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MAC Broke the Rules of Beauty Marketing and Got 70K People to Create Content

Ten years ago, “inner beauty” marketing might have seemed like a revolution. We applauded brands like Dove for going beyond conventional and superficial expectations. Today, however, this advertising tactic has developed its own tropes. Everyone uses the word “real,” retouching is taboo, and women of all shapes and ethnicities appreciate their external flaws.

As forward-thinking as these campaigns try to be, many of them still stick to the script of aspirational advertising; the faces and bodies all seem to blur together at this point. So when MAC Cosmetics was ready to launch MACnificent Me, a year-long user-generated content campaign, it decided to rip that script to shreds.

Last year, MAC challenged Hush, the agency behind the campaign, to give consumers a platform for personal, emotional self-expression without relying on photography. Instead of asking fans to publicly submit photos of their favorite eyeshadow look or #BestAngle, Hush built a microsite and invited users to submit a mantra that “illustrated their style, heart, and soul,” along with a private 100-word essay and photo.

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“We suggested something that’s never been done: a UGC makeover campaign that doesn’t have ‘before’ images to choose winners,” Hush’s creative director, Jodi Terwilliger, explained. “We proposed user-generated messages of positivity and self-empowerment that would ultimately lead to winners who would be made over.”

After submitting an inspirational mantra, users could further personalize their entry by choosing from a set of fonts, designs, and colors. The interactivity and positivity of the site no doubt led to incredible engagement. Seventy thousand people supplied a total of 100,000 mantras. And on average, visitors spent more than eight minutes checking out the existing mantras.

Dan Rodriguez, director of client engagement for the campaign, noted that the unique user experience may have contributed to time spent on the site. Users could type their mantras before creating an account and submitting, which meant “participants felt some degree of connection and investment in the campaign before reaching those traditional barriers to entry.”

The streamlined user experience encouraged mobile interaction as well: 70 percent of users interacted with the contest using their mobile devices. But how had they arrived at the contest in the first place?

“While the campaign leveraged all the expected paid, owned, and earned channels, a majority of traffic came direct and from social,” Rodriguez told me via email.

Surprisingly, director of production Katie Hepp wouldn’t classify the microsite as mobile-first. “The design process started with desktop, but we were always considering the mobile implications,” she explained.

MAC has a history of out-of-the-box partners, from 19-year-old pop star Lorde to 93-year-old fashion icon Iris Apfel. RuPaul was the face of MAC in 1995, and Nicki Minaj designed a Viva Glam line. For this campaign, MAC selected six fans from around the world, inviting them to New York City where they would participate in a photo shoot and become the faces for MAC’s fall 2015 makeup campaign.

The six new MAC representatives documented their experiences through video journals that now live on the campaign’s microsite. Wearing outfits and makeup fit for Alice’s Wonderland, the winners each wrote their mantras on a chalkboard wall.

Throughout the campaign, MAC and Hush fittingly colored outside the lines of most inner-beauty content initiatives. “I don’t like marketing in general,” James Gager, MAC creative director, once told i-D. “People see through things that are marketing driven.”

As Ji Won Kim, one of the six finalists, wrote as her mantra: “Life begins at the end of your comfort zone.” If MAC ever needed a mantra for its marketing, that would undoubtedly be it.

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