When it first launched in 2013, CoverGirl’s “305 Flamed Out” mascara didn’t catch on with Amazon shoppers. The product attracted only 10 reviews in six months, and most reviewers gave it only one or two stars, citing the unusual hourglass shape of the applicator brush.

Because consumers are less likely to buy a product with fewer than 2.9 stars, that barrage of negativity could have significant consequences for CoverGirl. So the brand invested in Vine reviews – paying Amazon to provide trusted users with free products that they were then obligated to critique.

The strategy worked. Between November and January, the listing’s rating rose from 2.5 to 3.5 stars, according to L2’s Amazon Vine report. All but two product reviews came through the Vine program, making clear that it caused the boost. (The study also observes a similar lift for two other products using Vine: a Maybelline mascara and a Crest toothpaste.)

Amazon listings

Why were Vine reviewers more favorably inclined towards the CoverGirl mascara than regular customers? They weren’t biased by getting free products: the study finds that organic and Vine ratings are generally similar. Rather, the Vine program got rid of the selectivity bias.

In general, shoppers are most likely to review products they feel strongly about. Nearly all online product reviews have a clear positive or negative trend; before the mascara’s Vine campaign, all but one review contained either all positive or all negative comments, and 63% of organic reviewers gave the mascara either one or five stars. In other words, consumers who were decently satisfied with the mascara weren’t reviewing it.

In contrast, Vine reviewers are compelled to review products regardless of how strongly they feel about them. Only 37% of Vine reviewers rated the mascara one or five stars, while the other ratings hovered in the more conservative middle – helping the product earn a higher rating and encouraging increased sales.


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