Beauty brands may need to rethink over-the-top influencer trips after Dubai trip backlash: 'Gives me so much ick'

For the past week, all anyone in the beauty community has been able to talk about is the now-infamous Tarte Cosmetics-funded Dubai trip.

On Jan. 18, 29 influencers and their plus-ones traveled on a business-class Emirates flight to Dubai for the latest #TrippinWithTarte brand trip. Among the influencers were big names like Alix Earle, a college student who has skyrocketed within recent weeks to being one of the most sought-after influencers to work with.

The trip ultimately was to advertise the brand’s new foundation that launches on Feb. 10, but extravagant brand trips are nothing new. Tarte, for one, has hosted over 20 lavish trips since 2015.

Brand trips started out with hosting magazine editors in the early 2000s, then transitioned into fashion bloggers and YouTubers in the 2010s. Now TikTok influencers are getting a piece of the pie.

But with the recent reaction to Tarte’s Dubai trip, it poses the question about whether over-the-top beauty trips — and even the influencers themselves — actually work to sell products.

“In general, people don’t mind being marketed to when they don’t ‘feel’ that it is marketing,” Maureen Coyle, an associate psychology professor at Widener University, told In The Know. Coyle specializes in social media communications.

“Ads that feel more conversational and relatable can be more persuasive than ads that are explicit about their intent to persuade people to buy a product,” she explained.

According to Tarte CEO and founder Maureen Kelly, Tarte has always prioritized spending its marketing budgets on “building relationships” compared with, say, a Super Bowl commercial. Kelly confirmed to Glossy that Tarte collaborated with Sephora Middle East to sponsor the trip — effectively shutting down popular TikTok conspiracies that the trip was a marketing ploy with the Dubai tourism board.

This strategy can work, according to Coyle, but there are a couple of caveats. For one thing, the influencers involved, in order to be “believable” to consumers, must be perceived as authentic in their expertise of a brand or product.

“Over-the-top trips on their own aren’t necessarily going to be successful or unsuccessful as advertisements; it depends on the influencer’s general content,” Coyle continued. “Promoted content needs to be congruent with an influencer’s general brand to be seen as credible.”

The conversation and backlash against Tarte’s beauty influencer trip has, undoubtedly, put the brand into the forefront of internet users’ feeds this past week — whether they’re beauty fans or not. But how effective is Tarte’s idea to spend money “building relationships” with influencers?

“There is some evidence that influencers might actually be more effective than celebrities for advertisements,” Coyle said. In this case, Coyle defines “celebrity” as someone who is famous outside of their social media presence, as opposed to an influencer. “If we think about who we trust the most for recommendations, are we more likely to listen to our friend or a celebrity?”

A recent poll posted on the r/NYCinfluencersnark subreddit found that users were between disliking and not caring at all about a brand after seeing influencers go on a brand-sponsored trip. Part of this reaction could be that none of the users originally followed the creators, or, as Coyle said, users felt confused that their favorite influencers were on a Dubai trip.

“I’m sure as heck not going to buy a product just because some random stranger got to go on vacation, but I’m also not going to stop using a product over it,” one person commented.

“Rich companies treating already rich influencers to expensive trips and free items just gives me so much ick,” another pointed out.

There is a valid point here — influencers make their livelihood working with multiple brands at once and essentially doing free advertising by posting about their PR packages. Really big influencers are even paid by the brands to promote on social media, although Tarte CEO Kelly said none of the influencers on the Dubai trip were paid to go, but everything on the trip was paid for.

There’s also a debate about how trustworthy a beauty influencer is to followers and consumers, especially since most of them juggle multiple beauty brand contracts at once.

TikTokers pointed out that influencers who were on the Tarte trip even filmed get ready with me (GRWM) videos that featured non-Tarte products. Earle, who has 4 million followers, posted a Dubai video and a Charlotte Tilbury ad on the same day.

To Coyle’s point, Earle built her following being a student and documenting her days going to class and frat parties. It’s not clear that the audience she’s built will connect with a mid-semester trip to Dubai.

Credit: <a href="" rel="nofollow noopener" target="_blank" data-ylk="slk:Alix Earle;elm:context_link;itc:0;sec:content-canvas" class="link ">Alix Earle</a>
Credit: Alix Earle

Yes, Tarte (and Dubai) is getting a lot of free press because of the trip, but whether it has seen an increase in people signing up for the foundation waiting list or more current products being sold is up in the air. In The Know reached out to Tarte and hasn’t heard back yet as of reporting.

Some TikTokers have speculated that the trip may have been a failure, mostly due to a recent job posting for a new director of brand marketing at Tarte. The theory is a little bit of a stretch considering Tarte has been doing influencer trips for almost a decade, and as a commenter pointed out, it’s likely this was a reposting of a job listing that has been up for a while.

But the overall reaction to the trip appears to be exhaustion: Exhaustion over seeing the same people on luxurious vacations they didn’t have to pay for because of their follower count.

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