This story has been updated. See below for details

More beauty and fashion companies are re-allocating advertising dollars and converting them into influencer marketing budgets (data analytics firm Launchmetrics found that there was a 25 percent increase in influencer activated campaigns in its April “State of Influencer Marketing Report” over the last year), but British cosmetics company Rimmel is rethinking its approach.

The Coty-owned brand has been going through a relaunch in the U.S. this year and, as such, is testing an updated influencer marketing strategy with the help of “beauty enthusiasts” or non-paid micro-influencers. Rimmel has grown its work with non-paid influencers by 300 percent year-over-year (for comparison, paid influencer marketing has grown 109 percent for the year).

“We have seen a massive shift in terms of trust,” said Henry Giddins Jr., Coty head of insights for global color cosmetics. “Peer-to-peer recommendations bring a level of objectivity to consumers, and we cannot replicate that with celebrities and paid influencers completely. We view this strategy as having more value now.”

Rather than solely working with paid influencers, which many other beauty brands are using, Rimmel worked with market research and review platform Influenster to target regular women around its summer Wonder Ombre Holographic eyeliner launch. Influenster curated its custom product boxes, also known as VoxBoxes, and sent them to over 2,000, 18- to 30-year-old beauty fans in Dallas and San Francisco. (In the U.S., these two cities are among Rimmel’s top-five markets). The goal was to create product discovery of the new eyeliner, as well as drive renewed interest in Scandaleyes, according to the company. “We wanted to be more targeted and not just do the kind of national campaigns we had been doing over the last two years,” said Giddens.

Though Rimmel does work with celebrities like Cara Delevingne and Rita Ora, this organic partnership was a win for the brand. The Influenster campaign drove a 44 percent higher sales lift among the two products and a 69 percent higher sales lift for all Rimmel eyeliners and mascaras, demonstrating a larger halo effect, said Giddins. Data analytics firm IRI World Wide added that the activation produced higher digital beauty campaign results, too — 2.3 percent for the Wonder Ombre Holographic eyeliner and 2.7 percent for the eyeliner and mascara segment compared to the beauty industry average of 1.6 percent.

“These types of campaigns generate a significant amount of sentiment data that helps the brand better understand the impact and perception of the brand,” said Nishat Mehta, president of the IRI Center of Media Excellence of the activation.

Presently, the mascara and eyeliner categories drive 28 percent of Rimmel business in the U.S, but this activation was especially important: Coty reported during its fourth quarter and 2018 results in August that its consumer beauty category (made of Rimmel, CoverGirl and Clairol) was facing pressure in North America for failing to connect with customers. Additionally, Rimmel recently pulled out of Ulta Beauty, one of its largest retail partnerships, as part of its larger, mass 2018 relaunch strategy.

Brit McCorquodale, svp of revenue at Tribe Dynamics, a marketing technology firm, said that while Instagram likes and comments on influencer content increased by an average of 81 percent and 120 percent, respectively, last year, consumers are craving real recommendations more than ever. “The influencer ecosystem tends to be very self-regulating,” she said. “Consumers will stop engaging with influencers they no longer trust, or who are no longer providing compelling, relevant recommendations.”

Elizabeth Shaffer, co-founder of app Masse which allows its users to share product recommendations (somewhat like Quora) among their existing social networks, has found its beauty customers especially discerning. Though Masse breaks down non sponsored product referrals among a wide range of consumer categories, Shaffer says its beauty segment is its second-highest category, accounting for 20 percent of recommendations (baby is No. 1 with 22 percent). “Beauty is harder to shop for online, and there are a lot more questions,” she said. “Our community wants to know if something really works from people they know.”

Still, others are not as sure that paid influencer recommendations and content are going bust so quickly. Launchmetrics chief marketing officer Alison Bringé said the sector is still “growing” (the company has seen its influencer management business increase 200 percent in revenue this year).

“When comparing sponsored posts versus organic posts, I would say there is no one-size-fits-all answer for what works best,” she said. “Influencers have the power to amplify the voice of the brands they work with and thus, the truth lies in the specific content itself and the choice of influencer the brand chooses to work with.” But then again, that is the job of the influencer (paid or not) to support the brands they work with and serve as a modern-day advertising channel.

For its part, Rimmel plans to do more word-of-mouth marketing activations. “Internally, we are looking at ways to dig further into this alternative reach model for the rest of 2019 and 2020,” said Giddens. “It is something that worked for Rimmel and we think could be played out to the rest of the Coty portfolio.”

This story was changed to reflect that Rimmel is also increasing its paid influencer marketing as it grows non-paid, organic partnerships.

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