I’ve been reflecting over Temptalia and blogging for the last couple of weeks, as October signifies the anniversary of the blog (12 years now). I’ve been thinking about where I fit in with the current beauty community, how I interact with brands today compared to a decade ago, and how I’ve been shaped as a person through my experience blogging, building a business, and continuing that business today.
I think that the outcome of my body of work is this sentiment: a commitment to reviews readers can trust and rely on. I have spent over a decade building trust with my readers and with the larger community; every day is another day where I work to earn that trust over and over again. I can tell you that it has been worth it, that it continues to be worth it, and I’m successful and happy in what I do and why I do it because of the readers I have. My readers have rewarded me with their time, loyalty, readership, comments, and support, and they show me time and time again that what I do here is useful to them.
When I first started writing reviews, I wrote them as a die-hard MAC fanatic who was always checking out and swatching their newest collection in store. I started to recap and share my thoughts based on swatching (you can see one of my first reviews published on the blog here for MAC’s holiday ’06 collection for kicks), but at the time, what did I know about the art of reviewing? What did I know about who I was writing for, why I was writing, and what might be the impact of what I was writing? I didn’t. I loved makeup. I was 19. Beauty blogging was still finding its legs.
How I review products has changed significantly from 2006, which isn’t a surprise as I’ve learned many lessons since then, I’ve grown as a person, and how I look at and experience my world is quite different as a result. In late 2009, the foundation of today’s Glossover rating system was created. By this point in time, I felt it was increasingly important to be transparent with how and why I review, which was based on trying products myself, comparing performance against the product’s claims. The rubric in 2009 considered overall efficacy (“Product”), Value, Ease of Use, and Packaging, which yielded an overall letter grade.
In mid-2011, The Glossover was officially born, and I made modifications to my 2009 rubric with the biggest change being the removal of the “Value” metric. My reasoning, at the time, was “value is simply too subjective,” as “one person may find a $10 eyeshadow cheap, while another finds $15 outlandish.” I still agree with that sentiment, though I think of the concept as what’s “worth it” to someone. It’s a question I get asked routinely: “is it worth it?” I’m sure not everyone likes my answer, because I usually answer with several questions as what’s worth it is relative to what you already own, what you love and will use, what your budget is, and so forth.
What I’ve learned since is that there are instances where information about price, perceived and actual value, and how a particular price per ounce fits within the grand scheme of things; like the Hourglass Confession Lipsticks being unusually small and still being luxury priced making it one of the more expensive lipsticks on the market.
In late 2012, I removed Packaging as a metric from the Glossover, keeping Product (overall efficacy), Pigmentation, Texture, and Application. These days, you’ll find a “Review FAQ” linked in the footer of every page on Temptalia, which includes relevant Disclosures, my Review Policies, in-depth details on The Glossover, and insight on how I take photos/swatches. In 2016, I added a rubric for Tools, as the original Glossover did not and couldn’t apply to something like a makeup brush or cleanser due to something like Pigmentation. This secondary rubric was designed to be more catchall, so it is a bit more generalized to fit a slew of products.
The number of Glossover ratings from 2011 to present
I have spent almost a decade trying to painstakingly articulate my review process so that new and old readers know where I’m coming from, what I look for, and how I approach products I’m reviewing. I have also done that to help myself help you; consistency is key between reviews, and if I don’t hold products to the same standards and review metrics, it is hard to stay consistent. It is hard to be completely objective in a review, especially since I am the test subject, but the goal has long been to provide information about how a product performs to help readers make better purchasing decisions as objectively as I can.
Being truthful in reviews is critical, and it is why word-of-mouth marketing works and why the current landscape has some taking advantage of the relationship between reviewer and consumer where for a long time, some of us may have trusted reviews with little skepticism. Without truthfulness and transparency, we’re all going to lose out because we’ll feel like there’s no one left to trust but our own experiences, but we can’t all afford to try everything ourselves nor do we all want to go through 20 iterations to find “the one.” What about those in areas that don’t have flexible return policies? Trial and error can be a costly journey without having some guidance and insight gleaned from reviews.
Yesterday, luxury skincare brand Sunday Riley confirmed to @EsteeLaundry that they participated in having employees post positive reviews “at the launch” of a certain product. The behavior came to light after a former employee shared an email they received on /r/skincareaddiction. Here’s their statement:
As many of you may know, we are making an effort to bring more transparency to our clients. The simple and official answer to this Reddit post is that yes, this email was sent by a former employee to several members of our company. At one point, we did encourage people to post positive reviews at the launch of this product, consistent with their experiences. There are a lot of reasons for doing that, including the fact that competitors will often post negative reviews of products to swing opinion. It doesn’t really matter what the reasoning was. We have hundreds of thousands of reviews across platforms around the globe and it would be physically impossible for us to have posted even a fraction of these reviews. Client word-of-mouth, sharing how our products have changed their skin, has been the cornerstone of our success. In the end, our products and their results stand for themselves.
In the last few months, the online beauty community has had a particularly bumpy road as consumers have more loudly questioned their trust in influencers and brands, have exhibited more and more skepticism with respect to influencer and word-of-mouth marketing, and paid more attention to how they’re being sold to. But it is no wonder, right? The review landscape, across sites and industries (not just beauty), has changed drastically over time. I know that I’m far more skeptical of reviews anywhere whether that’s Amazon or Yelp or the thousands of reviews that go live by everyday consumers because of companies like Influenster.
Learning that Sunday Riley “encouraged” (seemed more like it was part and parcel of one’s duties, and the fact that they provided detailed instructions on doing so undetected just makes everything seem so much more underhanded) employees to write reviews in a way that seemed designed to take advantage of how vulnerable people can feel when dealing with acne is troubling. It isn’t necessarily surprising, but it is still upsetting and just continues to erode consumer trust in the beauty community, which has been reeling with a bigger dose of skepticism over the last few months.
How many of us implicitly trust the reviews found on brand’s websites? How many times have you seen a comment by someone on the internet that Sephora deleted their review? How many of us trust 1,000 Influenster reviews that show up at a product’s launch on Sephora? What happens if we can’t trust online word-of-mouth anymore?
I have been working with brands since 2007. The first brand that ever reached out to me was MAC Cosmetics–the brand that made me fall in love with makeup and the brand that gave me the passion for makeup to start the blog to begin with. My first experience as “press” was a press-only dinner in August 2007 with MAC to kick off San Francisco’s Fashion Week. The first press samples I ever received were full collections from MAC. And like a snowball, other brands followed shortly after.
Looking back at my older reviews (which is, admittedly, a painful experience for me; if it was up to me and didn’t have my husband holding me back, I might hit delete on about eight years of work), I see someone who wasn’t as critical as I am today. I see someone who is reviewing products they really don’t have a lot of experience with. Seriously, who was I to write about Creme de la Mer at sub-25? (Funny enough of all the skincare products I’ve given my mom, who’s really not into beauty at all, the original Creme de la Mer is her favorite–and I’ve had her try so-called dupes to no avail… she still won’t buy it on her own so I buy it for her.) This is part of life, though, where you make choices and they’re not always the best or right ones, but you, hopefully, learn from those choices over time and use past experiences to make better choices in the future.
It doesn’t actually matter if companies like Influenster ask their audience to be honest in a review. The perception exists that “negative” reviews may lead to less sampling opportunities both to those who consume reviews and those who review. It has long been the perception when it comes to beauty reviewers on blogs and YouTube. This type of attitude that exists within some who merely consume review content; that an influencer should be happy and thankful they received a product rather than speak critically (or “negatively”) about it.
I can only share my insight based on my own perspective and experiences: I routinely receive press packages with inserts that go over how to disclose and that whatever I say should be honest. A lot of the brands I reviewed a decade ago and received samples from, I still receive samples from, and I can tell you that MAC, NARS, and Urban Decay have earned As through Fs. I have come down on MAC for cultural appropriation; I penned a deeply personal commentary in the middle of the night when NARS released a collection inspired by Guy Bourdin; I canceled a sponsored post with Tarte (hours before it was to go live) on their new Shape Tape foundation after seeing the range and subsequently wrote a post about how disappointed I was. These brands still work with me in the same ways that they always have before and after. Those were posts where I went far beyond what a “negative” review might mean to a brand.
There are very few brands that have even pushed back on a “negative” review from me, and the majority of my negative experiences in working with brands are when they are smaller, indie brands. I have had a few major brands acknowledge “negative” reviews by offering to send another product (in case one was a bad batch) and others say they’ll take the feedback to product development. There are few brands that even acknowledge “positive” reviews. It has always felt a bit like “any press is good press.” The perception, the fear, of brands pulling back because of a “negative” review just isn’t accurate from my dealings with tons of brands over the years. I’m certain that there are some that do; I’m certain if I reviewed a brand poorly on every product, they would stop sending product–and that would make sense, because I certainly wouldn’t keep buying products from a brand that I had a bad experience with every time!
The best that we can do is, collectively, to try and be more critical when we write reviews or share product recommendations, to make sure we disclose if and when there’s something to disclose, that we support those who we feel we can trust, and that we be respectful when we’re skeptical of something or someone so that we’re adding to the discourse. I’d like to see more disclosure and review policies by those who review regularly because I think the transparency in how they work with brands would go a long way to answering questions that readers and viewers have so instead of wondering, the audience can read all about it at any time. I’d like brands and retailers to accept and understand that not everyone is going to love their products and that maybe, just maybe, there’s something they can learn from and improve on as a result of critical feedback.
For years, the increase in sheer number of reviews (and the diversity in the people writing them) and the accessibility to those reviews has contributed to giving us better products as misses don’t just fall through the cracks any more. It has enabled so many new brands to come to market and thrive. We have seen the power of the community’s collective voice with better shade ranges and representation in campaign visuals. We’re able to see products in action, whether live-action or still photos, to see how they perform and look that isn’t overly edited by Photoshop with the sole desire of making the product “look good” (instead of “look accurate”). There is so much good that has come from the power of reviews that if we believe in them, we all have to do our part in fostering a community that really does value–both in what it says and how it acts–truthfulness in reviews.