“Social media is the antithesis of what we stand for” (Annabelle Baker – Lush)

“Social media is the antithesis of what we stand for” (Annabelle Baker – Lush)

On November 26, 2021, Lush surprised its customers by making a radical decision: leaving social networks, including Facebook, Instagram, and TikTok, among the channels favored by brands to communicate and build loyalty in their community. Two years later, Annabelle Baker, global brand director at Lush, looks back on the impact of such a position, and discusses the many – and new – ways that today allow the brand to stay connected to its community , without having to depend on social platforms.

Lush left social media just two years ago. Do you have any regrets?

This was not done without difficulties. However, how can we regret a decision which aims to protect its customers and which was taken in light of overwhelming evidence according to which certain platforms can push young people to suicide? Over the past two years, we have seen significant momentum, both from the public and governments, to tackle problems and force change. It is encouraging to see new regulations coming into force across Europe to protect the safety of platform users – we would also like to see greater accountability from Gafam. Our latest campaign, launched on the occasion of Black Friday, questions the power and abuses of large technology companies and aims to raise funds for the “People vs Big Tech” movement.

Has this decision had an impact on the brand’s sales and reputation worldwide?

Determining the impact on sales has been difficult for several reasons. Our withdrawal from social media coincided with a period of unforeseen global turmoil, with a rise in Covid cases, followed by the invasion of Ukraine and, more recently, a cost of living crisis with a significant inflation. We are fortunate to have a strong community, which means our reputation is not determined by our presence or absence on certain social platforms. In fact, we saw that other brands had tried to run a similar active campaign on social media, but their customers had asked them why they hadn’t done the same thing as Lush and asked. not actively removed from these platforms.

Younger generations like to interact with brands on social media. Have you had negative reactions from some of your customers?

Our customers sincerely support what we have done and appreciate this position. But to find out more about the state of mind of populations towards social networks and their relationship with digital in general, we produced a report this year with the foresight firm The Future Laboratory. The aim was to explore the evolving digital landscape, its impact on consumers and the existing barriers to digital transformation, using experts from the technology sector and surveying more than 12,000 consumers in the UK, USA. United States and Japan. The results are telling: almost seven in ten adults (69%) believe that if a social platform is unethical, brands should stay away from it, 65% do not want social media platforms to use their data for commercial purposes, and 70% call for global legislation that protects the safety of users online.

So this departure from social networks was a smooth one?

Everything was not so simple, indeed, we still received comments from people who did not appreciate our position, but that was two years ago, when the dangers of social networks were not as well known and documented as they are today. Just yesterday, the BBC published an article about Generation Z turning their backs on social media. In the United States, we are also seeing waves of legal action from families who accuse these platforms of being harmful, particularly for adolescents. It is important to note that these platforms are not the only spaces where connections and communities can be created, and it is likely that we will continue to see a decentralized approach to community building, particularly for brands .

A few months ago, Lush created a buzz on social networks… Some users claimed to have (almost) forgotten its existence. Isn’t this a problem in a sector where competition is increasing?

You have to stay relevant and we are lucky to have a lot of creativity and innovation in our sector. If you are bold, leverage popular culture, invent revolutionary products that are effective and truly life-changing, and engage with your community in a consistent and authentic way, then a brand can stay relevant . You have to keep in mind that people buy a lot through word of mouth.

What has the brand done to remain visible to consumers despite this absence?

Lush is still present in the digital world – yes, we have left the Meta and TikTok platforms as a brand, but we have experimented with other web3 technologies and platforms. We want to recapture the ‘sense of community’ in digital spaces, when social media was truly social and when our Lush community was organic – before the algorithm took over the direct connection between Lush and users. There are other ways to meet communities where they are, without relying on these platforms. For example, we began our immersion in the metaverse this year, with a replica of our SXSW House activation on Decentraland and taking part in the first ‘Metaverse Beauty Week’. As part of our ‘Big Tech Rebellion’, we are keen to get our money out of companies like Google and instead invest in our community, in people rather than platforms. This ranges from how we collaborate with content creators to how we provide our super fans with sneak peeks of product launches.

Have you initiated other forms of ‘meetings’ with your community?

We’ve been participating in more ‘IRL’ events and activations, showing up at events like Afro Punk in Brooklyn, Happy Place Festival in the UK, SXSW in Austin, and WOMAD UK. We have stores around the world and have continued to invest in refurbishments and renovations, as well as new store concepts, such as a new hair salon in the UK and spas in Dubai and New York. Over the last twelve months, we’ve collaborated more with lifestyle and entertainment partners, and our community has embraced it, creating many viral moments for all launches, whether it’s the “Super Mario Bros” movie, the series “Stranger Things”, and more recently “Barbie”. When you do something cool that people are excited about, the audience naturally shares it, which is more authentic. So that’s our job: to create products and experiences that our community wants to share! We also developed our community on Discord with the aim of creating a more ‘conversational’ interaction with online customers. Discord is a decentralized platform that allows us to have more control over the server.

In the fashion industry, Bottega Veneta has left Instagram, but very few brands seem to be able to do without social media. How do you explain that ?

I can’t comment on what other brands are doing, I can only talk about why we made our own decisions. It made sense for us to withdraw from social networks, because the people mainly affected by these platforms are part of our clientele. We’re in the wellness business and we attract a lot of young girls… We just couldn’t keep asking them to put us on platforms that pressure us into giving ‘consent’ to grow their vast wellness empires. extraction and monitoring of personal data. They then leave us to deal with the harmful effects of this business model, which can have a devastating impact on mental health and wellbeing. These platforms are literally the antithesis of what we stand for. That’s why today we’re raising money for the People vs. Big Tech movement. We launched the bath bomb ‘The Cloud’, the sale price of which will be used to launch a global network of young people to regain control over Gafam.

Can you say today that Lush will never return to social media?

We might come back eventually, but the social media landscape would have to completely change. Gafam should be held accountable, as they appear to act without concern for the well-being of users, despite overwhelming evidence that their services cause great harm. We really need to change the mindset and design of these social platforms.