Lush is boycotting social media (again). Are we witnessing the rise of an anti-Instagram trend?

By Alma Fabiani

Published Nov 22, 2021 at 12:46 PM

Reading time: 5 minutes

Come 26 November 2021, British cosmetics retailer and bath bomb icon Lush will stop posting on four major social media platforms—Facebook, Instagram, Tiktok and Snapchat—in the 48 territories it operates. The move, which is sure to be closely scrutinised by marketers throughout the cosmetics sector, comes under the form of a pledge titled the ‘Global Anti-Social Media Policy’. But why is the company “turning its back” on social media—its words, not ours—and how will this bold initiative impact other companies?

“Lush has a history of taking up political stances, from combating animal cruelty and partnering with All Out on its 2015 #Gayisok campaign, to donating profits from sales of its Error 404 bath bomb towards grassroots digital activists working to keep the internet free, open and safe,” wrote Vogue Business when reporting on the news. In fact, the cosmetics brand has even claimed in the past to be ​​“a campaigning organisation fronted by a soap shop.”

A second attempt at boycotting social media

It might come as a surprise that Lush’s attempt to stay away from social media is not its first one, having already announced on Twitter that it would do the same back in March 2019, saying it was “tired of fighting with algorithms” and did not want to “pay to appear” in news feeds. During this nine-month break, Lush encouraged customers to engage with its staff and stores’ individual social media accounts, Lush hashtags, its e-commerce site and the Lush Labs app. But shortly after that, the COVID-19 pandemic hit and the brand’s digital team saw little option but to return to social media.

Lush chief digital officer Jack Constantine told Vogue Business that the company faced difficult choices. “We were a bit ahead of the curve,” he said. “Social media is addictive, and we struggled to convince our team to go cold turkey. During the pandemic, shops were closed and social media was the best way to engage with customers, so we used those tools again. Now feels like a more stable time to re-establish our position and stand by our digital ethics.”

Despite how brief the first anti-social media test period was for the company, Constantine maintained that it didn’t see a drop in sales nor a noticeable drop in site traffic.

Constantine also shared with The Drum that it was Frances Haugen’s Facebook whistleblower testimony that “strengthened” the beauty brand’s resolve to give the policy a second shot. “Social media platforms have become the antithesis of this aim, with algorithms designed to keep people scrolling and stop them from switching off,” he said.

Without a doubt, the move will create a buzz for Lush, and people will start seeing the company as a champion of this movement. But before we get into the potential impact such change could have on other brands and companies, it’s important we first focus on the exact ‘why’ behind such initiative.

What’s in it for Lush?

In a company statement, the cosmetics brand said, “Like so many teenagers have experienced before us, Lush has tried to come off social media, but our FOMO is vast and our compulsion to use the various platforms means we find ourselves back on there, despite our best intentions.” So here it is again, going for a second shot at it.

If you’re anything like me, you’re probably wondering what Lush will put its efforts into instead of social media strategy. It may sound quite obvious to some, but the company simply plans on focusing on its own channels in order to drive customer engagement. This substitution will consist of a number of approaches such as growing its YouTube presence through daily updates and news, using Twitter for customer care, producing email newsletters for campaigns and tapping Pinterest for inspirational content. “Offline, it will invest in more physical events, community activations and maybe even old-fashioned postal catalogues,” Vogue Business further noted. Oh, and according to The Drum, even Reddit might be on the cards. “There are lots of other places where the community is thriving away from the key domineering channels,” Constantine told the publication.

As for the exact ‘why’, Lush candidly explained in a statement, “In the same way that evidence against climate change was ignored and belittled for decades, concerns about the serious effects of social media are going largely ignored now. Lush is taking matters into its own hands and addressing the issues now, not waiting around until others believe in the problem before changing its own behaviour.”

“We wouldn’t ask our customers to meet us down a dark and dangerous alleyway—but some social media platforms are beginning to feel like places no one should be encouraged to go,” it continued. “Something has to change. We hope that platforms will introduce strong best practice guidelines, and we hope that international regulation will be passed into law. But we can’t wait. We feel forced to take our own action to shield our customers from the harm and manipulation they may experience whilst trying to connect with us on social media.”

As a result, Lush has pledged that it will be signing out from Facebook, Instagram, TikTok and Snapchat—at least until these platforms can provide a “safer environment for their users.” And let’s be honest here, it might as well have said indefinitely.

First Bottega Veneta, now Lush—is leaving social media the next big thing for brands?

In January 2021, Milan-based luxury fashion house Bottega Veneta deleted its social media accounts on Instagram, Facebook and Twitter and launched a quarterly digital magazine called Issue in April. Understandably, by saying goodbye to its nearly four-million cumulative followers across the three platforms, Bottega Veneta led many fashion enthusiasts to wonder whether the move was either a genius PR stunt or a definite break from our now normalised (yet toxic) social media habits. And on top of that, there was one more question that seemed to doom over the rest of the fashion industry: would this new approach reverberate across the industry?

Fast forward to almost a year later, and sadly, the label’s then acclaimed step has lost its revolutionary quality. In the now-deleted Instagram account’s place are now myriad fan sites and pages, such as @newbottega, which are not affiliated with the brand—or are they?

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A post shared by new Bottega Veneta (@newbottega)

“Regarding its digital communication strategy, it’s not disappearing from social networks—it’s merely using them differently. Bottega [Veneta] has decided, in line with its positioning, to lean much more on its ambassadors and fans by giving them the material they need to talk about the brand through various social networks, by letting them speak for the brand rather than doing it itself,” Kering chairman and CEO François-Henri Pinault said during a presentation of the group’s quarterly reports.

He underlined that each house at Kering has its own strategy. “In order to be very complementary, we don’t want to replicate the same thing at every brand. Bottega has had a very specific positioning for years, which is now being reinforced,” Pinault noted. Daniel Lee, at the time Bottega’s creative director, talked about reaffirming the brand’s codes “with a human touch.” Pinault concluded by saying that the change in social media strategy appeared to be paying off, “I have to say that after a month and a half, it’s pretty convincing in terms of Bottega Veneta’s visibility, and we are monitoring it quite precisely.”

In July 2021, another Kering brand, Balenciaga, wiped its whole Instagram grid clean and has continued to do so periodically ever since. Nicolas Ghesquière followed suit ahead of Louis Vuitton’s Spring/Summer 2022 show.

Like Balenciaga and Bottega Veneta, Lush will continue to work with influencers but it won’t dictate what platforms they can use, meaning it will still have a presence on the social media apps. Of course, how such a big change will pan out long-term remains to be seen, but there are many benefits to marketing in less obvious places such as self-owned print magazines, community activations and more niche platforms like Reddit and Pinterest. “On social media, our persuasion knowledge is activated, which means we’re aware that marketers are trying to convince us to purchase. Reaching people on other platforms might surpass that,” confirmed Jared Watson, assistant professor of marketing at New York University Stern School of Business, when speaking to Vogue Business.

It goes without saying that if you don’t have brand awareness and customer loyalty, a move like this could be highly detrimental. But on the other hand, if you have other ways of reaching your community and strong word-of-mouth referrals, coming off social media could increase perceived exclusivity and authenticity—and we already know just how important those two are to gen Z consumers.

The risks are acknowledged by Lush. CEO Mark Constantine​​—one of Lush’s six co-founders and Jack Constantine’s father—estimates that the company could lose £10 million in the short term. However, Lush’s direct sales from social media (not accounting for people who are prompted on social media but purchase through other channels) account for just 0.5 per cent of total sales.

As a way to help its loyal customers deal with potential Lush-on-social-media withdrawal, the brand has also developed Lush Stories, a portrait video format similar to Snapchat and Instagram Stories, which will feature in its app, product pages and website. In other words, we’re not witnessing a complete social media blackout, only a soft launch of what seems to be the next big thing. And who better to start such a trend than Lush, a company that already has a reputation for breaking the rules?

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