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Viral Velocity: Olaplex CMO Charlotte Watson on the Company's Strategy for TikTok Success

August 25, 2022
August 25, 2022

Technology has been a key pillar of Olaplex’s success story, as evidenced in CEO JuE Wong’s conversation with BeautyMatter founder Kelly Kovack back in July of this year for the It’s A Matter Of… podcast. The pioneer of the bond-building category raised over $1.55 billion in IPO and reported sales of $270 million in the first six months of 2021.

Just as bis-aminopropyl diglycol dimaleate, the blockbuster ingredient in the brand’s products, builds hair bonds to repair damage, so too does Olaplex’s digital strategy focus on creating a connection between two complementary parties—in this case, the brand’s social media accounts and its followers. To date, Olaplex boasts 2.3 million followers on Instagram, and 267.4K followers and 2.2 million likes on TikTok.

TikTok has become the beauty industry’s new marketing target: an online universe that can create viral moments resulting in millions of dollars in sales, but equally a space which can pull posts into the black hole vortex of irrelevance. The team behind Olaplex is managing to navigate the treacherous terrain with gusto. After all, word-of-mouth was so pivotal in creating the brand’s audience, which shows a high level of product loyalty—a feat in today’s increasingly brand-agnostic landscape, and TikTok can be seen as the word-of-mouth for the digitally connected age.

On the platform, the company has amassed over 1.5 billion views with #olaplex, using humorous and engaging clips such as the Olaplex hotline to answer follower questions, or product bottles with talking human face features to introduce new launches. Rather than rest on the laurels of its massive following, on August 23, they launched the #olaflex campaign, which encourages users to post before-and-after videos of their craziest hair moments of the past and the present-day state of their hair, documenting the change Olaplex’s products have made to their hair health. The endeavor was devised in partnership with social media agency Kubbco, and the movement will be supported by more than 400 TikTok influencers chosen by Olaplex. The intent is to use attention-grabbing results as a pathway to educate users about the patented technology that produces them. The company partnered with EDM DJ and producer Felix Cartal, who has over 2 million Spotify followers himself, to create an original, upbeat house track for the occasion.

The attention to detail and congruence with the brand DNA (which builds a massive part of its appeal on instant results) certainly is resonating with audience members: in 72 hours, the challenge amassed more than 3 billion views. Building on the organic momentum of these viral moments, while also using them to foster deeper brand engagement, are proving to be the keys to Olaplex’s TikTok success strategy.

BeautyMatter sat down with CMO Charlotte Watson amidst the social media frenzy to discuss Olaplex’s organic influencer selection process, edutainment, and why sound is critical to success.

Let’s start off by diving in: what is the key to a viral moment?

The first thing is having organic relevancy on the platform. Olaplex resonates very strongly, we have a really commanding presence on this platform. We launched in April 2020, and out of the gate, we had about 24 million views of our hashtag, #olaplex. Within 30 short months, we were at over 1 billion views. The velocity, from our perspective, has grown month over month.

The second thing is active social listening. Our team is really listening; they're hearing what's going on, they're looking at trends, using data using analytics from our different partners and also from the platforms themselves to understand what's trending. What can we hop on, what is our audience interested in?

In terms of the sponsored hashtag challenge, what we've done is taken learnings from some of our organic challenges and amplified them through further influencers and investments. Earlier in the year, we had a couple of smaller viral moments that were initiated by our audience. There was #olaplexbun, where our audience was getting behind this trend where creators were pulling together their own Olaplex bun using Olaplex products. Maybe they were on the go and wanted to do a treatment while they're in the kitchen or something. It was very, very organic. We actually noticed that just as it started, so we were able to hop on that.

The third thing is we've taken learnings from some of the organic hashtag challenges that we have seen within our community and basically been able to amplify those ourselves. The other piece of it is obviously the influencer strategy, having a really well-thought-through creator squad that's helping drive momentum around the hashtag. We have an incredibly loyal, amazing, creative group of professional stylists, hair fanatics, beauty aficionados, and we've built that out with some additional lifestyle, fashion, entertainment, culture creators. It feels like we're extending the reach even further into new audiences.

In addition to that, the final piece to create a viral moment is, of course on TikTok; it's an entertainment platform so you can have great content, but sound is so critical. We spent quite a bit of careful thought on sound and partnered with this really cool DJ and producer Felix Cartal, who has some strong links to popular culture. Some of his recent work are the unofficial remixes for pop-culture shows like Euphoria that are obviously trending. He's got a really strong following himself on Spotify, across social, so that was the final component for us: finding a sound that was custom, that had the Olaplex positive, upbeat, fun feeling to it, but also was going to be able to resonate across the platform.

Speaking of influencers, what is your process for selecting them? In this day and age, it doesn't suffice to have an influencer who has a great following—it has to feel organic to the brand and be someone with authenticity in speaking to their audience.

The first thing we pride ourselves on, and it's harder as we scale, is having very, very authentic one-to-one relationships with our creators and community members as much as possible. First and foremost, it's those that have an authentic and existing connection with Olaplex or with hair health in general, so there's that relevancy.

Of course, as we build out and think about new audiences, we think about influencers and creators who have the kind of content that we see resonating within our audience and community. That's a piece of it.

Then thinking about the different verticals that we want to move into and, out of the 400 creators that we knew were going to support us during this challenge, where do they resonate? The majority of them were micro influencers and actually, that's where we focus most of our time, because for us, it's the engagement. It's the resonance with the content that we know is going to have that viral effect, so that person's community is then going to be inspired to create content and so on. That really is a big part of the strategy.

"We're here to serve our community and we want them to have fun, to be able to express themselves, to be able to feel confident, both from the outside and also the inside."
By Charlotte Watson, CMO, Olaplex

Going back to #olaflex specifically, how was the idea born for this campaign?

Well, we'd already played around with this hashtag organically earlier and we've seen some appetite from our audience getting on board with it. The idea for us at this point is we have product that really, really works. We are steeped in science and technology with our patent-protected formula, and wanted to demonstrate this. We want to show, not tell, people the results of Olaplex. The idea was to tap into the nostalgia trends that you're seeing on TikTok, and also the desire for transformation. The platform just loves the before-and-after, so those two things compounded. We invited our community to share their wildest, craziest hair from before Olaplex, and then let's see your beautiful hair health journey post-Olaplex.

Since initially entering the TikTok space, has your strategy evolved or changed? Or was it very much a case of having a solid plan in place beforehand?

Since we began, it's become a really powerful library of UGC content. Our focus is building those one-to-one relationships, engaging with our community members, whether it's liking, commenting, exchanging conversation with them, for us to continue to build that content library. Then we're able to work with some of the creators and community members to be able to use that content in other places as well.

But really, we're here to serve our community and we want them to have fun, to be able to express themselves, to be able to feel confident, both from the outside and also the inside. Obviously that reflects the technology of Olaplex, being able to repair the bonds from the inside out.

In regards to your work with Felix Cartal, having this unique soundtrack to the project, do you think that music is perhaps an overlooked aspect when it comes to TikTok strategies or communications?

From my conversations, our team, our cross-functional group with TikTok, and our agency partner, Kubbco, we all felt that sound was critical to success. This is a platform that's driven by sound, by entertainment. I talk about it as edutainment when we think about brand activations on TikTok because so much of it is education and consideration of product, but it's also entertainment and people want to have fun. This was our first custom track and we're really, really pleased with it.

What are the challenges that are unique to the TikTok platform?

We talked about sound, obviously; sound is not a critical component when you think about a platform like Instagram or Pinterest. Sound is very unique to TikTok, so that is definitely something that is a consideration. Also everyone wants to have a viral moment. Yes, there are some ingredients that go into the recipe, but there is a factor that you don't know until you actually activate. You have to be able to pivot and move in real time.

I'm so proud of our whole team, including our partners at Kubbco and TikTok. Everyone was on all weekend, ensuring that we were amplifying the highest-reaching talent with paid, pivoting as needed, on top of what was trending and how the hashtag was moving. Social listening in real time is critical. Things are moving so quickly. It's such a new platform that there's still a lot to learn and some challenges as it relates to data, and obviously they're working on that as well.

It’s certainly paid off, the number of views on the campaign in the first 72 hours are incredible.

We're now edging towards 4 billion views of #olaflex, and it's not even been four days. We'd hit 3 billion within 72 hours. So very strong performance, and the objective going into this was driving awareness, driving further reach, building our audience out, speaking to new audiences across the platform. We’re very excited about the momentum and we have activations, experiential-based events where we're connecting the digital world to physical experiences, planned for the rest of August and September to help us continue the momentum of this hashtag. It's not a one-hit wonder. We're investing in this movement longer term as well.


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