focus of the conference was to share successful strategies and new ways to market to a new generation. As Susan Kim, the Vice President of Global Strategic Marketing at Benefit Cosmetics, explained, traditional advertising does not work and there has been a recent, but profound disruption in both the beauty and fashion industry. Big technical developments are driving this change, and the explosion of mobile internet devices is obviously one of the main propelling causes. What’s interesting however is that there is also a rise in advertising distrust. The average Gen Z does not necessarily trust something that looks like a traditional ad, but they rather crave more genuine content.  Kim pointed out that in the past year traditional makeup brands using traditional advertising have seen flat to negative growth whereas what she called “indie” brands who advertise predominately on social media have seen extreme growth.

And when you look around -- or at your phone, for that matter -- that's not surprising at all. 

Kylie Jenner of Kylie Cosmetics has been able to successfully launch a brand and make serious bank without participating in ANY traditional advertising. Instead,  Jenner used her own personal social media capital to drive sales. In fact, most companies reported that one of the most effective ways for an advertiser to see growth was to use an influencer like Jenner, but all speakers also cautioned that influencers were only successful in increasing sales when they had engaged, loyal, and attentive followers.

Ashleigh Young, the Vice President of Consumer Engagement at e.l.f. cosmetics, and Mara McCune, the Vice President of e.l.f., talked about their strategy in using “micro-influencers,” people on Instagram who might not have a particularly large following, but have high levels of engagement. What’s even more interesting is that they have put in place a strategy in which they treat the micro-influencers the way that other brands treat high profile-influencers: they put on huge events, repost their pictures on their larger accounts, give them free products, and pay them per post. This strategy is exactly what has been proven to be really successful with Gen Z, particularly those of diverse backgrounds, who have shown a positive response to authentic content. And most importantly, this response is also quantifiable: e.l.f. cosmetics has grown when others have remained stagnant.

Because of this, influencer marketing has become a huge industry, reflected by Instagram's huge saturation of "influencers" who use social media to make money. For some, it's even become a viable career path.  Ivka Adam's company Iconery, for example, is a fine jewelry line that lets influencers design their own jewelry, While Iconery manufactures the jewelry and sells it, the influencer advertises it. Which, if the success of Kylie Cosmetics or Morphe Brushes X Jaclyn Hill Palette (which sold out twice in less than an hour) is a true reflection of influencer marketing, is the perfect business model.

Lastly, and arguably most importantly, many of the speakers talked about diversity and representation. Gen Z demands it. They want the people advertising to them to be authentic individuals who represent more types of people than traditional advertising has in the past. Gen Z is the most diverse generation ever in America, and with 44 billion dollars in buying power, they are not afraid to use that purchasing power to get what they want. While the products matter, it's also the messaging and advertising behind those products that is going to be keep Gen Z as loyal customers. These younger customers are inherently political, progressive, and typically use to their money in a way that aligns with their own values (CAN I GET A HELL YEAH??!). 

Final takeaway: Brands can ignore Gen Z, but Gen Z is just going to ignore right back. So all brands should follow the beauty and fashion industry's lead, hop on the influencer bandwagon, and listen to the desires of this younger, progressive, and powerful generation. 


 Katrina Froelich is the Fashion Editor at Tough to Tame. She’s worked in the fashion industry for over four years, gaining experience in PR and Editorial work at companies such as GUESS and Forme. You can reach her at katrinafroelich@toughtotame.org