Questioning the Beautiful Game: How Beauty’s Fling with Gaming has Missed the Mark

By Jenny Hancock, Research Executive, 2CV

With the growing popularity of gaming, beauty brands joined many others in an attempt to engage gamers, especially as women represent 37% of gamers in Asia.

An earlier example of this came during 2020, when Givenchy Beauty launched makeup designs in the video game, “Animal Crossing: New Horizons”, with users being able to wear lip, foundation and even cheek tattoos by the brand in-game. More recently, essence makeup launched a game within Roblox called “Colour Dare by essence”. Players were given the opportunity to participate in ‘community days’, whereby reaching a goal within a mini-game is rewarded with a charity donation.

Beauty brand activity in the gaming sphere isn’t just limited to in-game items and mini-games—there’s been a myriad of activity over the past few years:

  • IRL product launches

In 2019, M.A.C collaborated with Tencent to launch a collection of lipsticks representing characters from the popular mobile game, “Honor Of Kings in China”. More recently, Colourpop collaborated with Nintendo to launch an “Animal Crossing: New Horizons”- themed collection in July 2021, which included eye shadow palettes based on four iconic characters from the series, among other AC:NH branded products.

  • Sponsorships

Charlotte Tilbury, the luxury celebrity make-up artist brand, partnered with Girl Gamer festival in 2021 to host masterclasses, gaming events and digital activations at the convention.

  • Virtual stores and VR experiences

In late 2023, L’Occitane launched an interactive virtual Alpine Chalet store to for the festive season. Players were able to browse limited edition holiday ranges, learn about the brand’s recycling initiatives and create a postcard featuring their wish list.

  • Competitions

essence makeup hosted the second iteration of a popular Twitch cosplay contest in collaboration with streamer and cosplayer Emiru in May 2023, which saw a 30% increase in entries from the first. Benefit Cosmetics hosted the Game Face programme, a year-long tournament series created specifically for female gamers playing to win a cash prize.

These brand activations sound great in theory (you reach the gamers within your target audience, boost brand awareness and, if you’re lucky, sales) but the reality is more complex. While it is difficult to know exactly how well a beauty brand’s gaming activation has performed (most brands are hesitant to share ROI information), you can get a feel for which activations are winners, and which are, frankly, sub-par.

Some activations can feel lacklustre and honestly, a bit cringe. Take the NARS Play Your Power mini-game. Set in ‘Powermatte-ropolis’, players could choose to be one of three characters (Dragon Girl, Too Hot To Hold, or American Woman) based on different shades of the NARS Powermatte lipsticks. The game itself is a simple endless runner (you move a motorcycle left and right about a road to avoid obstacles), challenging players to reach the highest score and gain a place on the leaderboard. The mini-game has little value-add for NARS—the character names in particular lack imagination and it feels as if it were created solely to jump on the gaming bandwagon. In other words, it doesn’t feel like it was made for gamers, but for gaming clout.

Others asked for gamers’ opinions but failed to listen to the response. When e.l.f launched their Twitch channel, they promptly had to follow up with an apology for not including Black creators in the launch event and for failing to moderate racist and sexist comments on the stream chat; disappointing anyway—but even more so after Black and trans creators responded enthusiastically to the announcement of the Twitch channel. Gaming has historically been a safe space for marginalised groups, and inconsiderate actions by beauty brands threatens this safety. Whilst e.l.f have gone on to pursue other activations (such as a Roblox activation aiming to teach Gen Z about entrepreneurship), this first interaction with gamers provides a good lesson for all brands looking to enter the gaming space: listen to your audience.

Furthermore, there hasn’t been much recent beauty brand activity with gamers, hence most of the examples shared in this article are several years old. Activations like virtual stores were effective in engaging audiences during the pandemic, but the lack of recent activity is telling. It feels like beauty brands excited themselves with the gaming opportunity, rushed in to take part, subsequently realised gaming activations weren’t providing the high ROI (whatever the chosen metric) expected, and quietly walked away.

Given weaker and less-recent activations, it’s not surprising that beauty brands haven’t gained traction in gamers’ minds. This is evident in 2CV’s Game Changers research (a survey with 3,000 gamers in six markets—UK, US, India, Indonesia, Thailand and Japan—to understand which non-gaming brands are making their mark on gamers). We found that globally, beauty brands were missing the mark. All beauty brands tested—Chanel, L’Oreal, Estee Lauder and SK-II—under-indexed in our global ranking, a composite index based on ‘Fame’, ‘Fit’ and ‘Fidelity’ metrics, proving that there is definitely more work to be done to bring beauty brands to the forefront of gamers’ minds.

This is disheartening because there is a place for beauty brands in the gaming world, one where they can enact real change to make gaming more inclusive for their target audiences. For example, Dove joined together with Open Source Afro Hair Library to launch the Code My Crown initiative, which published a guide to coding Afro-textured hair and protective style in an effort to increase the variety of Black hairstyles in gaming. The brand also consulted with natural hair experts to create hair sculpts for developers. As we found in our previous research, diverse customisation options are important to female gamers and actively feed into their immersion when playing, ultimately impacting their overall experience.

We’re yet to see many gaming moves made by beauty brands this year but I for one am excited to see how this space progresses. Learn more about how we help non-gaming brands navigate the gaming space by getting in touch with singapore@2cv.com.

This article was first published in the Q2 2024 edition of Asia Research Media

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