Sunday, June 25, 2017

Glossier Birthday Balm Dotcom (Plus Another Rant)

Glossier keeps coming up with new marketing strategies to put me off and new products to tempt me back in. No sooner had I planned a post on Glossier's MLM-esque rep program than they released a fucking birthday-cake-scented lip balm with sparkles and holographic packaging. I have a price, and Glossier knows it. So this post will be a two-parter: a review of Birthday Balm Dotcom, followed by one of my usual rants against the marriage of social media and late capitalism. Who says we can't have our cake and eat it too?

*** PART 1: THE REVIEW ***


Birthday is Glossier's collaboration with Milk Bar, the dessert arm of the Momofuku restaurant empire. The pairing makes a lot of sense: like Glossier, Milk Bar sells overpriced, overhyped products in small portions, but damned if its aesthetic isn't on point. Here's the "Cereal Milk" soft-serve I had last October in Williamsburg; it was tasty, but who wants soft-serve without a cone? Give me Mister Softee any day.


Like the other flavors of Balm Dotcom, Birthday is permanent and retails for $12, though Renee kindly sent me one with her Glossier store credit (and I was planning to buy one with my own store credit!).


It comes with a sparkly balloon sticker that's so cute I'm tempted to put it on my laptop, even though I don't like using my person to advertise products (yes, my computer counts as part of my person; we're all cyborgs now).


Seriously, the people who designed the packaging for this product deserve a raise. Say what you will about Glossier, they know how to put hearts in their fellow millennials' eyes.


THE BOX HAS A FUCHSIA LINING, GUYS.


The Birthday Balm Dotcom comes in the same squeezy tube as the original BDC, and it has the same thick, unctuous formula, which lasts several hours on my lips if I don't eat. A little goes a long way!

Are we allowed to use the word "holosexual" anymore?

The Glossier website copy for Birthday promises "subtle shimmer," and that is indeed what you get. Here's a hand swatch in indirect natural light:


In direct sunlight:


I was pleased to discover that the sparkle is actually visible on the lips. Here's a lip swatch in two lighting situations, both natural/indoors:


From a regular distance, the balm looks more like a slightly milky gloss, though you can detect a hint of sparkle if you look closely. In true Glossier fashion, I'm wearing no makeup except undereye concealer and Birthday BDC:


I wasn't terribly impressed with the original Balm Dotcom, which I found too thick and insufficiently moisturizing. Birthday does feel more moisturizing than the original; really, though, I'm just here for the glitter.


One final detail to keep in mind is that Birthday has a very strong scent. It's supposed to smell like Milk Bar's birthday cake, and it is indeed redolent of vanilla and butter. The smell lingers for about an hour after application. I quite enjoy it, but if you hate strong fragrance (especially vanilla fragrance) in your lip products, watch out for this one. Once the vanilla wears off, the regular petroleum/lanolin Balm Dotcom smell replaces it. The balm is slightly sweet if you get it in your mouth, which is odd but not inappropriate, I guess.

By the way, does anyone remember those sparkly Lip Smackers with jewels on the caps? I had a vanilla one c. 2000 and it smelled almost identical to Birthday, with similar silver holographic packaging. Here's a photo of another one I still have, in a boysenberry flavor:

Feat. genuine Y2K-era butterfly clips.

Happy early 30th birthday to me!

*** PART 2: THE RANT ***

And now for (more than) a few words on Glossier's rep program.

By posting about any product on social media, you're providing free advertising content for a brand: that's just the nature of the beast. Glossier was one of the first brands to harness that beast by making every customer a de facto Glossier affiliate. When you place your first order, you receive a link through which other people can purchase products. First-time customers get 20% off, and if they use your link, you get $10 in Glossier store credit, for a maximum of $500 per year. (Update: as of July 2017, that amount has been reduced to $5.) Hence all the "get 20% off Glossier!!!" spam on Instagram, though the spammers fail to mention two facts: 1) all first-time customers get 20% off, whether or not they purchase through an affiliate link; 2) buying further products through a link doesn't bring further 20% discounts. If you've already ordered from the Glossier website once and you decide to make another order through my link, I'm the only one of us who benefits monetarily, to the tune of $10 in store credit. (You benefit if you enjoy my snarky Glossier posts and would like to see me review more products, and I'm very grateful to the four whole people who have clicked my link so far.)

Last year, Glossier took this arrangement to another level by inaugurating its rep program, which gives Glossier representatives a small monetary commission on every product purchased through their link. Instead of store credit, Glossier reps earn cold hard cash, and they get products sent to them in advance. From what I understand, the commission increases over time, depending on how many products a rep manages to sell. Needless to say, this encourages aggressive sales tactics: Reddit users have reported that mentioning Glossier in a comment can bring a flurry of private messages from reps eager to move some product. Initially, Glossier handpicked a small number of customers as reps, but now anyone can apply through email to join the program. I have no idea how rigorous the screening process is or how many Glossier reps are out there, but these days every Glossier post on Instagram seems to come from a rep eager to tell you that she NEVER used sunscreen before Invisible Shield.

If all this sounds familiar, you've probably come in contact with LipSense or Younique or another multilevel-marketing brand (MLM). These companies operate as pyramid schemes: distributors order a large amount of product directly from the brand and sell it at a markup to people in their area, often friends and family. But the real money comes from recruiting other distributors, who then pay commission on their sales to the person who recruited them. I have a morbid fascination with MLMs and their predatory tactics ("we empower women to run their own small businesses!"), so I've done a lot of reading on the cultish mentality surrounding these companies. MLMs prey on women who are already financially vulnerable, and often require them to buy huge amounts of product before they start selling: LuLaRoe, renowned purveyor of pizza-printed leggings, demands an outlay of $5-6k. (John Oliver has a great segment on MLMs if you'd like to learn more.)

To be clear, Glossier is not a true MLM: reps don't earn money by recruiting other reps, they're not required to buy product wholesale from Glossier, and potential customers can purchase directly from Glossier's website instead of going through a distributor. And so far as I know, Glossier isn't promising its reps that they can quit their day jobs and pull in a living wage shilling Haloscope and Boy Brow. But the rep program is more than a little MLM-y: it fosters a relentless positivity and a cult mentality (when was the last time you saw a negative Glossier review?), and it encourages customers to turn their social bonds into cash flow. New reps announce their affiliation with Glossier through eerily similar blog posts:


Make no mistake, Glossier knows exactly what it's doing. This Quartz article breaks down the mechanics of the rep program ("Mary Kay for the new millennium") and includes a revealing interview with Emily Weiss, founder and CEO of ITG/Glossier. Weiss says that Glossier operates on the "idea of every single woman being an influencer," and that for most Glossier reps, money is a secondary concern: "'I would argue that there are more important things than money,' she said. 'It's about the ability to have a voice and the ability to be a thought-leader.'" Can we just think about this quote for a second? She's saying that the real reward for Glossier reps is the privilege of being associated with Glossier. A massively wealthy woman uses her customer base for practically free advertising and pays reps less than minimum wage to splash her products all over their social media, "but there are more important things than money." Sure, Emily. I bet you paid for your pre-wedding colonics and microcurrent facials and your custom Narciso Rodriguez gown with Instagram likes.

Look, I get it: if you just want some free Glossier product and pocket money, the rep program might be a good deal for you. But you're still getting paid so much less than you would if you were a real Glossier employee producing the same amount of content. It feels shady to me, honestly. It feels exploitative and anti-feminist. The rep program has made me think twice about giving Glossier any more of my money, though I do genuinely love some of their products. I hope the brand dials down this program eventually: it's at odds with the effortless-cool-girl vibe they try so hard to project, and it's ethically sketchy at best. Is it a full-scale moral outrage? Of course not, but it leaves a worse taste than birthday cake in my mouth.
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14 comments:

  1. Wow, the term "thought-leader" is seriously disturbing. Is really the latest jargon to replace trendsetter>taste-maker>influencer?

    Have you read these stories about Younique? Unfortunately there hasn't been an update recently, but they make a pretty compelling read: https://notquitefairytalesblog.com/category/elles-poonique-story/

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    1. Yeah, "thought-leader" doesn't sound TOO dystopian. I'd advise Emily to go back to the drawing board with that one.

      And yes, I came across that blog a couple of weeks ago! I like how the blogger admits that she didn't put much thought into signing up with Younique. MLMs seem to take advantage of people who aren't willing to do their research.

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  2. Have you read the Pink Truth blog? I stumbled across it a few weeks ago and obsessively read through the archives. I was already anti-MLM, but it's so detailed.

    That quote from Emily Weiss is honestly hilarious. I sell cosmetics for a living, am I a thought-leader? I guess not because I definitely don't do it to ~have a voice~, I do it because someone pays me. And I don't have any brands as cool as Glossier to sell, of course!!!!

    I'm kind of glad Glossier still isn't shipping internationally, because it makes my conflicting feelings much easier to manage. I genuinely love the Haloscope (it's possibly my favourite highlighter?), but the brand image and marketing strategy could not put me off more.

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    1. I've spent several insomniac nights reading the Pink Truth archives, too! And someone I know from college has quite a few SAHM Facebook friends who seem to be involved with MLMs. These particular people live in a well-educated part of the country and seem fairly well-off, and I get the sense that they're selling LuLaRoe and LipSense as a casual side hustle instead of assuming they can make a fortune from it. Which is cool--it's the exploitative "quit your day job!" #girlboss rhetoric I can't stand.

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  3. **Whispers** Me. I don't really like cones. My grocery store sells waffle bowls, which is as close as I want to get.

    This is exactly as I thought it would be: a play on the nostalgia for Lip Smackers, reinvented in the Glossier aesthetic. So I still want it...but I could also just buy a vanilla Lip Smacker and call it a day. Which is probably a better idea.

    Everything about Emily Weiss's comments about the rep program is hilarious and infuriating. Sure, there are things more important that money, but the Glossier lifestyle requires lots of it, soooo...

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    1. I occasionally consent to eat coneless ice cream, but I'm not totally happy about it UNLESS the ice cream itself has built-in texture (e.g. chocolate chips). Cones do add an element of risk to ice cream consumption, though. I remember begging my parents to let me have ice cream in a cone when I was about three; they finally said yes, and of course my ice cream immediately fell off my cone and I started crying.

      I'm something of an Emily Weiss hipster: she annoyed me even BEFORE she launched Glossier.

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    2. This is a fantastic essay that articulates why I've felt uneasy about Glossier, even though I'm kind of coveting the clouds paint and may give in.... Emily Weiss annoyed me before she launched Glossier, too!

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    3. The cloud paint is pretty great, not gonna lie. Definitely one of the better Glossier products I've tried.

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  4. coffeeatpemberleyJune 25, 2017 at 11:22 PM

    This was really interesting to read! I live in Europe and don't even consider purchasing products with overseas shipping, so I'm not very informed about certain brands and their shady practices. I've kind of disliked Glossier before because of their "not like other girls" attitude, even though I like their overall aesthetic (the holographic packaging looks gorgeous).

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    1. The "not like other girls" attitude has rubbed me the wrong way since I first started reading ITG about five years ago, well before Glossier launched. They've certainly managed to stay true to that aspect of their brand! I always roll my eyes at the Top Shelf interviewees who say "I don't wear much makeup," then list about ten products they wear daily. Just because you don't spackle on a drag-queen-level face every day doesn't mean you can lay claim to "not wearing much makeup," guys.

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  5. Glossier always seemed a bit cult-ish to me ... even before I read your post and discovered the extent of their tactics and approach to sales and marketing. I've never tried any of their products (because they're not available), but I am curious about a few things. Not a burning curiosity, but just a more "they're a hyped ~cool~ brand and I want to see what the fuss is about so I can judge if it's warranted". The lip balm does call to me though ... cake scent and glitter ... what's not to love? And I totally had a huge Lipsmackers collection (I was OBSESSED) including the ones with the jewel-capped holographic packaging. With those butterfly clips, talk about blast from the past!

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    1. I think the beauty world has always encouraged a cult mentality around brands and products (how often has NARS Orgasm been described as a "cult favorite"?), so I feel a little bad singling out Glossier, but I can't understand why they're (IMO) cheapening their brand with the rep program.

      I have so much nostalgia for Lip Smackers. I once brought an orange one to a birthday party and my friend's little sister got her hands on it and smeared it everywhere. My first makeup trauma!

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  6. I'm surprised that "cereal milk" as a flavor is proliferating lately--I had the vague impression that people were eating less cereal these days. Caribou Coffee has started advertising a "cereal milk coffeeless cooler." They seem to be offering a coffee product with no coffee, a cereal product with no cereal, and based on the graphics (https://s3-media4.fl.yelpcdn.com/bphoto/TiU8a862fdxbfriB3Q5PNw/o.jpg) a beverage with no vessel. I guess "cold flavored milk" was a non-starter in the advertising department.

    I hadn't thought about Lip Smackers for years before reading this post. Probably since I gave a bunch to my elf in 2003. They were always pretty ineffective as lip balm, but I guess they seemed like the kind of mediocre product that is nevertheless a reasonably good gift, at least as a surprise treat for a stranger.

    Did you ever hear that This American Life episode about the MLM called Wake Up Now? It was enormous, and more more male-targeted than most MLMs, and it went belly-up a few months after the episode aired.

    (Sorry if this comment is a little loopy; I've been editing a technical document all day and it's doing things to my brain.)

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    1. I'm fairly sure Milk Bar's cereal milk flavor has existed as long as Milk Bar has (nine years), so maybe other companies are just catching on? But yeah, why did it take them so long? That vessel-less drink is hilarious. Earlier this year, it was so cold that I came upon a cupless cup of water, frozen in perfect shape with a Starbucks straw still inside.

      I would have loved to get some Lip Smackers from my elf! Instead I got a MHC shot glass, which I still have, and a mix CD I wish I still had, because it was so 2005 it hurt. And no, I hadn't heard of that episode. It's interesting that MLMs are becoming so insanely popular again.

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