Social & Influencers

Beauty brand Merit went viral twice. It’s not counting on a third time

Several pieces of social content “took on a life of its own” without paid promotion, CMO Aila Morin told us.
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Screenshots via @merit/TikTok

· 4 min read

In some ways, beauty brand Merit delivered the Gossip Girl revival that HBO didn’t.

A recent “get ready with me” video featuring actress Kelly Rutherford—known for playing Lily van der Woodsen on the mid-aughts CW show—is now Merit’s most-watched, most-liked TikTok video to date, with over 9 million views and more than a million likes.


The idea was to tap into customers’ sense of nostalgia, CMO Aila Morin told us, which falls into the brand’s larger strategy of listening to audience interests. As a makeup brand that promotes ease of use, Morin said a big focus is providing an antidote to pain points, something that “can be so lost [in marketing] today,” and connecting with audiences directly.

“It’s just creating stories that really make sense for the consumer and are relevant for our consumer, and knowing who they are,” she said. “What are the things that [create] nostalgia for them? What are the things that are inspiring or make it easier to get ready? What are the fashion brands that have resonance? And finding how to put a voice to that in a way that feels really relatable, frankly.”

Fresh and organic

The Kelly Rutherford video isn’t the first time the brand has gone viral organically: Last summer, Merit’s TikTok video about the release of its Solo Shadow eyeshadow product also did numbers, and Morin said it’s essentially become “a case study for what we’ve always done, but in a really clear way.”


“What we really set out to do was make an incredible product and then make you feel something about it,” Morin told Marketing Brew. “There was no traditional viral playbook; there were no celebrities, no gimmicks, and I think it resulted in a really strong emotional connection with the brand.”

The company says that sales of Solo Shadow totaled $1 million in the two-week period following the post—a single Solo Shadow retails for $24—and, Morin said, the product “revived the single-eyeshadow product category, which hadn’t had much movement in many years,” especially compared to larger palettes. She added that the brand has “seen sustained brand awareness” as a result of the Solo Shadow campaign.

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“We put nothing behind the Solo Shadow video or the Kelly [Rutherford] video,” Morin said. “It was just content that was relatable, so it took on a life of its own.”

Merit has tested organic content since before it went live in 2021. According to Morin, the brand created a mood-board-themed Instagram account before the brand had a name; the account was “essentially a way for us to test customer sentiments [and] gauge what was important to our community…prior to launching the brand.”

“By the time we launched,” Morin said, “we had more than 10,000 Instagram followers, which gave us an immediate community to learn from and scale the brand off the jump.”

Forming connections

According to Morin, Merit has “just as many customers who are over the age of 55 as are under the age of 25” on its DTC site, but what unites that wide demographic is an interest in storytelling. That strategy was apparent in the Solo Shadow campaign, though she noted that there’s no “virality playbook” or silver bullet.

“I think [Solo Shadow] was a story that really resonated with the consumer, as opposed to feeling like it was manufactured,” Morin said. “And it came out of their insights, so it felt really real.”

Morin is a firm believer in “never getting stuck on one thing” or over-relying on any one strategy: 80% of the brand’s marketing budget is spent on “what works” and 20% is spent on “crazy bets,” she said. Despite recent success on social, she ensures customers are also being reached offline, whether that’s via direct mail, newspaper ads, or OOH activations.

“To me, multi-touchpoint has always been most successful,” she said, later adding that “it’s that 360 experience that really results in conversion and business growth.”

That’s, in part, why she’s not holding her breath for another organic, viral video anytime soon.

“I think lightning only strikes once, so it’s continuing to have that mentality of working with amazing talent, testing different things, and focusing on what we’re delivering that’s different in this incredibly oversaturated industry,” she said. “That’s really what cuts through the noise.”

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