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Acne Brands Capitalizing on the “Ick Factor” as a Recipe for TikTok Success

April 24, 2022
April 24, 2022
Rabizo via Canva

Since the dawn of the internet, “oddly satisfying” videos have captivated people’s attention. Pimple-popping videos are among the oldest and most popular types of strangely satisfying content that people love to watch (or love to hate-watch). 

Internet historians trace the origin of the trend back to 2015 with Dr. Pimple Popper’s viral videos, but even after seven years and a network television show, people still aren’t sick of these ick-inducing videos. TikTok dermatologists are capitalizing on the trend, posting their reaction to some close-up videos of pimple popping, blackhead squeezing, and cyst squashing, racking up millions of views in their expert dissection of another’s expert dissection. 

While watching these videos through half-shut eyes is somewhat satisfying, it’s even more satisfying to experience the ick IRL. Pimple patches allow people to take their overfilled zits into their own hands and experience the visual and physical relief of popping a pimple sans scalpel. Pimple patches have soared in popularity over the last few years, with searches expected to grow 30% over the next 12 months according to Spate.

Acne brands selling pimple patches are tapping into the pimple-popping trend to showcase the effectiveness of their products, and seeing incredible engagement and conversion on these engrossing videos. BeautyMatter spoke to four acne brands to understand how they make the most of this long-standing trend and why they believe it resonates so deeply with their customers and on social. 

Peace Out Skincare has been on a mission to erase the stigma surrounding acne since the brand launched in 2017—long before acne positivity entered the beauty zeitgeist. The brand’s best-selling acne patches were the first on the market to combine active ingredients with a medical grade hydrocolloid polymer, leading to more than 35 million patches sold worldwide. Peace Out’s honest and relatable approach to acne has made the brand wildly popular on TikTok, garnering 90.1K followers and 2.6MM likes. 

The ​​#peaceoutskincare tag has over 26.1MM views, with nearly all of the most popular videos falling into the “oddly satisfying” content category, showing the overfilled pore strips and pimple patches. Junior Pence, Chief Marketing Officer and Creative Director at Peace Out, says that these videos were primarily user-generated in the beginning.

“We got early into understanding the ‘gross’ effect of Peace Out Acne Dots,” says Pence. “It started out as all organic UGC. Our consumers, people that know our brand and love our brand, put it up there themselves.”

Peace Out seeds product to nano and micro influencers, many of whom have posted about the brand before. The brand strives to build and nurture these relationships, believing them to be more fruitful than paid promotions with large influencers. 

“We've always believed that the micro influencer is the number one influencer that you could possibly ever have. It’s all about honesty and integrity,” says Pence. “What we learn from our consumers and our customers when they give us feedback is that they will only trust a nano influencer.”

“We got early into understanding the ‘gross’ effect of Peace Out Acne Dots.”
By Junior Pence, Chief Marketing Officer + Creative Director, Peace Out

Pence says that the brand only receives positive feedback on the “gross” videos they share of customers using their products. In fact, the videos have been so successful that the brands use them in paid social ads, where they continuously have a click-through rate of around 7%, as opposed to average 3.4%.  

“We've never got pushback on showing the product or being honest about what happens when you use the product because that's the benefit of the product, watching the gunk being sucked into the hydrocolloid.”

One of their more recent viral videos is a 20-second close-up video showing someone removing an acne patch, revealing the juicy inside. The video has racked up over 3.2 million views and over 289,000 likes. Pence says this speaks to the consumer demand for authenticity in marketing, especially in skincare. 

“I think they're looking for [brands] to be authentic, and to know that you're actually telling the truth about what your product is and what it does. What is the benefit of using this product?” says Pence. “At the end of the day, that's the biggest feedback we get. People love our product because it does what it says it does in the least amount of time so that they can go back to feeling good about themselves.”

Peace Out isn’t the only acne brand capitalizing on the popularity of these #oddlysatisfying videos. ZitSticka, a skincare brand known for its acne patches, sees higher engagement on these videos versus others.

“There’s a kind of visceral satisfaction in seeing, say, the contents of your zit extracted or a hyper-macro video of a hair being tweezed,” says Melissa Kenny, Director of Communications at ZitSticka. “It feels almost primal, but also difficult to trace! This category of content definitely arouses a good deal of interest/interaction for ZitSticka on TikTok (as well as Instagram) which might be explained as being cathartic or stress-relieving for some.”

For COSRX, the Korean skincare brand credited for being the first to market with the iconic Acne Pimple Master Patch, sees a deeper explanation for the popularity of these videos.

“Social media is a diary of our collective unconscious,” a representative from the skincare brand tells BeautyMatter. “The oddly satisfying videos reflect our wider sentiments, preferences, and desires. People can't stop watching these satisfying videos because they are projecting themselves onto the person in the video who’s pulling off an acne pimple patch from their skin.”

Bioré Skincare is best known for its classic pore strip, which predates the acne patch craze of recent years by at least decade. The Biore tag on TikTok is filled with examples of this trend, garnering over 88 million views. The brand knows exactly why consumers keep coming back to the iconic pore strip: the satisfaction of clean and clear pores.

“There’s something about people sharing their stripping experience—and the gunk that comes with it—that consumers just can’t get enough of,” says Leah Stone, Associate Director of Face Care at Bioré Skincare. “Watching up-close and personal content of others clearing out their pores can evoke feelings of fulfillment and productivity, and can even inspire the viewer to take action when it comes to their own skin. There is also a sense of community when it comes to these videos—they bring a certain comfort to some viewers in knowing they’re not alone in their skin struggles, and all who watch them share that same intrigue and craving for a satisfying experience.”

Sonia Elyss, beauty marketing strategist and President and founder of Round Twelve, a digital marketing consultancy, explains why she believes these types of videos overperform on TikTok. 

“While I do believe there is an audience that truly enjoys and feels that odd sense of satisfaction from this up-close-and-personal look at something that is deemed ‘gross,’ many others just have to slow down to watch, even though they truly feel it IS gross,” says Elyss. “Consider the car crash effect. Most people don't actually want to see anything gruesome, but everyone slows down to watch! As we watch and rewatch TikTok's algorithm picks up on our ‘interest’ in the content distributing it to others on the platform at a faster rate.”

Most people will never experience an extraction worthy of Dr. Pimple Popper, and that’s probably a good thing. But most people will experience the occasional pimple, and when they do, there may be a small part of them that feels giddy at the excuse to see a pimple patch at its fullest potential. Even if you don’t find watching these videos on TikTok #oddlysatisfying, when it happens to you, it’s just plain satisfying.

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