This week I connect with Clinique, which ran a successful college campus program for 25 years before ultimately rethinking its strategy. Scroll down to use Glossy+ Comments, giving the Glossy+ community the opportunity to join discussions around industry topics.
After winding down a college-based program that made Clinique a household name to young people, the heritage brand is back with a revamped approach.
As part of a summer-long campaign called “Protect Your Glow,” Clinique is highlighting its Moisture Surge 100-hour moisturizer and new Moisture Surge SPF 28. In a first-of-its-kind move for the 55-year-old brand, Clinique hosted as part of the campaign two off-campus pool parties at the University of Florida and the University of Arizona at the end of April. The two universities were chosen for their particularly sunny locations, in order to promote Clinique’s SPF product. The activations included beauty touch-up bars, consultations and plenty of photo opportunities. Clinique also hosted a “Clinique Hydration House” and day club at Coachella. In addition, this summer, the brand will launch pop-up mobile hydration trucks for the public in NYC, Los Angeles and Chicago. Visitors can experience skin-care consultations, photo opportunities and product giveaways.
“Young consumers — and college students, specifically — are an important audience for Clinique, as this is a time of transition when many are discovering, creating and optimizing their skin-care and beauty routines,” said Maiah Martin, executive director of consumer engagement at Clinique North America. “Given the long-standing presence [of Clinique] in the marketplace, many are familiar with the brand. However, there is an opportunity to reintroduce it to them as a means to drive relevance and ultimately bring Clinique top of mind.”
College campus activations have been a mainstay for beauty brands for years. (Editor’s note: I still remember when Mary Kay came to my college in [redacted year].) But, like every other aspect of life, the Covid-19 pandemic upended what college life looked like and how it functioned. Students were asked to attend virtual classes and even virtual graduation ceremonies, while some had no ceremonies whatsoever. But since then, campus life has rebounded with plenty of brands trying to make up for lost time. In January, beauty beverage brand Gorgie hosted brand launch activations across 40 college campuses, while Fenty Beauty partnered with Ulta Beauty in April to tour several colleges including Howard University. The tour was centered on promoting Fenty Beauty’s Pro Filt’r Foundation and Eaze Drop Blurring Skin Tint, with the brand offering shade matching to students.
Clinique’s pool party concept replaces other more dated initiatives, such as its on-campus beauty counters at university bookstores, which Clinique ran for 25 years. By 2017, Clinique counters were present in 30 schools, including Yale and Ohio State University, after first launching at MIT. As of 2018, the brand was no longer promoting or expanding its on-campus counters, though it had not officially canceled the program, per Glossy’s previous reporting.
“Bookstores have evolved. They are now a place where people only get college swag. And just like the bookstores have evolved, we have also evolved, in terms of how we engage with the [college student] demographic,” said Beth Guastella, svp and gm of Clinique North America. “[Young people] know us, but we want them to experience us and to think about us differently.”
Clinique’s revised approach to reach college students comes after the brand experienced unpaid viral traction for an already existing product, its Black Honey lipstick, in 2021. The product found love on TikTok with young people, who loved its sheer, but buildable, berry tint. And at $20, it is accessible enough for almost everyone to try out and continues to experience best-selling status. It’s also worth noting that TikTok mega-influencers like Alix Earle built their followings as college students by doing makeup tutorials while discussing non-beauty-related personal stories. Earle is a student at the University of Miami.
The Estée Lauder Companies shared its third-quarter earnings on May 3, earning $3.75 billion, a 12% decline year-over-year. However, Clinique was called out during the earnings call several times as “a case study in successfully leveraging viral success of a product.” That was in reference to its viral Almost Lipstick and Black Honey lip product sales, and success in emerging markets like India and Brazil. According to SimilarWeb, Clinique.com’s audience is 70% female, with nearly 25% of traffic coming from people ages 25-34 and nearly 18% from people ages 18-24.
“The pool parties are a perfect example of providing an experience versus only sampling or having a presence in a bookstore. [Experiences] are the way we’re thinking about [customer connection] from college campuses and beyond. We’re also thinking about it in our retail stores and experiences online,” said Guastella. Guastella declined to share performance metrics related to the parties, citing that it was too soon to have accurate figures.
Clinique has elsewhere infused experiences in marketing and in stores. Clinique opened its first-ever pop-up store in 2019 to promote its then-new moisturizer Clinique iD, which seized on the customized beauty angle. Then, in 2022, Clinique debuted a new in-store concept with Macy’s called Clinique Lab. Clinique Lab breaks up the brand’s retail space into distinctive zones, with a more interactive approach to visual merchandising. In the case of the brand’s online and digital presence, it experimented with NFTs in 2021 as a form of brand loyalty where people could win a Clinique-molecule-inspired NFT and 10 years’ worth of Clinique products. It later followed that up with a metaverse campaign in June 2022 called “Metaverse Like Us.”
Another strategic college initiative is Clinique’s ambassador program. In a survey conducted with college media site Her Campus, Clinique found that 83% of Gen Zers discover new beauty and skin-care products through social media. In addition, 72% of Gen Zers said they want to see more brands doing on-campus activations and ambassadorships. Clinique took this information back to the drawing board of their college campus initiative and launched a paid ambassadorship program in 2022. Currently, there are 53 ambassadors across 50 college campuses in the United States. Clinique is planning to expand the program to 300 college campuses. According to education statistics firm Think Impact, 54% of college freshmen carry a credit card, while college campus marketing agency Refuel claims that college students have $593 billion in spending power.
“[This allows us] to have a peer-to-peer voice versus a brand to a consumer,” said Guastella.
College students participate as ambassadors on a semester basis and are required to post two in-feed Instagram posts, as well as two TikTok and Instagram Reels videos. They must also host three beauty-related activities where they can hand out samples. In addition, as part of onboarding, Clinique asks ambassadors to participate in a virtual “kickoff” call and two branded workshops. Lastly, ambassadors are invited to attend a virtual Clinique virtual graduation once the semester concludes. Ambassadors receive free products during three “pulses,” both for themselves and for friends. Clinique works with Her Campus to solicit ambassadors, with an application hosted on Her Campus’s website. Qualifications include having 1,500 or more followers across Instagram and TikTok and demonstrating influential, creative or collaborative content.
“Our brand is a dermatologist-developed brand that not only provides safety and efficacy but is also committed to providing consumers with education as they navigate their beauty routines,” said Martin. “This is a point of difference, and with the changes young consumers are faced with, with their skin, our brand is looking to be a resource every step of the way. The college-focused initiatives are just one of many ways we look to engage with this younger audience.”
Inside our coverage:
Shark Beauty spotlights moms in its marketing.
Maybelline taps Pinterest for mental health awareness.
Klorane invests in Twitch to reach niche audiences.
What we’re reading:
Which beauty brands still test on animals?
Michelle Pfeiffer’s Henry Rose takes on outside investment.
Sephora’s updated Insider Rewards program ruffles feathers.
Want to discuss this with our editors and members? Join here, or log in here if you're already a member.