Campaign Trail is our analysis of some of the best new creative efforts from the marketing world. View past columns in the archives here.
The meteoric rise of TikTok can be attributed to a perfect storm of factors, not the least of which is its variety: the platform has short-form inanity for everyone, from dance challenges and hidden-camera pranks to cooking demos and comedy sketches. It is also awash — quite literally — with beauty and skincare tutorials. Often, viral trends spur sales for well-positioned products, leaving other brands lost in the feed.
Neutrogena was in danger of joining the latter category, which is why it worked with agency Movers+Shakers to launch "Hydro House," a social-first TikTok campaign that launched on Jan. 17. The "Hydro House" effort is a spot-on parody of reality TV dating shows, with seven influencers vying for the attention of Neutrogena's Hydro Boost Cleanser.
"[Neutrogena has] this amazing cleanser, but no one really knows about it because their competitors stole the spotlight, on TikTok specifically, a few years ago. If you look at the cleansing space, still to this day, consumers are talking about these cleansers that have gone viral from other brands," explained Megan Herren, associate strategy director at Movers+Shakers. "So how can Neutrogena really steal the spotlight with their Hydro Boost Cleanser, and in a way that really impacts sales as well?"
Connecting insights with trends
Movers+Shakers has been working with Neutrogena since 2021, when the agency helped launch the brand on TikTok with its educational “SkinU” campaign. At the time, the brand had lost some relevance with the Gen Z and millennial audiences that dominate TikTok. Since then, Movers+Shakers has assisted with purpose-driven work, always-on content and one-product campaigns focused on sales and consideration goals.
For product-specific campaigns, Movers+Shakers examines the product and its competitors and looks for an approach that will appear more organic than a product ad while staying in line with the brand's overarching TikTok strategy.
With the Hydro Boost Cleanser, Movers+Shakers determined that — due in part to a cluttered skincare space, especially on TikTok — consumers like their cleansers, but they don't love them; they find one that's good enough, and they settle. At the same time, several influencers were finding viral success by recreating and parodying popular reality TV. Movers+Shakers brought the two insights together.
As Herren explained: "What if we compare how people settle for cleansers with the over-saturation of dating options and show them that they don't have to settle, just like you don't have to settle in your dating life?"
So instead of a straightforward, educational post that lists off the benefits of Hydro Boost, Movers+Shakers reimagined the cleanser as the "bombshell" contestant on a reality TV dating show.
@neutrogena_us Oh no! A breakup at the #Neutrogena #HydroHouse ????. #HydroBoost #GelCleanser ♬ original sound - Neutrogena
"We wanted to incorporate key elements from a number of different types of shows, because if we did a parody of one style of show, then we would essentially be only reaching that one audience. But if we hint at very recognizable elements from different types of shows, we're going to reach a number of audiences," Herren said, noting that the effort used a similar strategic approach to casting a wide net for influencers with different audiences.
With that in mind, "Hydro House" combines familiar elements from hit shows (the "villa" of "Love Island" or the tagline of "The Bachelor") along with the shocking moments, character archetypes, and dramatic zooms, cuts and musical cues that have come to define the genre. The result: seven episodes that look and feel like reality TV — not an ad.
"It all came together just very naturally without looking too much like a copycat of something that already exists," Herren said.
Taking risks on TikTok
"Hydro House" moved the needle for Neutrogena, with #hydrohouse garnering more than 62 million views; one especially heated "episode" had over 33 million views. On the social listening front, the campaign has received an "overwhelming number" of positive comments about the brand.
For Neutrogena, those numbers could be proof that the campaign reached its intended target of "Zillennials," consumers between the ages of 20 and 40, that make up 72% of the brand's audience on TikTok, according to a Neutrogena brand spokesperson. For Movers+Shakers, an agency that claims to have over 250 billion views on TikTok, the campaign is another example of what works best on the platform for this audience.
"This market is truly just looking for brands who are going to take a risk. You cannot enter the TikTok space and stay safe," Herren said. "TikTok is such a vulnerable, unfiltered, raw platform where consumers feel like they have the freedom to be unapologetically themselves, and they don't want brands crowding it who are not also going to be unapologetically themselves."
However, Herren is quick to note that "risk" doesn't mean adopting a different voice that's outside of a brand's comfort zone, like a clinical brand suddenly cracking jokes. But brands must be ready to push the boundaries of campaign creativity in ways that wouldn't work on other platforms.
"TikTok was born to be an entertainment platform — not sales, not shopping, none of that," Herren says. "Consumers are using it to escape — they don't want brands taking away from that escapism."