Instagram appeal: How social media is changing product development in beauty

Today’s beauty brands have a new audience to win over when debuting their products: the ever-growing group of skin-care and makeup junkies that is burgeoning online. But with that has come increased competition, as these customers are surfing through social platforms crowded by other brands and influencers, all hoping to entice the same group of customers.

To solve for this, companies have started focusing on what’s trending online from the get-go, altering both their product formulations and outside packaging to better catch the scrolling eye.

The result is an uptick in products that emphasize texture, viscosity, light and color, often with special effects like glitter or foam added in. Products with unique application processes, like those utilizing water droppers and sponges, and all manner of masks, are also popular.

“There’s a big desire today to create something that results in an Instagram moment, where a product is very photogenic and encourages consumers to take a picture of it,” said Natasha Jen, a partner at the branding agency Pentagram, which counts Dr.Jart+ and Oliveda as clients. “Those moments lead to word of mouth and are huge advertising opportunities.”

Given social media’s impact on consumer purchases, this phenomenon is not surprising. In 2016, a Facebook IQ report found that 53 percent of beauty purchases are influenced by what beauty experts share on social media, while 44 percent of them are influenced by what brands post on these platforms.

That beauty brands care about the way their packaging looks isn’t new, but today, they’re approaching it from a different angle.

“We used to use the lens of: How do we design to create an impact on shelves?” said Aruh. “But now, we design for the thumbnail, which really changes some of the choices we make.”

Where once tactility might be essential to a product’s outer packaging, for instance, light and color now take its place. Shiny glass and plastics, colors that pop and all manner of sparkle are common.

But not everyone is convinced this emphasis on social media appeal is really serving the consumer, as the ingredients that create buzz aren’t always good for skin, and the “effects” seen in a well-crafted photo or video aren’t necessarily easy to replicate (or truly important, for that matter).

Why it’s hot:

To be honest, this blew my mind. But how can I be surprised? A brand’s social media presence can be vital to influencing purchase decisions; beauty, even more so than other industries, has the opportunity to benefit from the visual focus of social media and especially Instagram.

But the idea of formulating and packaging products based on what looks good on a social feed??? Don’t mind me, I’m still processing this.

While serving up tailored products that appeal to your social audience’s interests and tastes seems to have benefits in this case, I would have to wonder, as the author of the article does, if this really serves the customer best. After all, there’s more to beauty products (and food and car and gadgets, etc.) than meets the eye.


Twitter’s new AI can find the most interesting part of all your photos

The artificial intelligence that crops your Twitter photos is getting a lot smarter.

In a new blog post, Twitter machine learning researchers Zehan Wang and Lucas Theis describe the company’s new approach to cropping your photos into preview thumbnails.

Twitter has been working on this tool for a while, but the post is the first detailed description of researchers’ methods and process. The feature is currently rolling out to all Twitter users, and aims to put an end to awkwardly cropped thumbnails.

Previously, when deciding which part of your images to display as the preview image, Twitter looked for the most prominent face. For pictures containing no faces, Twitter displayed the center of the image. If you’ve ever seen an awkward thumbnail of a cat’s neck or a white wall, that process was responsible.

Going forward, Twitter will crop using “saliency.” Saliency refers to the interestingness of a region of an image — how likely a viewer is to focus on it. The researchers cite studies showing that people tend to pay most attention to faces, text, animals, and regions of high color contrast.

The researchers have trained Twitter’s neural networks to find the most interesting parts of your photos in a very short amount of time, so you won’t notice delays while posting your photos.

Software engineers used a technique called “knowledge distillation” to train their algorithms to quickly approximate the most salient parts of your photos. While it might take a long time to make fine-tuned pixel-level predictions, Twitter’s neural networks do a speedy, more approximate version to get your photos up on time.

Engineers also used a technique called “pruning” to make sure the algorithm skips over features of your images that will take a while to investigate without yielding much benefit.

Why it’s hot:

While this isn’t the most significant news of the week, this update will definitely clean up your feed and make image thumbnails a more accurate representation of the full image. This will hopefully make your scrolling experience more enjoyable and make clicking more efficient and meaningful.



Amazon’s New Patent Could Change Online Shopping

After introducing Prime Wardrobe last year, it’s clear that Amazon isn’t quite done combining fashion and technology.

According to Geekwire, Amazon’s “Blended Reality Systems and Methods” patent was published by the US Patent and Trademark Office (USPTO) on January 2. It mixes cameras, displays, and projectors to create the futuristic device that blends real images with CGI.

In simpler terms, Amazon has created the potential for a smart mirror that uses blended technology to give customers the ability to try on digital clothes in a variety of different digital settings without leaving home. If you’ve ever wanted to know how your dress will look on the beach, you could be in luck – if the mirror ever becomes a real product.

At least a portion of this technology comes from Amazon’s acquisition of startup Body Labs last year. The company boasts AI, computer vision, and body modeling expertise, and aims to create true-to-life 3D body models to support various b2b software applications.

Why it’s hot:

This technology obviously has the potential to transform how customers shop for clothing. A smart mirror could provide a more seamless solution for one of the significant drawbacks to online shopping: the inability to know how something will look on you before you buy it (and the inevitable online return and exchange nightmare). In fact, this technology takes that solution a step further by providing a service that physical retail stores just can’t provide: the ability to see how your clothing will look in the setting in which you plan to wear it. This technology also speaks to the climate of immediate gratification that goes hand in hand with the digital space; instead of waiting for an item to arrive at your home (even with 2-day Prime shipping) so that you can try it on, you can try it on as quickly as you can pick it out (which might not be good for our wallets).


UberEats is going to let you order food from ‘virtual restaurants’ that don’t exist IRL

Craving something, but UberEats doesn’t list it in your vicinity? The company has launched a novel way to tackle that issue.

Uber will soon serve up dishes from “virtual restaurants,” it announced Thursday.

The idea is that a sandwich cafe for example, could theoretically also serve salads, with relatively no change to the ingredients in its store. So on UberEats, it could become a virtual salad place, while staying a sandwich cafe in real life.

UberEats thinks the virtual restaurant concept could be used to fill in “trend gaps” in places where there is demand for a certain type of dish, but a lack of supply.

According to Ambika Krishnamachar, a project manager at UberEats, “We can work with existing restaurant partners to create delivery-only menus. [They would] appear as entirely new restaurants on the UberEats app.”

UberEats isn’t the first in the game to do this.

Earlier this year, Grubhub invested $1 million in Green Summit Group, a startup which has launched nine virtual restaurants from just one single kitchen. All the restaurants appear as separate listings on Grubhub.

Why it’s hot:

This offering further breaks down the traditional “brick and mortar” restaurant experience and brings customization and convenience to another level by essentially giving customers access to their own virtual restaurants. This also provides opportunities for restaurants to expand without the costs of traditional expansion.



Audible is using machine learning to let romance novel fans ‘skip to the good part’

This one’s for the people that constantly find themselves skipping through books to find “the good parts”. However, the “good parts” of a romance novels are (apparently) different for different readers.

The audiobook subscription service Audible figured that out ahead of the launch of their new Audible Romance service, and they’re using data mining and machine learning to figure out exactly what individual customers want, and to get them to it faster.

“Romance fans are a unique group,” says Audible’s chief content officer. “They’re some of the most savvy, dedicated, sophisticated, and voracious consumers of content within their genre. Many romance fans will consume four, five, six books a week.” So while the normal Audible service grants subscribers one audiobook a month, with the option to buy more at a discount, Audible Romance is an all-you-can-read service, available either as a standalone subscription or an add-on for Audible users.

Audible Romance comes with a couple of special features: a “Steaminess” score that lets subscribers filter books by their graphic content, and a “Take Me To The Good Part” feature that lets them jump to pre-selected scenes within certain criteria.

The “Take Me To The Good Part” feature is actually very nuanced, and developing it involved studying user habits and tastes; the feature breaks down categories into moments that fans want to relive over and over again (i.e. first kisses, proposals, etc.).

To do this, Audible created an algorithm to scan for keywords associated with certain moments — “blush” for Flirty Banter, “kiss” and “embrace” for First Kiss, “ring” for Proposal — and then identify how they’re used in relation to each other.

While some aspects of the process are human-curated and vetted, romance novels work particularly well for this level of data analysis because they can be fairly formulaic.

Audible Romance launched on November 1st with an initial catalog of over 10,000 titles.

Why it’s hot:

This service provides a way for Audible to show off their capacity to give users exactly what they want by putting the vast amounts of data they have to use. Ultimately, this service will help romance readers sort through the clutter to find what they really want faster. Audible’s newest service takes into account unique user experiences and understands that, even within the same broad audience, there is almost endless room for nuance.


London’s Department of Transport is Using Pink Kittens to Get You to Put Your Phone Down

Over one-third of drivers between 17 and 24 years old admit to using phones when driving. London’s Department of Transport is trying to combat this by targeting young drivers with a new “pop-oriented lifestyle” public service announcement.

At its start, a busy city scene scrolls by from a driver’s perspective.

Then comes the question: Did you see the pink kitten? Look again.

The fast-paced street scene rewinds and scrolls by a second time, this time in slow motion. Hidden among a cop on a horse, kids playing double-dutch and dudes playing basketball are 100 pink kittens, waiting to be discovered.

The goal of the campaign is to demonstrate just how much you can miss in that time: When drivers look down for just 2.3 seconds at 30 miles per hour, they miss 100 feet of road.

Why it’s hot:

Even though this PSA was created for the purpose of warning drivers to focus on the road (which is very important), it makes clear an even more significant point about technology use: every second that we are involved with our phones, we miss out on what’s happening around us, for better or worse. This ad serves as a reminder to be more mindful about the potential consequences of walking (or driving) through life with our eyes glued to our phones, even when those consequences aren’t life or death – and even when it’s our job to be immersed in the digital world.


A Humor Site Carved the Century’s Best Memes on a Giant Monolith and Buried It for Aliens to Find

With help from Barcelona-based LOLA MullenLowe, 9GAG fêted its ninth anniversary by erecting the first man-made monument to stupid humor, featuring its best memes. The 13-foot-tall, 24-ton treasure was buried “somewhere in the desert” on April 19.

“This monument is a true and fair image of humans in all their stupid, silly, memeiest glory,” Nacho Oñate, executive creative director of LOLA MullenLowe, tells Adweek. “Hopefully whoever finds it will have as great a sense of humor as we do.”

Ahead of the unveiling, 9GAG asked its audience to vote for their favorite nine memes. Some 650,000 users in 100 different countries decided that… the monument should include Friendzone, We need AIR support, World vs USA, PPAP, Doge (shiba inu), Salt Bae, Shit just got real and Hardest name in Africa.

LOLA MullenLowe then had Antonio Soler, a monolith sculptor… carve them onto a giant rock, guaranteeing their perpetuity if the internet otherwise fails us all.

Why it’s hot:

  • Just a generally funny and unique activation
  • Proves the global, unifying nature of memes


Facebook is developing mind-reading technology

During the last day of Facebook’s F8 conference, the social media giant announced that its innovative product research and development hub, Building 8, is turning its attention towards creating a “brain-computer speech-to-text interface.”

In theory, Facebook intends to create non-invasive wearable sensors that can measure brain activity hundreds of times per second and decode brain signals associated with language in real time.

According to Regina Dugan of Building 8, the point of this technology would be to make communication via technology less invasive and more effiicient.

The smartphone “has allowed us to connect with people far away from us too often at the expense of people sitting right next to us… We know intuitively and from experience that we’d all be better off if we looked up a little more often.”

Why it’s hot:

Mind reading is often touted as a superpower and for good reason. Once developed, this technology could potentially create unlimited possibilities to simplify communication across all industries, across the world. When boiled down to its essence, “silent speech communication” would allow you to record any thought without verbalizing.

This brings up the important and obvious issue of user privacy.  While Facebook has tried to make it clear that “the system won’t be about interpreting random thoughts,” you can’t help but wonder how stringently this technology would need to be regulated to avoid improper usage. For instance, advertisers could easily leverage users’ decoded thoughts to target ads, etc.


Ford Made a Crib That Simulates a Car Ride, So Babies Everywhere Can Finally Drift Off

Ford Spain has created a futuristic baby crib that lets you record your baby’s favorite sleepytime car ride and simulate it.

The Max Motor Dreams baby crib is actually a part of Ford’s effort to advertise its Max family car range.

According to The Verge, “The crib contains LED lights that glow similarly to street lights, and has speakers at the bottom that can make muffled engine sounds for ambient noise. Naturally, it gently vibrates and rocks to mimic a ride in the back seat, and even comes with an app designed to track your car’s route so it can reproduce the movements from that drive for your baby.”

While this is just a prototype, Ford has said they are willing to put the crib into production if demand is high enough.

Why it’s hot:

Even if this crib never makes it to mass production, it shows customers that Ford is genuinely interested in solving the problems that affect its customers and in making lives easier by “inventing beyond cars.”

Pro Gamers Will Now Take Your Burger King Order While You Play Video Games

Burger King has partnered with Sony PlayStation in an effort to appeal to online gamers during “high endurance multiplayer sessions.” To do this, Burger King has employed a group of world-class pro gamers, dubbed the “Burger Clan,” and given them a duel mission – to help gamers win games and to keep them fed.

Starting on April 28, the Burger Clan will basically sneak into players’ PS4 games online to offer them help completing missions and to take their Burger King delivery orders.

As of now, this promotion is only available in Spain, where Burger King has already rolled out home delivery.

Bianca Shen, marketing director for Burger King Spain, said: “Burger Clan is a creative disruption in both the home delivery and gaming worlds and it strikes a great balance between useful and fun.”

Why it’s hot:

  • A lot of brands are changing the way they approach mobile ordering and delivery (Domino’s, Pizza Hut, McDonald’s, etc.). However, these new mobile ordering methods still require users to actively open an app, type an order or emoji, etc. Burger King is taking online ordering and delivery to a new level by anticipating a need and offering a solution with no effort on the part of the customer.
  • The use of pro-gamers as “spokespeople” helps to make Burger King’s push feel less self-serving – the gamers are actually helping players accomplish unrelated goals.