Times are tough—for consumers and brands alike. Gen Zers report higher rates of mental illness and cyberbullying than their older counterparts, with an increasing need for discussions around these topics. 34% of consumers state they feel less confident about their appearance, and in December 2020 it was reported that symptoms of anxiety and depression rose by 11% from the previous year for US residents. But born out of such challenging times are brands with genuine messages of support.
“When it comes to products, there is a level of education that we need to do around mental health and authentic self care. Gen Z knows marketing is bullshit."
By Stephanie Lee, Founder, SELFMADE
SELFMADE is a D2C brand meets online platform and zine, with a team of expert advisors including psychologists, psychiatrists, and wellness leaders, alongside veteran product developers and founder Stephanie Lee, a former PD at MAC Cosmetics and staffer to Michelle Obama. Describing itself as “a personal care brand focused on disrupting beauty by centering and prioritizing the experiences and emotional wellbeing of all women and gender non-conforming people,” the company debuted with a Secure Attachment Comfort Serum+ (complete with practical tools for building a secure attachment style in one’s personal life) and recently launched its sophomore product, True Grit Resilience Scalp + Body Scrub. Alongside the physical product, SELFMADE created The True Grit CommonRoom, a 21-day digital experience developed in conjunction with behavioral models to build rituals of self-actualization.
“When it comes to products, there is a level of education that we need to do around mental health and authentic self care. Gen Z knows marketing is bullshit. Beauty for the longest time has been at the forefront of exploiting our insecurities for profit, telling consumers what they want and should buy. Whereas for us, we're building a business and a brand with our consumers so the development process is a collaborative conversation. It's much more community driven,” Lee comments. Instead of a product-first approach, SELFMADE launches items around psychological concepts. “Understanding the conversations that are important to our consumers helps us better meet their needs. You can add value deeply in people's lives, rather than just, 'Oh, you need a new face wash.’”
Strategic foresight agency The Future Laboratory recently spotlighted Resilience Culture as one of its macro trends. “It’s about relearning, rebooting and recalibrating brands, businesses, corporations and, more importantly, ourselves, as we push back against the age of SAFE – sanitised spaces, anonymous branding, faltering organisations and erratic responses to those big questions of our age,” co-founder Martin Raymond states in the report’s introduction.
Dove tapped Lizzo for its selfie talk campaign, which addresses unrealistic beauty standards via social media posts, as part of its ongoing Self Esteem Project. The company also released a downloadable confidence kit that explores social media’s impact on well-being, and launched an initiative to support fathers’ mental well-being for Father’s Day, including tailored Headspace meditations and parenting tutorials. G&B Digital Management founder Kyle Hjelmeseth partnered with a psychologist and behavior analyst to promote self-care culture among his influencer clientele. TikTok has made an effort to offer support to its users on subjects such as loneliness, eating disorders, and bullying with designated hashtags on its Discover page and in-app expert talks.
Authenticity is one of the key factors in engaging consumers, and merely launching a product isn’t enough. Efforts like SELFMADE’s show the importance of prioritizing vulnerability, and our innate humanity, over a perfectly manicured press release. “True beauty is about connecting to the unique essence that we all are at our core. It's not about specific features per se or anything on the surface alone, but more about celebrating this uniqueness. Emotional well-being and mental health, as well as our overall well-being, are elevated by connecting to our true beauty,” comments Kimberly Snyder, founder of lifestyle brand Solluna, which offers probiotic supplements and clean skincare.
In a time when today’s consumers are overwhelmed by digitally induced perfection, brand owners and companies are beginning to acknowledge that beauty can’t stop at a skin-deep endeavor, and their own responsibility in perpetuation of unrealistic images and ideals. “Beauty can play a significant role both positively and negatively in mental health. Given how social media promotes beauty with filters and comparing ourselves to others, etc., it has deeply affected many, but at the same time consumers are starting to lean towards real beauty and appreciate relatability,” adds Brittany Lo, founder of beauty wellness brand Beia, whose name is a nod to the Chinese word for treasure (bao bei), and to embracing moments of self-care.
CRUDE, a soap-free and microbiome-friendly skincare line, recently launched SOUL, or School of UnLearning, which founder Denise Cartwright describes as an initiative to “challenge ourselves and our readers to reconsider the norms, habits, and knowledge we’ve accepted as a given. Through conversations with experts, educators, and activists across spheres and industries, we’re compiling thoughts, experiences, and practices that bring us closer to CRUDE’s ultimate goal: homeostasis in our bodies, in our communities, and for our planet.” Content is divided into skin, wellness, and activism categories. Educational platforms have been an important tool in community-building before, but for mental health-focused brands, their content needs to have expert-backed tools and create a genuine dialogue with customers. Brand owners need to speak eye-to-eye with them, rather than through the filter of a social media post or marketing effort. “Empowerment is about possessing the tools and resources you need to achieve important goals and make informed decisions. By offering logically sound, culturally inclusive, and accessible science-based information to customers, brands set themselves and their customers up for successful experiences,” Cartwright states.
Supporting consumers in their mental health journey may be a challenging, time-intensive task, but for those who persevere, the outcome offers benefits across the board, and ones that remain long after the product bottle is empty.
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