How Elf Cosmetics Created the Most Influential Campaign on TikTok

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When Elf Cosmetics first rolled out its hashtag challenge featuring an original song on TikTok, the brand was trying to test out the platform and see how its customers engaged with the company.

More than 2 million video views later, with over 8 million streams across Spotify, a record deal and a slew of celebrities joining the challenge (unpaid), Elf’s tapped into a market of consumers it wants to continue engaging at a time when the platform’s ad capabilities are sill nascent and brands have a chance to breakthrough in ways it can’t on other social platforms with high brand saturation.

“There were over 3 million views to Elf Cosmetics before we had any brand presence or campaigns [on TikTok],” said Kory Marchisotto, Elf Cosmetics CMO. “We were [wondering]—how can we engage this audience and eyeballs? This was like first, [let’s] prove positive and give it some weight and energy and now we leaned in and broke records and now we’re going to keep going.”

Elf Cosmetics, which is in the middle of a rebrand campaign since June, said Marchisotto, wanted to connect with Gen Z and saw TikTok as a natural place to do so—especially since the brand already had an organic presence on the platform. But, Marchisotto added, it was more so Elf going back to its “core DNA” of as a digitally native brand and trying out emerging platforms to reach customers and see what works. On October 4, Elf launched a 6-day hashtag challenge, with a 15-second original song called “Eyes.Lips.Face” by Grammy-award winning songwriter iLL Wayno and Holla FyeSixWun. It was created with Movers+Shakers, an agency dedicated to creating original music for brands. According to TikTok, it’s the first time a brand used original music for a TikTok campaign. Since then, more than two million videos were created on the platform using the hashtag #eyeslipsface, including high-profile unpaid celebrities like Reese Witherspoon, Jessica Alba, Terry Crews, and James Charles.

“It was an immediate wildfire,” Marchisotto said. “It just went viral so we decided to lean into fair so we decided to give the music a life os its own and give it runway which was not the intention. The song was created specifically for the TikTok campaign and then we made it a much bigger campaign on its own.”

On October 11, with more than 400,000 videos at the time created for the challenge, Elf and Movers+Shakers released a full-length track for “Eyes.Lips.Face,” resulting in more than three million streams across Spotify, Apple Music and YouTube, listed in more than 200,000 playlists on Spotify, and continues to climb the charts on Spotify.

“Originally, we built the music to meet those 15 seconds [of a challenge],” said Evan Horowitz, CEO of Movers+Shakers. “When we launched it, within days people were commenting I can’t find the song on iTunes and we realized that people really loved the music so much that they were going to their song service [to look for it].”

While TikTok is still testing out its ad formats and what data it provides to brands, Marchisotto said it’s no different than what happened with other emerging platforms years ago, such as Facebook and Instagram.

“What’s critical for us is what’s happening in the social media space, who is our target audience and how do we find the right channels to find the right message and maximize engagement,” Marchisotto said. “All of the data points told us that this is the right place to lean in.”

Horowitz said right now, the song and campaign is a “one-time fluke,” but it shouldn’t be a deterrent to other brands who want to try and replicate a similar phenomena.

“This isn’t a TikTok campaign—this is a whole cultural moment that started on TikTok but blew up beyond that,” Horowitz said. “That’s what so exciting about TikTok as a launchpad—it’s growing and changing every month. It’s the only platform where you can really create a viral moment. TikTok is such a unique opportunity especially in this moment and time. You have a platform [that’s] mature, the community is there, they are extremely engaged, and the brand landscape is very sparse.”

As the song continues riding its popularity wave, Elf and Movers+Shakers are planning a phase two of the campaign, but didn’t reveal what’s to come. Marchisotto said the campaign’s success boiled down to 3 key points: the data showed the brand had a community on TikTok, Elf decided to “stand out” and create an original song, and lastly, they worked with an agency to create a song as opposed to trying to do it themselves (which could’ve led to a flop). Horowitz said right now, TikTok is a platform that can be defined by brands crafting a name for themselves in the space—but it won’t last forever.

“We are seeing a small handful of first movers and I think this is really driven by the leadership team,” Horowitz said. “The brands that are braver and more willing to say we don’t fully understand this but we see the potential and our consumers are there those brands are having a way outsized success. That window of opportunity is going to close next year when it becomes more normal and less special.”

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