LLast week, several influencers known for uploading makeup and lifestyle content started posting that they were traveling to Dubai with Tarte Cosmetics for the launch of a new foundation product. They included TikTokers like Meredith Duxbury, a makeup influencer with over 16 million followers; Alix Earle, a relatively new influencer who recently gained popularity for her “get ready with me” content and has over 4 million followers; and Monet McMichael, a beauty and lifestyle blogger with over 2 million followers. When the creators started posting their travel vlogs on the way to Dubai, people started noticing that they were sitting in business class. Once at their destination, they were shown their own personal villas at the Ritz-Carlton Ras Al Khaimah and a slew of beauty products, clothing and gifts awaiting them.

Shortly after their trip, questions began to arise online. One of the first videos to question the trip is by a creator named Jack McGuire, which he uploaded last Thursday. In two separate videos, McGuire, who works for Stool, attempted to poke holes in the feasibility of the trip. These videos and many more started circulating on the platform, gaining hundreds of thousands of views. Some followers on TikTok wondered how much money the extravagant trip cost the brand and whether Tarte paid the influencers on top of travel, room and board (its CEO later confirmed that it wasn’t). the case). Some took it upon themselves to “investigate” exactly how much money Tarte spent on the trip. Others shared their thoughts on how the trip was “deaf” as the United States teeters on the edge of a recession. All of the conversations, comments, and questions surrounding this trip did exactly what the company set out to do: get people talking about their brand. The hashtag #TrippinWithTarte has over 140 million views and #TarteDubaiTrip has over 20 million views.

Brand trips aren’t usually as widely discussed, especially in the early days of YouTube. In fact, they were staples among beauty and lifestyle vloggers who were invited by brands like Benefit to different destinations where they could create content while using the brand’s products. Even Tarte has made many similar brand trips in the past. But for social media users who weren’t acutely aware of the height of YouTuber beauty and lifestyle in the 2010s, these extravagant journeys may seem off-putting and seemingly unnecessary. For the brand, however, even bad press can pay off.

The trip elicits strong reactions, followed by explanations

Brands have understood, long before the era of influencers, that traditional advertising is not the only way to promote their products; Now, it’s hard to find a big brand that hasn’t partnered with an influencer or celebrity whose social media can translate into dollars when selling their wares.

In the case of the Tarte trip, the makeup brand invited a group of 50 influencers and their plus ones from eight different countries around the world to join them in Dubai for the launch of their foundation. But rather than pure excitement, one of the predominant reactions to the inspired content that resulted was shock at the overwhelming extravagance of the journey. Naturally, many unverified assumptions fueled these reactions.

Some creators have stepped in to dispel these assumptions. A TikTok creator who says she’s used to managing influencer trips, @jill_justine, uploaded a video in which she explains that in her experience, “these types of trips are much more affordable than you might expect. think so”. In the video, she says the trips she organized included destinations like the Bahamas, the Grand Cayman Islands and Jamaica, where guests stayed at places like the Ritz-Carlton and took various local excursions. “Most of the time, all of these things were free because we were in partnership with the hotels, with the event, with the experience, because all of them are equally exposed,” explains the creator.

The brand was also exposed by the creators without having to pay them per post. Someone like Earle, who is estimated to charge between $40,000 and $70,000 per brand-sponsored post, uploaded 15 posts from his trip. Maureen Kelly, Founder and CEO of Tarte, spoke exclusively with Bright and confirmed that the brand did not pay the content creators in addition to travel, nor did they have any requirements for the post. Some noted that the creators who went there weren’t creating content solely with Tarte products, which was typical for other brand trips in the past.

Kelly also spoke about the perceived controversy surrounding the trip and countered many rumors that swirled around the trip. She first explained that Tarte has long “prioritized her marketing budget to build relationships with influencers.” Although she declined to share the total amount spent on the trip, she did confirm that the brand has partnered with Sephora Middle East. Bright writes that the rooms are “filled with freebies from other like-minded brands, many of which Tarte has now partnered with for years.” As for the flight, the expense of which had become a focal point after McGuire estimated it would cost more than $22,000 per ticket for each influencer and their plus one, she argued that these influencers were putting their lives on hold to spend 2 p.m. flight, so they wanted to “make it as seamless and enjoyable [an] experience for everyone.

The evolving lens of extravagant influence travel

A common sentiment among critics of influencers is that they make too much money or get opportunities while doing little or no work, deeming them unworthy of the perks they receive. At first glance, it seems easy to be an influencer. But while it’s certainly not hard work, there’s still a lot of work to be done in creating content: coming up with original ideas, filming, editing, securing brand deals, traveling, etc. This Pie trip to Dubai is another example of this sentiment playing out online.

There was also the question of the perspective of the ostentatious journey. Kelly did not respond to criticism of deafness during the interview. But Tarte’s journey does almost nothing unique here when it comes to lavishness — beauty and lifestyle YouTubers like Emma Chamberlain have taken marquee journeys with cosmetics or beauty brands in the past. Now, however, in the era of TikTok, and following an increase in the app’s popularity during the pandemic, the concept is new to many users who grew up watching these influencers. For years, influencers were expected to live a certain lifestyle and be given certain unique opportunities to make content out of it. But as this style of content creation has spread to TikTok, it’s facing more and more criticism with a more politically and socially aware Gen Z audience, sparking conversation and controversy.

Ultimately, though, even if the optics of trips like Pie’s Dubai experience get strained, the attention this trip has received suggests we’re not quite done with them yet. The brand and the influencers got exactly what they wanted: to get people talking about it.

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Write to Moises Mendez II at moises.mendez@time.com.

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