As the line between the metaverse and real life becomes increasingly blurred, it was inevitable that the beauty industry was also set to get involved. The rapid expansion of digital consumership has opened up a new world of cryptocurrency and blockchain technology, shaking up how we process transactions and even product ownership, specifically in the form of non-fungible tokens (NFTs). Not sure what an NFT is, you’re not alone. NFTs are electronic tokens that represent the unique and genuine possession of a digital or real asset or concept. These totally unique digital assets can then be auctioned on and traded in cryptocurrency marketplaces. Or more simply put, ‘They’re essentially unique digital artworks that can consist of images, videos and/or audio that can be created, collected, and traded on dedicated platforms,’ explains Lise Arlot, Head of Strategy at MTArt Agency.
‘NFTs are incredibly versatile,’ Arlot continues. ‘They can trigger special access, treats or interactions for their owners, which makes the possibilities endless for engage with, nurturing, and growing online communities by providing unique fully digital experiences or by enhancing and recording real-life events.’
In the world of art and fashion, NFTs have made huge headway, with some of the largest and oldest fashion houses creating unique pieces that offer a digitally preserved right of ownership. Now NFTs are making their way to the world of beauty. Brands such as Clinique, NARS and e.l.f Cosmetics were among the first beauty brands to create beauty NFTs or, as they called them, N.e.l.f.Ts, and make them available in the crypto market. Cult brand NARS collaborated with three female artists: DJ and music producer Nina Kraviz, collage and crystal artist Sara Shakeel and fashion designer Azéde Jean-Pierre, tasking them to create three NFTs inspired by their iconic NARS Orgasm product line. ‘Innovation is in our DNA at NARS,’ says Dina Fierro, NARS Vice President Of Global Digital Strategy And Socialisation. ‘Whether that’s via iconic products, breakthrough campaigns or digital disruption.’
Designed to give ownership over an original file, NFTs make sense from a consumer perspective, but when it comes to beauty, what do brands seek to gain by implementing NFTs? ‘The use cases for NFTs are numerous and it’s difficult to predict where the technology will take us in the coming years,’ explains Fierro. ‘For brands like NARS, with a distinct creative identity, unparalleled product, and strong IP, NFTs can be a powerful mechanism to tokenise community and loyalty programs, or to allow consumers to showcase their brand affinity.’
Though still in their infancy, beauty NFTs are posing an exciting and refreshing way for brands to connect with their consumers, beyond products. For many brands, its a new route to establishing a more intimate, but also direct, relationship with their consumer – a concept at the core of e.l.f Cosmetics’ pursuit into the world of NFTs. ‘The NFT space is quickly evolving especially as the technology is getting more accessible, making it easier for consumers to get involved,’ says Gayitri Budhraja, Chief Brand Officer at e.l.f. cosmetics. ‘It’s a new way for super fans to be a part of the brands that they love.’
It also goes without saying that the new revenue streams offered by NFTs provide an appealing prospect for beauty brands. It adds a direct brand-to-consumer line of communication that provides a wealth of insight into consumer data.NFTs are becoming a win, win for the beauty industry.
In June 2021, e.l.f Cosmetics created three limited edition NFT versions of their bestselling products: The Poreless Putty Primer, 16HR Camo Concealer and Ride or Die Lip Balm, all dipped in gold. The brand then sold the gold NFT iterations on NFT marketplace Bitski as ‘Crypto Cosmetics’. Just nine were created, each costing less than $9. The aim? To make NFTs that straddled the concepts of accessible, rather than exclusive, whilst remaining tradeable collectables. To appeal to both ‘crypto diehards’ and the brand’s loyal customers. A goal similar to the original mission of NFTs: to democratise the world of art and design and create a more accessible playing field.
The brand doesn’t know who bought the NFT product twins, but Budhraja suspects that at least a few super fans were able to acquire them. ‘The response wasn’t entirely surprising,’ she says. ‘Crypto-enthusiasts responded well, but there was some uncertainty from beauty fans. The beauty community is still trying to wrap their heads around what this is and what the value is.’
The fact is, NFTs can be confusing. Even more so when it comes to a tangible concept like beauty. We look to beauty products to provide some sort of visual or sensory effect, whether it be a classic red lipstick or a hydrating face mask to inject some much-needed moisture. Yes, beauty products often have a collectable nature or beautiful packaging, but when they lose their practical function or application, do they lose their purpose?
Clinique’s approach to NFTs is more emotional. For the beauty giant, creating NFTs is more than just a transactional deal, it’s strengthening their relationship with the consumer. They created three editions of their first NFT, called ‘MetaOptimist,’ and are taking a different approach to how consumers can claim their NFT. Instead of selling them, Clinique is giving its Smart Rewards members the chance to receive the NFT, plus a selection of products, once a year over the next decade by asking their customers to share their stories of optimism and hopes for the future.
‘At Clinique, we’re continuously searching for opportunities to innovate and provide consumers with unique, engaging ways to interact with our brand,’ says Carolyn Dawkins, Senior Vice President of Clinique Global Online, Consumer Engagement & Product Marketing. ‘In the world of NFTs, brand authenticity and consumer excitement are critical, and we think our approach really delivers. These NFTs are a uniquely contemporary way to celebrate loyalty and put our consumers in the driver’s seat, with storytelling and engagement at its core.’
NFTs are a new concept and, as with anything new, teething problems are likely to occur, including the financial risk. Long term, it’s uncertain whether NFTs will remain lucrative, the value could drop at any point. Additionally, there is a potentially huge environmental impact of NFTs. A study by the University of Cambridge reported that global bitcoin mining consumes more electricity than the entire country of Argentina. With sustainability at the forefront of the beauty industry’s current challenges, tackling the eco impact of NFTs is a pertinent issue.
The jury may still be out on beauty NFTs and their function in the industry, but it’s hard to deny their role in establishing a more engaged, loyal and dynamic relationship between consumer and brand. If not purely because of the allure of newness. As our world becomes increasingly digital, the burgeoning success of beauty NFTs signals another step forwards into a new era.