Shutting down social media accounts is a risky move for any retailer, especially one that markets products to younger consumers glued to the endless scroll. But Lush cosmetics company CEO Mark Constantine doesn’t care about the cost.
The chain best known for its colorful, cruelty-free bath bombs switched off Facebook, Instagram, Snapchat, and TikTok on Black Friday, saying the platforms are ignoring the mental health threat they pose to teenage users.
With more than 10 million followers just on Facebook and Instagram, Lush stands to lose significant sales by going dark on those channels. Yet Constantine told The Guardian he’s “happy to lose £$10 million” if it draws attention to the need for stronger protections online. “We’re talking about suicide here, not spots or whether someone should dye their hair blonde. How could we possibly suggest we’re a caring business if we look at that and don’t care?”
It’s a bold decision, but Wharton marketing lecturer Annie Wilson thinks it could pay off for Lush. She said retail is saturated with counterfeit claims of health and wellness, while Constantine’s approach seems sincere. In a statement, Lush compared social media to “a dark and dangerous alleyway” they wouldn’t ask their customers to enter.
“This move signals a very apparent, genuine dedication to wellness, rather than just an interest in selling artificial or hollow images of wellness,” Wilson said.
She said the announcement also aligns with Lush’s brand image as an ethical, charitable, sustainable company. Still, she added, Constantine is taking a big risk by turning off social.
“There could be positive effects on short-term loyalty and brand engagement, but it will be interesting to see the long-term effect on acquiring new consumers in the future,” Wilson said on a segment of Wharton Business Daily on SiriusXM. (Listen to the podcast at the top of this page.)
That’s because it’s hard to observe and measure the absence of consumer behavior. It’s also hard to predict whether consumers will follow Lush’s lead away from social media accounts. Pressure is mounting for regulation of these platforms, particularly after whistleblower Frances Haugen revealed that Facebook’s internal research found Instagram worsens thoughts of suicide and eating disorders in teen girls. But Wilson said it will take a lot more than just Lush to push social media platforms into changing their policies.
“I also think this depends a lot on whether this moves consumer behavior at all,” she said. “If Lush does this and other companies follow suit [but] consumers stay on the platforms, then that’s still the best way to reach them and financially beneficial to companies.”
Lush likely won’t be the last business to deactivate its social media accounts. Wilson said there is a trend for companies to “take power back” from the platforms. She expects other companies will do the same or figure out alternate ways to wrest control away from social media algorithms.
Breaking Up Is Hard to Do
Lush has sworn off social media before, but this breakup may be for good. In 2019, the company said it would quit posting. Then the pandemic arrived, and it returned to social media as an effective tool to reach customers.
Chief digital officer Jack Constantine, who is the son of Mark Constantine, told The Guardian that the failed effort is proof that social media is just as addictive for companies as it is for individuals. He said this time is for real, although Lush will continue using Twitter, Pinterest, LinkedIn, and YouTube.
“What will be challenging for them is whether it smells a little bit like a PR stunt for a lot of consumers,” Wilson noted. “They’re very adamant that this is not a PR stunt. This is not entirely unprecedented for them, and they seem very committed to staying off these social media platforms this time.”
Wilson also commended Constantine for a strong demonstration of brand purpose. His announcement captioned the company’s position, communicated the action it will take, and indicated sustained effort toward the goal.
“Mark being on the forefront of this messaging is extremely important from the captioning perspective — that this is a top-down decision, and we are going to get everybody behind it in the organization,” Wilson said. “I think that adds a lot to the authenticity and the integration of the move into the brand values.”