Fenty Beauty: A different type of Aspirational Advertising

Published in
4 min readFeb 19, 2020


Photo by Mercy on Unsplash

Just a few weeks ago, news sites all over reported on Fenty’s new eyeliner and mascara.

It’s been more than 2 years since Rihanna’s Fenty Beauty line was launched, and news sites still rave about the brand’s new launches with the same enthusiasm as in 2017 — a rarity in the world of forgettable Celebrity beauty lines.

In this blog piece, we dive into the phenomena of the Celebrity beauty line to see what makes Fenty Beauty different.

Aspirational Advertising as we know it…

If we think back, apart from Rihanna’s Fenty line, and of course Kylie Jenner’s Kylie Cosmetics, not much else comes to mind. Arguably, celebrity makeup products occupy the space of Novelty — possessing one of these items allows us the unusual experience of closeness with a star figure.

They appeal to consumers’ desire for the unattainable: they target people’s unrealistic aspirations, like the desire to have sophisticated beauty of a celebrity.

In the early 2010s, fans of Justin Bieber flocked to buy his limited edition perfume releases because they represented tangible pieces of the star, objects they could own and have close to them. The unreachable dream of being close to the star was made more attainable.

Owning lipstick by supermodel Rosie Huntington-Whiteley meant owning a symbol of beauty validated by a beauty icon herself, moving consumers a step closer to her model of beauty.

Towards a new model of dreaming…

However, in the mid 2010s, with the rise of twitter-activism, the body-positivity movement and growing discourse on diversity, we saw a shift in mindset of the consumer.

Consumers no longer wanted brands to show them what they hope to look like. They wanted brands to show them people that looked like them. Brands had to pivot around consumers’ everyday worlds, not the other way round.

Entering the scene in September 2017, Rihanna’s brand Fenty Beauty recognised this shift in mindset, and ran with it. The brand, which was named one of TIME’s best inventions of 2017, recognised the need for more inclusivity in the beauty industry, and released a foundation range with 40 different skin tone shades.

This started the ‘Fenty Effect’ that rippled through the cosmetics industry — beauty brands responded to Fenty’s release by expanding their range of foundation shades too, all moving towards catering to a more diverse customer base.

We ran 200 images and captions from the Fenty instagram through our Cultural AI models and examined the branding of Fenty Beauty.

Emotions detected in the brand’s messaging were closely tied to a sense of community spirit.

According to our Emotion model, the top 3 detected emotions in the official instagram’s posts were ‘bonding’, followed by ‘affection’, and then ‘happiness’.

image from @fentybeauty, instagram

We see the strong element of bonding and camaraderie in captions like “C’MON QUEENS in that supa smooth #FENTYFACE! 👸🏽✨ […]” . Very casual, conversational language is used, and rallying phrases like “C’MON QUEENS” address viewers with affection.

Such a tone positions the brand at the level of the everyday and accessible — it’s hard to remember that this is Rihanna-the-Star’s brand, a woman many social circles away from being your friend in real life.

Fenty’s instagram content also speaks directly to the audience, with phrases like “#PROFILTRSETTINGPOWDER got your makeup in check and effortlessly smooth with our Powder Puff Setting Brush[…]” having a strong we-got-your-back tone of reassurance to consumers.

While some brands position themselves/their products as the ‘end point’ (the ideal scenario), the warm messaging of Fenty Beauty positions the brand in the role of ‘Supporter’, as the item helping consumers reach their ideal state.

Happiness is seen in the overall celebratory tone of the brand’s instagram messaging. Running the caption text through our text analysis models, we obtained a word cloud of the top-used terms. Here, we see that positive adjectives like “stunna” (slang for “stunner”) , “hot”, “unique” and “flyest” (slang meaning “coolest”) feature a lot.

The choice of more conversational positive adjectives also signals to us how Rihanna’s Fenty celebrates inclusivity: beauty does not need to be sophisticated and sleek all the time, it can be fly and it can slay as well.

Advertising beauty today: Selling dreams within reach

These words from a more casual style of speech stand as symbols of the Everyday, signalling elements of the Familiar to consumers. Images on the Fenty feed show models of different skin tones and with vastly different facial features, from varying angles.

Looking at the instagram feed of Rihanna’s fashion label, it’s easy to see why close to three years on, Fenty isn’t labelled as just a celebrity side-project, forgotten within the first few months of launching.

Apart from the instagram bio saying ‘Fenty Beauty by Rihanna’ and the occasional shot of the singer, Fenty’s social media feed reads like a group chat between friends. We see that today, framing the Ordinary as dream/fantasy is the winning formula.

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