How Nars is bringing modern luxury to social media

At the peak of Nars cosmetics’ most recent social media campaign, the associated hashtag was mentioned in 30 tweets every second. ‘Breakthrough,’ which the luxury makeup brand launched in conjunction with the release of its Christopher Kane designer collection, is the latest example of the experimental campaigns that set Nars apart from competitors on the leading platforms.

Though this is only the brand’s third big social media campaign in four years (following up on Facebook and Pinterest promotions in 2011 and 2013, respectively), Nars is hardly shy on social. The 21-year-old brand has amassed a cult following in its “Narsissists,” the playful name for its dedicated fans. The company’s recruited 1.1 million followers on Instagram and 230,000 on Twitter.

For the Christopher Kane ‘Breakthrough’ campaign, Nars teamed up with Guild, an agency that specializes in creating physical attractions meant to spark digital engagement.

Nars asked its U.S. and U.K. Twitter followers to tweet about the brand’s latest designer collaboration with Christopher Kane using the hashtag #NARSChristopherKaneUS and #NARSChristopherKaneUK. As tweets bearing the hashtag streamed in, each one triggered a hammer to strike hollow orbs at a Manhattan studio. Inside the orbs were the complete Christopher Kane for Nars collection; the two followers that sent the tweet that cracked through the orb in each region won the prize.

Giveaways aren’t the norm for Nars, according to Heather Park, the brand’s global director of digital. When a high-end brand enters the all-access world of social media, it has to figure out how to maintain an air of aspiration.

“Nars is luxury, and we want to stay true to brand,” said Park. “This is the first time we’ve done a giveaway, but this is through a special, interesting experience. Everything we do in digital has to stay on brand.”

Nars is a luxury brand, but it’s got an edge. Its blush and lipstick shades are often labeled with provocative names like “Orgasm,” “Striptease” and “Deep Throat.” The Narsissist social persona falls in line with this racy sophistication, and beyond building excitement for new collections, the Nars digital strategy is increasing affinity and raising awareness in the global market with the modern luxury consumer.

Sam Ewen, a partner at Guild, said that the challenge of creating the Nars campaign was keeping it in line with the brand, while inviting the Internet masses to come together.

“Knowing the Nars aesthetic, it helped us to figure out what was going to feel native,” he said. “All the colors we used for [the orb display] were out of the Nars collection — that’s where you have the subtle moments of bringing the brand to life. People were tweeting that they couldn’t look away [from the livestream]. That was a nice win for a brand that’s less mass market.”

The NARS orb before destruction.
The Nars orb before Twitter destruction.

The brand’s core consumer, according to Maureen Mullen, co-founder and head of research at digital analytics firm L2, is “digital but sophisticated.” 

“Bringing product and digital innovation to the marketplace is critical to reach their consumer,” said Mullen. “And they’ve been firing on all cylinders. Its business is one of the fastest growing in beauty.”

According to Ewen, the campaign generated more than 26,000 tweets in the U.S. and 12,000 in the U.K. within 90 minutes. While the campaign raised awareness about the release of the new Christopher Kane collection, it’s difficult to measure exactly how much social push drives customers in store, Park said.

But when a company is dedicated to a winning social game, the value is in the resulting brand affinity.

“Establishing great brand awareness translates,” said Mullen. “What they’ve done is increase the affinity, and that has a trickle-down effect for foot traffic and ultimately sales.”

The Twitter campaign, while effective in generating buzz, did have its critics. Jason Goldberg, head of strategy at Razorfish, said that brands should strive to create awareness on social, but ultimately drive participants to their websites.

“That would close the loop on the activity,” said Goldberg. “A user could easily have participated in the contest and built some loyalty with the brand, but the brand won’t know that it was this campaign that influenced them.”

In the past, Nars was able to close the loop on social when it used Pinterest as a platform for sales. In 2013, the brand partnered with three influential bloggers to release a lip pencil line exclusive to those who discovered the landing page on Pinterest. The bloggers were hand-chosen for the traffic they’d already driven to the Nars website, targeting that “digital but sophisticated” consumer.

More than sales, however, it’s raising awareness of the overall brand profile that’s driving the company’s social strategy, according to Park. Nars isn’t new to the U.K., but as the brand concentrates on growing its presence in other markets like Spain, Japan, Korea and Taiwan, it’s using its strongest followers in the U.S. and U.K. to generate social lift elsewhere. According to Mullen, it’s a worthwhile investment.

“Nars is in the process of scaling globally and figuring out how to use digital platforms in emerging markets,” said Mullen. “Social investments should help brands be more efficient with their dollars. It’s less costly than traditional media.”

Scaling globally, however, doesn’t mean the company should lose sight of who it’s aiming to reach on social.

“The relationship Nars wants to have with their consumer base is still one of exclusivity,” said Mullen. “They can leverage that reach by targeting the right consumers. The goal is to be in the right hands rather than a lot of hands, and that’s critical of a luxury brand.”

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