While other established luxury companies are treading lightly into digital territory out of fear of turning off a dedicated, traditional customer base, sixty-year-old beauty company Borghese is forging full-steam ahead with an influencer-charged campaign targeted at millennials.
The New York-based company, which claims it’s behind the first-ever mud mask, kicked off a relaunch last month with monthlong campaign titled #ShamelesslyBorghese, aimed at a new, younger customer and only loosely inspired by the brand’s Italian roots. (The skin-care and cosmetics company was created by Princess Marcella Borghese of the Italian noble family in 1956.)
“We’re celebrating our heritage, but we’re not harping on it — because we’re not competing in the 20th century, we’re competing in the 21st century,” said Geoffrey Lurie, Borghese’s CEO. “We’re focusing on the Italian way, which is to be shameless. Food, indulging in wine, masking in public because — sorry, not sorry. And we’re letting digital drive.”
In mid-April, a Borghese pop-up, set to run through the end of May, opened at the Oculus pavilion in the World Trade Center. The next day marked the kickoff of the “Tired as a Mother” Mother’s Day campaign, involving the rollout of brand videos featuring influencer Jeanne Grey of the blog Grey Layers and Lindsey Schuster of The Motherchic, who promoted Borghese products on their respected sites.
This Monday, the #OutForMud campaign launched, backed by posts of influencers including Grace Atwood (who has 104,000 Instagram followers), who made a scheduled appearance at the pop-up prior, and the release of new masks in the longstanding Fango line. Today, the #OutForMud push will continue with a partnership with Clique’s beauty arm, Byrdie, including coverage on the Fango masks on the site as well as product hype on the Instagrams of 11 Byrdie influencers. A press and influencer event this evening promising “mudicures,” an animated photo booth, a flash mob and more will round out the intense relaunch promotion.
More events and influencer partnerships are in the cards moving forward, said Danielle Black, the company’s vp of national sales.
“There’s a method to our madness,” she said. “Before our relaunch, our customer was 45 or older, and had used Borghese their whole life. That customer is getting older. What we didn’t have were younger millennials.”
Imagery from a Borghese email introducing the #OutForMud campaign
On top of an irreverent, “cheeky” voice, Borghese is seeking to speak millennials’ language by hitting on several areas popularly important to them, including self-care. “Unplug daily to quiet your mind and love your skin. Everything else can wait,” reads a brand deck summarizing the campaign. And the new masks are being promoted as paraben-free and talc-free, for those hellbent on buying natural. The Instagram component encourages self-expression and female empowerment, with posts tagged #shamelesslyborghese showing influencers confidently working mud masks in public. Finally, there’s an intentional move to authenticity, with the company moving away from showing traditional models in its imagery.
“A year ago, we thought we needed an ambassador, someone who looked like a Roman goddess to fit the brand’s past,” said Lurie, referencing the hire of Mariacarla Boscono in April 2017. “We decided not to renew her. “Marketing to millennials is different: It’s not about our story; they want to tell the story. Even in CVS, models shown in the [the beauty section] are no longer photoshopped. Going forward, we’re using regular people, like you and me.”
Borghese also looks to be taking cues from fellow beauty brands, preaching “healthy skin first,” which mirrors Glossier’s “skin first, makeup second” message. And its “shameless” marketing calls to mind Milk Makeup’s “Live your look” tagline and CoverGirl’s new “I am what I make up.”
With the exception of the four new mud masks, the company’s product lineup and formulas have remained intact. Instead, the relaunch is centered on modernized packaging (now minimalist and clean), a re-established brick-and-mortar presence and relatable marketing: This week’s email announcing the new Fango muds states, “Skin feeling as dull as your last Tinder date?”
“We don’t want young people saying, ‘That’s not me, that’s not today. That’s too hoity-toity.” said Lurie.
The relaunch is the latest change for the company that’s seen its fair share of shakeups: In the mid-’70s, Revlon acquired Borghese. and fifteen years later, it was purchased by a Saudi royal family. Four years ago, Lurie, president and COO of business development firm Marvin Traub Associates, was brought in as interim CEO. He’s since made new hires including Alexis Farah, a beauty editor and the blogger behind Random Acts of Lipstick, as director of digital content and events in December.
“In 2015 to early 2016, we let the company run cold for a while, and we came back with a revamped product line,” Lurie said. The soft relaunch, focused on the U.S. and Asia markets, also included a new website. It wasn’t until this year that the millennial shopper became a focus.
As for updating the retail strategy, Borghese is now sold at retailers including Lord & Taylor and Neiman Marcus, and Saks recently became the exclusive retailer for the two products through the end of May. “Tight and pristine” retail distribution is the goal, with the Borghese site remaining an important sales channel.
“Retailers have given us great feedback,” said Lurie. “They need and want a heritage brand to succeed, but their message is loud and clear: We have La Mer, and we have Guerlain. What can you do for me?”
Millennial customers certainly help. In March, Borghese hosted a pop-up at South by Southwest as a play for brand awareness. According to data by retail platform By Reveal, it drove user-generated social posts that reached 1.7 million people, plus the company earned more than 1,000 Instagram followers over the course of the week. 85 percent of visitors thought they were discovering the brand for the first time, which Lurie said is a good thing.
“Look at Glamglow,” said Lurie. “It just sprung up, and now it’s everywhere. We have an objective to surprise and delight, and it’s working.”