TikTok has proven its power in making new products and brands go viral. But Vaseline found the platform is also capable of helping to reinvent a 150-year-old brand.
Unilever, which has owned the brand for the last 35 years, saw social media mentions of Vaseline explode 327% in early February from a year earlier, driven largely by TikTok videos about “slugging.” That term makes an analogy between the trail a slug leaves behind and using petroleum jelly to seal skin overnight, particularly on areas prone to dryness like under eyebrows. The hashtag "slugging method" has over 300 million views on TikTok.
While Vaseline’s viral breakout looked spontaneous and stems from habits that go back decades, Unilever had a hand in seeding and stoking the trend. That included a paid social campaign last summer, managed by Team Epiphany, New York, which bills itself as “one of the original influencer marketing agencies” launched in 2004. Once Unilever noticed Vaseline’s TikTok surge beginning last winter, it stepped up paid social and digital support, helping to fuel it further.
Now, it's building on that success and going deeper with its new "See My Skin" campaign from Edelman, designed to counter healthcare bias involving Black, Hispanic and indigenous people.
The takeaways are that success on TikTok—and social media generally—can come from a combination of preparation and patience, plus willingness to jump in with extra dollars if things actually start working.
Slugging's long history
“Slugging” is a term and trend that Kathleen Dunlop, New York-based global brand director of Vaseline, has monitored for nearly eight years. “The first time I saw it actually was 2014,” she said. “I found it on Reddit in a Skincare Addiction subreddit. But the difference this time is TikTok. When TikTok gets ahold of something and creators jump on it, it can go viral.”
Once Unilever saw that happen, it started amplifying the content and the slugging trend with more paid advertising, in part to keep it linked to Vaseline, Dunlop said.