« Sometimes, a new consumer fad comes out of nowhere that reshapes the way people identify with a brand. This is becoming more common as the quirky world of social media and the blogosphere grows in power.
Consider the case of Crayola, the best-selling brand in the world in retail value terms. Thanks to some left-field thinking by popular young beauty bloggers, a new trend has emerged whereby growing numbers of teenage girls are using Crayola pencils as a low-cost substitute for eyeliner.
Global retail sales of Crayola colouring pencils have been growing at less than 1 % a year since 2010 (at fixed US dollar prices), so the brand could benefit from a new injection of vitality. Is this unsolicited online advertising just what the doctor ordered, or is it potentially damaging to the brand’s image?
Crayola goes viral
Beauty blogger Brooke Eve’s YouTube vlog “Make Eyeliner Out of Colored Pencils” has received 3.7 million hits in the space of only three months. In her “tutorial”, she explains how Crayola pencils can be used to create bright and bold eyeliner by dipping them in a cup of hot water for five minutes. With a pack of 24 Crayola pencils costing little more than US$5.00, it is easy to see how something like this could gather momentum. But, is it safe?
The pencils are made for children, so they are non-toxic. And the beauty blogger even telephones a Crayola customer services line in the US (as part of her tutorial) to check if there are any risks from the pencils touching the skin. Of course, once Crayola cottons on that young girls are using its product as make-up, it immediately issues a statement, warning that its pencils are not designed as eyeliners or lipsticks, and that there is no guarantee they are safe to be used in such a way.
Crayola has no option but to take a firm stance, given that colour cosmetics are legally required to go through stringent testing procedures before they can be sold to consumers. Secretly, though, does Crayola have cause to be rather pleased about this new fad? Will it boost sales, or brand cachet even? Or will it have a negative effect, for example if parents stop buying the brand for fear their children might abuse the products?
The jury is still out, but when teenagers are warned not to do something it normally incites them to do it more. Hence, a spike in sales of Crayola is definitely a strong possibility for 2015, especially in the US.
A windfall opportunity in the making
Perhaps there is another opportunity here, though. Unwittingly, has Crayola not stumbled across a gap in the market for low-price, novelty make-up for teens? In the US, the mass eyeliner market is expected to be worth US$750 million in 2015, according to the latest data from Euromonitor International, so there is plenty of potential upside to tap into.
The wider question is whether a portfolio expansion into children’s novelty make-up would harm Crayola’s brand heritage. Some would argue that there are commercial synergies between writing instruments and eyeliners, while others might argue that mixing colour cosmetics with children’s colouring pencils sends out entirely the wrong ethical messages.
What does seem increasingly clear is that the writing instruments industry needs to be bold and innovative in its strategic thinking, or it risks being drowned by the digital age. If Crayola were to develop a clinically tested line of pencils that can be used as novelty make-up for children, who is to say this would not develop into an attractive and value-enhancing business segment for the brand in the future? And who is to say it would not lead to cross-selling of mainstream Crayola products?
The truth is, with the emergence of a fad like this, bizarre and ethically challenging as it might be, Crayola, and some of its brand rivals, might be looking a gift horse in the mouth. «
Article of Rob Walker
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