What Tarte's Bora Bora Faux Pas Tells Us About The Third Era Of Influence

Another day, another brand getting slammed on social media. This time it’s cosmetics company Tarte, which took a bunch of beautiful people influencers to Bora Bora and has been seeing backlash online ever since for being ‘out of touch’ while so many consumers are pinching their pennies.   

Tarte’s CEO, Maureen Kelly, has said that despite criticism of previous activations, they are a cost-effective way of generating sales when a brand doesn’t have vast amounts to spend on marketing. Hotel room prices have been discounted, gifts are donated from female-led brands (from within a Tarte incubator, admittedly) and it has driven sales for Tarte in the past. 
But the past is the operative word here. Pre-pandemic, we had reached peak influence where this content would fly – but times have changed along with the values of younger generations. This backlash is actually a prime example of how we’re entering a new era of influencer marketing, one in which the value exchange is shifting.   



The Third Age Of Influence 

The first era of online influence came from blogs and long-form content based on expertise and knowledge. That lasted until the advent of platforms like Instagram, which brought about a move towards the video and the visual. Pre-2023, influence was mostly aspirational – based on beautiful people hawking beautiful products in beautiful places.   

That was where Tarte operated and everyone was comfortable with it. That is, until we began to enter the ‘third age’ of influence post-pandemic, further exacerbated by the cost-of-living crisis.   

Our research last year found that people – especially Gen Z (62% of them) – are looking to influencers for more money-saving content rather than conspicuous consumption. But it goes far beyond just saving money: it’s indicative of what consumers are expecting in the third age of influence.   

This latest age of influence sees a blending of the first two; people still want video and TikToks, but now they will often expect a bedrock of knowledge and helpful advice beneath it. We have seen the rise of explainers, of paywalled Substacks that share insight rather than just something nice to look at. News and social media are blending to the point where some users are hearing about current events from newsreader-style content creators rather than from the traditional media.   

It’s this blend that’s led many to question the value of the Tarte brand’s influencer approach, especially given the rise of the ‘creator economy’ where creators have to bring genuine value and talent to the table and brands have to think about the value exchange more than ever.   

Selling To The Savvy   

Today’s audiences are smart and are aware of the ‘rules’ and frameworks that underpin influencer marketing. They understand influencers have to make money and are willing to accept what some call the ‘sell-out economy’, but we’ve also seen the rise of de-influencing as a counter trend when they go too far and are inauthentic or less than transparent about the fact they’re selling something.   

This is putting brands in an interesting position as they transition into this third age. In some cases, they’re moving away from traditional influencers, towards more niche advocates. For example, to highlight its mission of making it easier for everyone to experience the world, tapped into Gen Z’s love of offbeat, niche subcultures, by recruiting Mermaid Sirenity from TikTok’s #MerTok community, to take a road trip along the Oregon Coast.   

Look at Gucci bringing trainspotter Francis Bourgeois on board, or Tube Girl and her #delulu energy, or how Bobbi Altoff leans into her awkwardness and still fronted a campaign for CeraVe alongside Michael Cera. Amelia Dimoldenberg, the remarkable woman behind Chicken Shop Date, was even a red carpet interviewer at the Oscars this year. All these play outside the typical standards of influencer marketing.   

Influencers are doing this because it gives them more creative bandwidth, and it gives brands something more interesting to jump off than just the middle of the road. It allows brands to come up with a different route that goes beyond the obvious. Having said that, the one constant is that influencers and brands need alignment on brand values, and they need to do that well.   

While there’s still a place on social for beautiful people doing beautiful things, it’s at a base level. Younger generations are probably not going to be swayed as easily and will be looking for value add instead of, or as well as, aspiration. The fact is knowledge, information and expertise are aspirational for younger generations. Brands, including Tarte, would do well to be mindful of this shift – certainly when it comes to their influencer marketing strategies. 

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