Direct-to-Consumer (D2C) brands have taken social media by storm. You can’t scroll through Instagram or listen to a podcast without seeing ads pop up for something you can get shipped straight to your house and return hassle-free. A 2018 report showed that one third of Americans will make 40% of their purchases from D2C brands within the next five years!
D2C brands have seemingly begun to put pressure on traditional Consumer Packaged Goods (CPG) brands, inspiring them to shift everything from their product launch strategies to their advertising strategies. In a new shift rippling across the advertising landscape, many D2C brands rely heavily on influencers and employ more informal messaging that includes emojis and hashtags in their social posts. Major CPG brands have followed suit by incorporating emojis and hashtags into their messaging as well. But how does this casual messaging trend transfer to digital advertising?
Let’s compare a wildly successful D2C brand with some of its CPG counterparts to get insight into how their creative and messaging strategies differ (or don't) between organic posts and digital ads.
Facebook Ad Spend Increases for Glossier
D2C queen Glossier, a cosmetics brand founded by a lifestyle blogger, had an Instagram page with thousands of followers before a single product photo was even posted. Today they have over 2 million followers. Glossier has historically been unafraid to use emojis in their marketing, going so far as to design their own emoji-like symbols
and incorporate them into their messaging last year. Hashtags have also played a key role: the #Glossier hashtag has been used over 480,000 times. Despite hashtags and emojis being an important part of Glossier’s owned media, these symbols are relatively nonexistent in their paid media. Glossier is using emojis in only 2% of its Facebook creatives (so far this year) and is not using hashtags at all!
Emojis aren’t used uniformly throughout the D2C beauty space, though other brands appear to be eschewing hashtags in paid media as well. Madison Reed, which often utilizes hashtags and emojis in organic content, adds emojis to 52% of their paid ads on Facebook. But like Glossier, they avoid hashtags in paid ads entirely.
Lack of # and :) aside, Glossier’s social media ad spend is increasing. In 2018, they spent $4.5 million on advertising, with a healthy mix of 22% desktop display, 32% desktop video, and 35% Facebook ads. This year they’ve already spent $4.7 million on digital ads, with 9% of that spend devoted to desktop display, 30% to desktop video, and 57% to Facebook. brands appear to be eschewing hashtags in paid media as well. Madison Reed, which often utilizes hashtags and emojis in organic content, adds emojis to 52% of their paid ads on Facebook. But like Glossier, they avoid hashtags in paid ads entirely.
Interestingly, this breakdown mirrors major CPG companies’ cosmetic brands like Procter and Gamble’s CoverGirl.
More Emojis and Hashtags for Traditional CPG
A striking difference between D2C and traditional CPG is that while the former is tapering off of their usage of emojis and hashtags in their ads, the latter seems to just be getting started. Procter and Gamble is using emojis in 17% of their social media* creatives, and hashtags in 19%, numbers that remain the same both for the company overall and for their beauty and personal care brands. You’ll find hashtags and emojis in CoverGirl, Pantene, and even Charmin ads—because hey, what good is there having a toilet emoji if no one is using it to sell toilet paper?
Unilever is using emojis in similar ways — 13% of their social media* creatives have emojis — but their hashtag use differs from P&G. Hashtags are found in a whopping 39% of Unilever’s social media* creatives overall and in 42% of creatives for beauty and personal care brands. They’re using hashtags to sell everything from Hellman’s mayonnaise to Vaseline.
What can we make of all this? D2C brands have certainly revolutionized the use of social media channels, and their distinct emoji and hashtag languages, to reach and relate to their target audiences. But when it comes to paid advertising, these same brands (in beauty, at least) have also taken a page out of the traditional brands’ historical playbook, replacing # and :) with straight-forward messaging strategies that may apply to a wider audience. At the same time, traditional CPG brands have taken to social to tap into #allthefeels and seemingly, to steal some market share back from their D2C counterparts.
Will these competing strategies persist? Only time will tell.
Get the Inside Scoop on D2C and CPG
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*Data from Twitter and Facebook ads, January - November 2019.
With over a decade of experience across digital marketing, content, creative, and PR, Sarah is a creative and dynamic thinker who loves to delight clients with unique and relatable content. Sarah graduated from UC Berkeley with a BA in Sociology.