The Creators of e.l.f. Cosmetics’ Viral Campaign Discuss Finding Success on TikTok

The makeup brand's CMO, the platform's exec and a content producer share tips

Dancer and creator Michael Le, TikTok's Katie Puris and e.l.f. Cosmetics' Kory Marchisotto shared insights on the makeup brand's viral campaign. #AdweekatHome, TikTok, e.l.f.

Key insight:

Last October, e.l.f. Cosmetics launched its first TikTok campaign as part of a rebranding effort and as a new way to reach its Gen Z audience. The brand worked with agency Movers+Shakers to create an original 15-second song—a first for a brand on the app, according to TikTok.

By the end of the year, dozens of celebrities, TikTok stars and everyday users had participated in the the “Eyes.Lips.Face.” campaign, which became the most viral campaign on the platform to date—a title e.l.f. has retained.

The campaign was the jumping off point for a panel that closed out Adweek’s Elevate: Creativity and Experiential virtual event today. To gain insight into why that campaign had the success it did, Adweek’s creativity and innovation editor, David Griner, spoke with three vital players: content creator Michael Le, who runs his 28.6 million-follower personal account full time and participated in the campaign; e.l.f Cosmetics‘ chief marketing officer, Kory Marchisotto; and TikTok’s managing director of global business marketing Katie Puris.

For brands that want to create a presence on TikTok but are unsure how to approach the platform, the panelists stressed the importance of finding an authentic way to express their brand identity, partnering with the content creators who will reach the right audience and simply spending enough time on the app to get to know the community.

‘Understand the community’

Before embarking on a TikTok campaign, Le urged brands to sit and use the app for a while. “It’s very important to kind of absorb TikTok yourself,” he said.

By spending time on TikTok, it becomes apparent what works for each audience and how users react to different brand approaches, which can help a brand that’s new to the platform. Brands shouldn’t be afraid to try different things to figure out what sticks, Le added.

“For brands, the first thing really is to understand the community,” Puris said. “Be a part of the community. Know that culture happens here on TikTok every single day.”

TikTok is also a place where users are their “authentic selves,” Puris said, and brands shouldn’t be worried about showing a little imperfection or vulnerability in their content.

Start with a blank slate, and learn as you go

After the success of the “Eyes.Lips.Face.” campaign, Marchisotto said, one of the lessons e.l.f. took from the experience was the importance of approaching the platform without expectations. “We went in with no preconceived notion; we went in with no fear,” she said. “And we also went in with a blank piece of paper.”

That allowed the makeup brand to leverage the knowledge and expertise of the team at TikTok and the users they were partnering with to create a campaign that was optimized for the platform’s community.

The lack of a roadmap also allowed e.l.f. to adjust the campaign quickly as it realized what was working. “Do more of what’s working; do less than what’s not working,” Marchisotto said. “Have no fear in your ability to adapt. It is a fast-moving platform, but it’s fresh. It’s new. It’s dynamic.”

@klundster Kathryn Lundstrom is Adweek's breaking news reporter based in Austin.