We Don’t Need Beauty in the Metaverse — Yet

In early June, I got a pitch about Clinique’s latest web3 initiative, “Metaverse Like Us,” an NFT campaign created in “direct response to the lack of diversity, inclusion, and accessibility that exists in web3,” according to an email sent by a PR firm. The brand teamed up with makeup artists and content creators in a bid to “cement Clinique’s commitment to building a better and more inclusive digital beauty world focused on accessibility to address the lack of representation in the Metaverse.”

A corresponding image featured a diverse group: avatars of colour, including one that was disabled and another with vitiligo, a skin condition that causes parts of skin to lose pigment. “Change starts with us, and it’s our responsibility to ensure the same mistakes aren’t repeated in the real world,” the pitch read.

When the campaign went live, employees on LinkedIn posted an image of Clinique’s real-life team in the metaverse. A virtual rendering showed over 40 Clinique employees who work at the corporate level and were cheering, smiling and holding their arms up triumphantly; almost all of them appear to be white and able-bodied.

The image wasn’t shared with the media or meant to be seen by Clinique’s customers. But it’s a good example of a legacy beauty label missing the mark on what some believe is the next big thing. “Metaverse Like Us,” could have been impactful had it been created by a company that embodied the message it was broadcasting.

Instead, it’s simply a brand latching onto an issue (diversity and inclusion) and platform of the moment (an NFT campaign). It’s a time-tested way to grab headlines and gives the brand’s manager an answer when their bosses inevitably ask: “What are we doing about the metaverse?”

In a statement, a Clinique spokesperson said the campaign led to the “second highest weekly gain of followers on Instagram (in the last 2 years) and 400 percent increase of time spent on page vs site average,” and that it had received positive feedback from members of the communities represented by the NFTs.

“The Daz 3D Non Fungible People NFT collection was produced to promote greater representation in the Metaverse,” the spokesperson said. “It was done thoughtfully in consultation with many experts in various fields and with both internal and external communities to ensure the content was authentic.”

I don’t mean to single out Clinique here. Nars, Estée Lauder, Charlotte Tilbury and others have launched various metaverse initiatives. While inclusivity may not have been their focus, these efforts have one thing in common: each in its own way fails to meet customers where they consume beauty content, giving these projects a feeling of existing because the brands think they have to have some sort of presence in the metaverse. We aren’t going to talk about these things much beyond that initial burst of publicity. The return on investment on beauty is questionable already, and showing up in the metaverse for no reason feels like a misunderstanding of a beauty company’s purpose.

You could say many of the same things about fashion’s NFT experiments. But it’s easier to envision a world where those brands build real businesses selling virtual clothing or other products that tie into clothes people wear. It’s harder to imagine people applying an Advanced Night Repair serum NFT to enhance their avatar’s skin, and no beauty brand has come up with a truly compelling future for this technology in their industry.

So while it’s understandable why beauty wants to play in a space that’s been dominated by fashion, it also feels like someone’s younger sibling following them to a party.

There are plenty of places online where beauty has an edge on fashion — take TikTok and YouTube, for example. But when it comes to web3, fashion’s been quicker to find early ways to play in the space. It’s easy to understand how exclusive, limited apparel and accessories drops translate into the virtual world. The brands that have been loudest about their web3 projects, from Nike to Gucci to Balenciaga, fit nicely into the hype-y, visual representation of fashion. Clout is clout.

Without the logos and distinctive characteristics of apparel and accessories, it’s unclear how skin care, makeup and fragrance will establish a presence and a purpose in web3. A pink lipstick or a limited-edition serum NFT that makes your avatar’s skin glow can come from any brand; you might proudly show off a Chanel logo on your bag, but not on your avatar’s lips.

Some beauty brands have created highly visual products, like Dieux’s under-eye masks, that could translate to the metaverse. They can also sell merch — Glossier’s pink hoodie, which had a thousands-long waitlist, would probably be an NFT if Timothée Chalamet had worn it in 2021 instead of 2019.

But is there a place for skin care brands, which mostly sell products that can’t even be seen in photos or a video? For makeup, will the augmented reality and virtual try-on tools offered by Sephora or NYX translate to web3? It seems unlikely that a customer will head to the metaverse for a virtual try-on instead of using a retailer’s app or a similar in-store tool.

When it comes to products, will brands sell virtual versions of their existing products? Will avatars be able to wear digital versions of real-life shades of lipstick? How do you discern a virtual shade sold by Nars from Charlotte Tilbury’s?

There’s also FOMO. Despite these challenges, many of these companies, especially ones with the financial means to do so, are just trying it out because it’s the “hot new thing” and they don’t want to be left behind.

For now, the beauty industry is left mostly with marketing: NFTs based on bestsellers, virtual storefronts, advertising. That’s just not that exciting and isn’t going to transform how these companies interact with their customers. With much of the crypto world melting down right now, it might make more sense for brands to wait and see what emerges from the rubble rather than burn themselves rushing into cheesy one-off projects.

Digital Fashion & Avatars Decoded

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