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Cosmetic company Tarte sparks debate after hosting 50 influencers on luxury Dubai brand trip

A beauty brand has found itself the subject of controversy after it hosted an extravagant brand trip in Dubai for 50 influencers and their guests.

Tarte Cosmetics, a US-based makeup company, hosted the luxury three-day trip, in collaboration with Sephora Middle East, for influencers this week. The trip has resulted in an influx of sponsored content from social media stars such as Alix Earle, Meredith Duxbury, and Monet McMichael.

According to posts shared to Instagram and TikTok by the influencers who were flown to Dubai from the US and Europe, the cosmetic company spared no expense. The trip kicked off with business-class Emirates flights to Dubai for each of the attendees and their plus-ones.

A return business-class flight from Dubai to New York notably costs $13,254, according to Vogue.

Many of the influencers posted room tours on their pages once they’d arrived at their hotel, the Ritz-Carlton Ras Al Khaimah, Al Hamra Beach. Each person and their guest was accommodated in a private villa.

In a video shared by Duxbury, a popular beauty influencer with more than 16.7 million TikTok followers, she also showed the free beauty products and merchandise placed in each guest’s room.

“I swear to god, Tarte does a whole shopping spree for each person, every trip. It’s insane,” Duxberry said as she showed viewers the jewellery, makeup and clothes laid out for her around the expansive villa.

“Trip of a lifetime. Thank you @tartecosmetics,” she captioned the video, which has since been viewed more than 1.8 million times.

@meredithduxbury

Trip of a lifetime!!! Thank you @tartecosmetics 🥹💕😱

♬ original sound - Meredith Duxbury

The inundation of Tarte-sponsored posts, which have included videos and photos of the group riding jeeps in the desert and enjoying lavish dinners, has sparked a debate on social media. Some have questioned the appropriateness of the trip amid widespread cost of living concerns.

@tartecosmetics

So thankful to be experiencing the beautiful Dubai desert with @sephoramiddleeast and an inspiring group of powerful women, committed to lifting each other up in so many ways! 🤍 #trippinwithtarte #dubai #womensupportingwomen

♬ original sound - tarte cosmetics

TikToker Lindsay Borow, who goes by the username @lblikes on the app, said seeing the trip from the standpoint of a “regular consumer” has made her not want to purchase Tarte products. She said the trip comes across as “tone-deaf”.

“Like, in this economy and everything, this is just so unrelatable,” she said.

@lblikes

#stitch with @christineabrahamm my thoughts on this Tarte influencer trip to Dubai

♬ original sound - Lindsay Borow

In the comments under Borow’s video, which has been viewed more than 57,000 times, some users agreed with her on the basis that the trip “feels out of touch with the recession and inflation”.

“I can barely afford eggs so I’m not interested in their new product,” one person wrote, while another said: “Listen I’d love to get shipped out to Dubai BUT let’s read the room…people cannot afford groceries let alone bronzer.”

Someone else said: “I’m a loyal Tarte customer but…it feels too far. I know they always splurge but somehow, it’s too much and a total turn off for the brand.”

Others pointed out that over-the-top brand trips are not a new phenomenon, and that Tarte has hosted extravagant trips for influencers in the past, including to Bora Bora in 2016 and 2018.

“Influencers have been going on brand trips for years, this is not new. I think it’s awesome for them,” one viewer said.

Another tweeted: “Why is TikTok mad that Tarte cosmetics is flying out a bunch of Influencers to Dubai and spending millions. I guess people forgot brands used to do this all the time pre-Covid.”

In addition to a conversation about the timing and excess of the trip, others have speculated about the cost of the influencer trip from a marketing perspective. Many questioned how the brand can afford the pricey endeavour.

“Where are they getting this money from?” TikToker Jack Mac, who created a video breaking down the costs of the trip, asked.

The speculation has prompted many to point out both the valuation of Tarte, which is owned by Kosé and reportedly valued at $50m to $150m.

“All these people think Tarte is losing money off of sending these influencers out to Dubai, yet each one of the influencers has posted three to four videos to their two million-plus following. The trip paid for itself already,” one person tweeted.

Another said: “Tarte’s influencer Dubai brand trip was definitely a smart move, that’s the majority of the content I’ve seen on my FYP [For You Page] today.”

TikToker Jill Justine, who revealed that she used to work for a magazine that hosted similar brand trips, also suggested that the trip may not be as expensive as many believe it to be. She pointed out that “most of the time,” things such as the hotel, excursions, and meals, were free.

“Because we’re partnering with the hotels, because we’re partnering with the event, because we’re partnering with the experience,” she explained. “Because all of them are getting exposure as well.”

Justine also claimed that, although it was less common, there were also times the magazine would partner with airlines and get the flights for free as well.

“The name of the game is exposure,” Justine added.

In a statement to Vogue Business, Tarte founder and CEO, Maureen Kelly, said she understands the “knee-jerk reaction” to the trip.

“This isn’t our first trip, but I can, of course, understand how people may have a knee-jerk reaction to seeing content overload like this,” she told the publication. “Every day, brands make decisions about how to spend their marketing budgets. For some companies, that means a huge Super Bowl commercial or a multi-million-dollar contract with a famous athlete or musician. We’ve never done traditional advertising, and instead, we invest in building relationships and building up communities. We hope that as people see what we’re doing together and what we’re all about, they’ll understand and have a stronger connection with Tarte.”

The Independent has contacted Tarte and Sephora Middle East for comment.