Coming Next: Cosmetics Ads Featuring You As the Model

Slate Cosmetics Tries Ads That Let Consumers Upload Photos

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Looking Glass lets people upload photos and try Slate products virtually.
Looking Glass lets people upload photos and try Slate products virtually.

It's probably the inevitable next step in an age of selfies and personalization -- beauty ads that feature you as the model.

While almost every cosmetics brand wants to expand its digital and e-commerce presence, Slate Cosmetics is taking the concept a step further with an entirely digital launch. To do that, it's turning to Looking Glass, a technology that lets people sample cosmetics virtually by uploading their photos into online display or native ads.

Marketing Director Gentry Ford said Slate is the first cosmetics brand to try an entirely digital launch, with distribution, at least initially, only through e-commerce. L'Oreal's launch of Em by Michelle Phan, backed by the YouTube video-blogger, came close, but it had a Manhattan store as part of its launch plan last year.

Selling an entirely new brand without any physical-store presence is an uphill battle, Ms. Ford acknowledged. While E.L.F. Cosmetics made heavy use of social media for its launch a decade ago, it also leaned heavily on sample-kit distribution. Slate hopes to bypass that step using the virtual sampling technology developed by Modiface.

"I'm sure we will face some hurdles when it comes to overcoming brand loyalty," said Ms. Ford. "As soon as people try our products, I think we'll have the loyalty."

Ms. Ford believes virtual sampling has some advantages compared with "going to Sephora and having to try on a makeup that's been used by countless other people. Who knows where those hands have been? We're hoping to eliminate pinkeye all together."

Slate will start its "soft launch" this week in social media and using its own website,, which has been optimized for mobile use. One advantage of Looking Glass is that it allowed the startup to work with its mobile website rather than to also develop an app, Ms. Ford said.

The brand will extend to paid display and native advertising with its official launch starting in late December. Ms. Ford declined to say who is backing the startup company, but said details will be disclosed around the time of the official launch.

Procter & Gamble's CoverGirl tested an early version of the Modiface technology in Hearst's and other sites in 2012. The technology also has been tried with L'Oreal's Garnier as part of an effort from the company's NEXT program for innovative digital technologies. And Sephora is using the technology at in-store kiosks in some European stores, said Modiface CEO Parham Aarabi, who's also a University of Toronto electrical and computer engineering professor.

But Slate is the first brand to use the current version of the technology for a full-scale launch in paid media, Mr. Aarabi said.

People are asked to register with Modiface when they upload their first photo to the Looking Glass application, be it on a brand website or publisher site. Ultimately the technology, presuming people leave their cookies intact, could allow them to see ads featuring themselves as the model when they visit subsequent sites.

Though he expects Looking Glass to be used heavily in native advertising, Mr. Aarabi said it also can work within conventional banners and other display formats.

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