Glossier keeps coming up with new marketing strategies to put me off and new products to tempt me back in. No sooner had I planned a post on Glossier’s MLM-esque rep program than they released a fucking birthday-cake-scented lip balm with sparkles and holographic packaging. I have a price, and Glossier knows it. So this post will be a two-parter: a review of Birthday Balm Dotcom, followed by one of my usual rants against the marriage of social media and late capitalism. Who says we can’t have our cake and eat it too?
Birthday is Glossier’s collaboration with Milk Bar, the dessert arm of the Momofuku restaurant empire. The pairing makes a lot of sense: like Glossier, Milk Bar sells overpriced, overhyped products in small portions, but damned if its aesthetic isn’t on point. Here’s the “Cereal Milk” soft-serve I had last October in Williamsburg; it was tasty, but who wants soft-serve without a cone? Give me Mister Softee any day.
Like the other flavors of Balm Dotcom, Birthday is permanent and retails for $12, though Renee kindly sent me one with her Glossier store credit (and I was planning to buy one with my own store credit!).
It comes with a sparkly balloon sticker that’s so cute I’m tempted to put it on my laptop, even though I don’t like using my person to advertise products (yes, my computer counts as part of my person; we’re all cyborgs now).
Seriously, the people who designed the packaging for this product deserve a raise. Say what you will about Glossier, they know how to put hearts in their fellow millennials’ eyes.
THE BOX HAS A FUCHSIA LINING, GUYS.
The Birthday Balm Dotcom comes in the same squeezy tube as the original BDC, and it has the same thick, unctuous formula, which lasts several hours on my lips if I don’t eat. A little goes a long way!
|Are we allowed to use the word “holosexual” anymore?|
The Glossier website copy for Birthday promises “subtle shimmer,” and that is indeed what you get. Here’s a hand swatch in indirect natural light:
In direct sunlight:
I was pleased to discover that the sparkle is actually visible on my lips. Here’s a lip swatch in two lighting situations, both natural/indoors:
From a regular distance, the balm looks more like a slightly milky gloss, though you can detect a hint of sparkle if you look closely. In true Glossier fashion, I’m wearing no makeup except undereye concealer and Birthday BDC:
I wasn’t terribly impressed with the original Balm Dotcom, which I found too thick and insufficiently moisturizing. Birthday does feel more moisturizing than the original; really, though, I’m just here for the glitter.
One final detail to keep in mind is that Birthday has a very strong scent. It’s supposed to smell like Milk Bar’s birthday cake, and it is indeed redolent of vanilla and butter. The smell lingers for about an hour after application. I quite enjoy it, but if you hate strong fragrance (especially vanilla fragrance) in your lip products, watch out for this one. Once the vanilla wears off, the regular petroleum/lanolin Balm Dotcom smell replaces it. The balm is slightly sweet if you get it in your mouth, which is odd but not inappropriate, I guess.
By the way, does anyone remember those sparkly Lip Smackers with jewels on the caps? I had a vanilla one c. 2000 and it smelled almost identical to Birthday, with similar silver holographic packaging. Here’s a photo of another one I still have, in a boysenberry flavor:
|Feat. genuine Y2K-era butterfly clips.|
Happy early 30th birthday to me!
And now for (more than) a few words on Glossier’s rep program.
By posting about any product on social media, you’re providing free advertising content for a brand: that’s just the nature of the beast. Glossier was one of the first brands to harness that beast by making every customer a de facto Glossier affiliate. When you place your first order, you receive a link through which other people can purchase products. First-time customers get 20% off, and if they use your link, you get $10 in Glossier store credit, for a maximum of $500 per year. (Update: as of July 2017, that amount has been reduced to $5.) Hence all the “get 20% off Glossier!!!” spam on Instagram, though the spammers fail to mention two facts: 1) all first-time customers get 20% off, whether or not they purchase through an affiliate link; 2) buying further products through a link doesn’t bring further 20% discounts. If you’ve already ordered from the Glossier website once and you decide to make another order through my link, I’m the only one of us who benefits monetarily, to the tune of $5 in store credit. (You benefit if you enjoy my snarky Glossier posts and would like to see me review more products, and I’m very grateful to the four whole people who have clicked my link so far.)
Last year, Glossier took this arrangement to another level by inaugurating its rep program, which gives Glossier representatives a small monetary commission on every product purchased through their link. Instead of store credit, Glossier reps earn cold hard cash, and they get products sent to them in advance. From what I understand, the commission increases over time, depending on how many products a rep manages to sell. Needless to say, this encourages aggressive sales tactics: Reddit users have reported that mentioning Glossier in a comment can bring a flurry of private messages from reps eager to move some product. Initially, Glossier handpicked a small number of customers as reps, but now anyone can apply through email to join the program. I have no idea how rigorous the screening process is or how many Glossier reps are out there, but these days every Glossier post on Instagram seems to come from a rep eager to tell you that she NEVER used sunscreen before Invisible Shield.
If all this sounds familiar, you’ve probably come in contact with LipSense or Younique or another multilevel-marketing brand (MLM). These companies operate as pyramid schemes: distributors order a large amount of product directly from the brand and sell it at a markup to people in their area, often friends and family. But the real money comes from recruiting other distributors, who then pay commission on their sales to the person who recruited them. I have a morbid fascination with MLMs and their predatory tactics (“we empower women to run their own small businesses!”), so I’ve done a lot of reading on the cultish mentality surrounding these companies. MLMs prey on women who are already financially vulnerable, and often require them to buy huge amounts of product before they start selling: LuLaRoe, the renowned purveyor of pizza-printed leggings, demands an outlay of $5-6k. (John Oliver has a great segment on MLMs if you’d like to learn more.)
To be clear, Glossier is not an MLM: reps don’t earn money by recruiting other reps, they’re not required to buy product wholesale from Glossier, and potential customers can purchase directly from Glossier’s website instead of going through a distributor. And so far as I know, Glossier isn’t promising its reps that they can quit their day jobs and pull in a living wage shilling Haloscope and Boy Brow. But the rep program feels more than a little MLM-y: it fosters a relentless positivity and a cult mentality (when was the last time you saw a negative Glossier review?), and it encourages customers to turn their social bonds into cash flow. New reps announce their affiliation with Glossier through eerily similar blog posts:
Make no mistake, Glossier knows exactly what it’s doing. This Quartz article breaks down the mechanics of the rep program (“Mary Kay for the new millennium”) and includes a revealing interview with Emily Weiss, founder and CEO of ITG/Glossier. Weiss says that Glossier operates on the “idea of every single woman being an influencer,” and that for most Glossier reps, money is a secondary concern: “‘I would argue that there are more important things than money,’ she said. ‘It’s about the ability to have a voice and the ability to be a thought-leader.'” Can we just think about this quote for a second? She’s saying that the real reward for Glossier reps is the privilege of being associated with Glossier. A massively wealthy woman uses her customer base for practically free advertising and pays reps less than minimum wage to splash her products all over their social media, “but there are more important things than money.” Sure, Emily. I bet you paid for your pre-wedding colonics and microcurrent facials and your custom Narciso Rodriguez gown with something more important than money.
Look, I get it: if you just want some free Glossier product and pocket money, the rep program might be a good deal for you. But you’re still getting paid so much less than you would if you were a real Glossier employee producing the same amount of content. It feels shady to me, honestly. It feels exploitative and anti-feminist. The rep program has made me think twice about giving Glossier any more of my money, though I do genuinely love some of their products. I hope the brand dials down this program eventually: it’s at odds with the effortless-cool-girl vibe they try so hard to project, and it’s ethically sketchy at best. Is it a full-scale moral outrage? Of course not, but it leaves a taste worse than birthday cake in my mouth.