A Tale of Two Beauties: Makeup branding across cultures

Updated: May 21, 2020

Photo by freestocks.org on Unsplash

In the recent half-decade, Korean beauty (otherwise referred to as K Beauty) trends have established a strong presence in the global beauty arena.

Beauty routines from East to West have been influenced by K Beauty in some shape or form, whether it’s in the form of owning a BB cream or powder foundation or using sheet masks in one’s self-care routine.

On Youtube, countless videos explain the essentials of K Beauty to curious viewers, with some doing makeup tutorials showing the difference between Korean versus American/European makeup styles.

A quick study of several instagram accounts of Korean makeup brands versus American or European ones show us obvious visual differences.

Korean brands like 3CE opt for the Cute look- they have an instagram feed comprising mostly of peachy hues and white or light coloured backdrops. Colours which connote mildness, innocence and gentleness. Softness is the key theme here.

Shots including models show the model with lips slightly parted or closed, a side-gaze and a slight head tilt. A pose that plays it coy, maintaining a certain distance from the viewer. Not friendly, but not cool either.

In contrast, a feed like Urban Decay Cosmetics is full of bright, bold colours:

Bold purples, blues, reds feature, and pictures include cropped pictures of models, showing just lips in a lipstick post for example, with the lips kept parted and lipstick brushing over it.

Unlike the controlled coyness exhibited in the 3CE feed, the models here show a variety of facial expressions, from pouting, to smirking, to teeth-showing smiles.

But how might we encapsulate this difference from non-visual information? We downloaded 200 post captions each from 6 instagram accounts — 3 Korean brands, 2 American brands and 1 French brand.

We ran these captions through our Cultural AI’s textual models, and we saw interesting results from comparing results from the adjectives model.

Representing the top adjectives in each category in word clouds, here’s what we have:

Wordcloud of Western beauty brands’ top adjectives

Wordcloud of K-beauty brands’ top adjectives

Loud vs Soft

With brands like L’Oreal, Maybelline and Urban Decay Cosmetics, beauty is louder. Adjectives like “electric” and “intense” were used often, connoting vibrantness and energy.

Compared to the adjectives in the K Beauty set, we see that top adjectives in this set include words with softer, gentler associations, such as “romantic” and “glow”, and of course, “soft”.

More vs Less

Additionally, the word “more” had greater presence in the language of the Western beauty captions, compared to the Korean set.

In contrast, the word “minimal” appears frequently in the Korean set, emphasising the exact opposite sentiment, and instead highlighting simplicity. Words indicating a state of excess or plentifulness abound in the Western set: we see terms like “extra” and “hypereasy”.

Elaborate vs Concise

Also, our adjective comparison suggests to us that the language of Western beauty is more elaborate. We see that there is a stronger element of storytelling in the captions of their instagram posts.

More colour words like “golden” and “red” were found in the Western set compared to the Korean one, more references to features such as “matte”, “longwear” or “waterproof” are seen too. Much fewer adjectives were used in the Korean set, showing that just like their celebration of minimalistic makeup, short and sweet captions are preferred.

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