CoverGirl has announced its first ever CoverBoy.
On Tuesday, the makeup brand announced that 17-year-old makeup artist James Charles Dickinson is a new spokesmodel. Mr. Dickinson has just finished shooting his first TV commercial for the brand.
The high school student from Bethlehem, N.Y., has built up a following on social media for his makeup tutorial videos and photos. His YouTube channel has more than 76,000 subscribers and he has more than 500,000 followers on Instagram.
Last month, Mr. Dickinson received attention online after he decided to reshoot his yearbook photo, bringing along his own lighting to properly emphasize his makeup. Actress and singer Zendaya praised his look on Twitter.
The move by a mainstream beauty brand (CoverGirl is owned by Coty Inc., after its deal to acquire the beauty brand from Procter & Gamble Co. closed this month) to introduce a male makeup model is indicative of how attitudes toward gender norms are changing – and a recognition that men are part of its target market as well as women.
As awareness grows of both transgender rights, and the concept of gender as a spectrum of identity rather than a binary identity, incorporating men – as well as trans men and women – into beauty marketing may be a smart business move.
Last year, cosmetics brand Make Up For Ever, which is owned by LVMH Moët Hennessy Louis Vuitton SA, announced trans model Andreja Pejic would be the face of its new campaign. And teen YouTube personality Jazz Jennings, who is also trans, starred in a campaign for Johnson & Johnson-owned brand Clean & Clear.
Mr. Dickinson has said that he is not transgender and is happy being a boy, but is one of many people along the gender spectrum who embraces beauty norms once considered solely part of the feminine realm.
"It's an art form for me," he told Marie Claire earlier this year. "I'm still confident as a boy and I will always be a boy."
It's the first time in CoverGirl's 55-year history that it has had a male spokesmodel. Mr. Dickinson will be featured for the first time in upcoming mascara ads starting in November, and will work on beauty tips and how-to features with the brand throughout the year.
"We've always been an inclusive beauty brand that's partnered with a diverse roster of talent based not only on looks but on personality – boundary-breaking and unapologetically individualistic," Coty spokesperson Laura Brinker said in an e-mail. "James Charles fits perfectly with this mentality. We encourage people – you do you! And we're here to help you express whoever that is through your makeup."
The move is also indicative of another shift in marketing, as a growing number of companies have acknowledged the influence not just of traditional celebrities, but also self-made stars who build followings on social media. Marketers including Nordstrom, Gap, L'Oréal, Unicef Canada, Bloomingdales, Fiji water, and many more have tapped social media personalities to advertise on their behalf.
This week, Google Inc. announced its acquisition of FameBit, one of a number of companies that connects marketers with these types of "influencers" to create online content that promotes the brands to their online followers.
"As we look to the future, we want even more creators and brands to come together and realize the benefits of these creative collaborations," Google vice-president of product management, Ariel Bardin, wrote in a blog post.
Last year, Twitter Inc. announced its acquisition of Niche, which helps to negotiate deals between brands and social media personalities.
The technique is so common that regulators have responded: Advertising Standards Canada, the self-regulatory organization that oversees the industry here, recently added to its rules a stipulation that anyone paid to promote something on social media (whether in cash or other compensation, such as free products or travel) must disclose that in their posts and videos.
The U.S. Federal Trade Commission has similar rules in place. Recently it ordered Warner Bros. Home Entertainment Inc. to change its advertising practices after a 2014 campaign for its video game, Middle Earth: Shadow of Mordor, failed to disclose payments to "influencers" to post positive reviews online.
Such posts are incredibly valuable: According to the FTC, Warner Bros. paid each influencer tens of thousands or hundreds of thousands of dollars for their participation.
Payments like this are a sign of just how seriously marketers are considering the power that these influencers can lend to advertising campaigns. By hiring a high school student who has manufactured his own celebrity, CoverGirl is just the latest in a string of brands to recognize that there are people beyond the traditional celebrity realm who can exert a great deal of sway over consumers.
Editor's note: An earlier version of this story incorrectly used Andreja Pejic's former first name. This online version has been corrected.