Why celebrity makeup artists have become a new influencer class

In early July, Dennis Gross Skin Care launched a professional program dedicated to getting its products into the hands of buzzy makeup artists — and, no doubt, onto their social media channels. Offering 40 percent off its entire skin-care range to qualified professionals, a practice more common with makeup and hair brands, the company is the latest in a growing line of beauty brands turning to celebrity makeup artists instead of the celebrities themselves for influence. 

That list includes Marc Jacobs Beauty, Shiseido, La Mer, Laura Mercier, Anisa and Maybelline, the latter of which tapped Gigi Hadid’s go-to artist Erin Parsons (who has 47,000 Instagram followers) to be its global makeup artist in June.

Although Parsons will have more power than most — she’ll dictate the looks in all Maybelline campaigns, marketing materials and runway shows — makeup artists are increasingly being named brand ambassadors. Michael Ashton, Sarah Tanno and Hung Vanngo — who boast clients like Adele, Lady Gaga and Karlie Kloss, respectively — were brought on to play that role at Marc Jacobs Beauty in February. Alongside curating campaign and digital content for the brand, they’re tasked with emphasizing the brands’ products when working on their top-tier clientele.

Similarly, Laura Mercier’s Laura Mercier Makeup Collective, which launched late last year, recently brought on the famed Kardashian artist Mario Dedivanovic (3.6 million Instagram followers); La Mer relies on the celeb-loved likes of Patrick Ta and Kayleen MacAdams; Anisa has hired another Kardashian favorite, Stephen Moleski, as its senior director of artistry; and so on.

Angelique Serrano, the beauty director at InStyle, noted that social media has transformed the topic of beauty into more of a dialogue, allowing fans to speak directly to makeup artists when they want to recreate a look — rather than simply guessing at a perfect celebrity snapshot, as was once the case.

“Artists are sharing their work directly with their followers and gaining an audience of their own,” she said. “When they use beauty products and demonstrate their results on social media, they’re building trust with their followers and leveraging their experience.”

Helene Heath, senior editor at the visual intelligence firm Dash Hudson, agrees. “The kind of exposure that a successful social media presence can yield enables anyone to build a devout following, especially if they’re an expert in a specific field,” she said. It’s that expertise that gives them a leg up over the pretty celebrity faces that beauty brands have traditionally relied on. “Makeup artists are authoritative voices in their niche, which gives them an added level of credibility,” said Heath.

In short, it’s easier to believe they actually use the product, especially when they’re likely to back up those claims with photo or video evidence. That content is often seen as more authentic. “On top of being experts and leaders in their industry, these makeup artists are more relatable than celebrities and produce content that is easier for their fans to connect with,” said Heath.

A recent report by the trend forecasting company Cassandra backs this up. It found that 79 percent of U.S. youths ages 12-34 believe those who are involved behind-the-scenes in the creation of entertainment — including makeup artists — have become celebrities in their own right. 76 percent of them also find these artists’ creative processes to be as interesting as the final work itself. Conversely, only 5 percent of consumers say celeb endorsements make ad claims more believable, according to a study by the business intelligence firm ORC International.

Brands are getting savvier about which influencers actually connect with their target customers (who are, by and large, beauty-fiends) and drive them to purchase.

“They understand that, although celebrities have large audiences, they are often very diverse and really hard to target,” said Gil Eyal, the CEO of the influencer marketing firm HYPR. “Most of their audience isn’t likely to buy the product or really connect with the brand.” Kate Upton, for example, has a 90 percent male audience that is primarily interested in sports and video games, he said. Meanwhile, the Kardashians — however buzzworthy — have an audience spanning various demographics, and one that’s largely weary of their endorsements, given how loose they are with promotions.

That doesn’t mean celebrities will go by the wayside, said Kellan Terry, PR data manager at the social analytics company Brandwatch. He also believes more makeup artists will score contracts from large cosmetics brands.

“As more people strive for the title, however, it will be harder to become one of these cosmetic influencers,” he said. “People will have to be that much more talented and creative.” A giant following can’t hurt, either.

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