Guys. I watch so much YouTube. I’m not going to pretend most of it isn’t food and makeup, but I’ve used the Internet as a resource for everything from looking up lectures, to learning how to cut my hair, to teaching myself guitar, to rooting my phone, to cooking, to thinking about hexagons. And I often find myself going back to the same sources and personalities. YouTube is a great visual aid where a lot of people tune in to learn, and advertisers have picked up on this.
But advertising particularly affects the beauty and fashion corner of YouTube, which has thrived and made tons of money in a way that all the game playthroughs, comedy duos, and electronics unboxing videos have not.
While most successful beauty gurus on YouTube have an average of half a million to several million subscribers, brands like Lancôme, Sephora, Urban Decay, and MAC linger between 8,000 and 200,000. This does not include the additional engagement these YouTubers receive via social media, Facebook, Instagram, and Twitter. People may like and follow major cosmetics companies for promotions and sales, but they take their questions to YouTubers. The numbers would make any marketing department salivate. In addition to this, the YouTubers handle all the engagement themselves to remain a self-sustaining channel. The companies themselves have tried to enter this world, but with little success. People don’t want to subscribe to an advertisement. They want to subscribe to a mentor or a girlfriend. This is why most beauty and fashion YouTube channels are sponsored, and new and growing channels are quickly scouted.
But this isn’t about hating on YouTubers. YouTube beauty gurus are essentially content creators, but they don’t get paid as content creators, and most don’t advocate for themselves. Many of them are very young, and are made to believe that something that $10 worth of products is a reasonable trade for the amount of money their videos will make the sponsor. This is about understanding how advertisers are co-opting what people often treat as community space to make what are probably billions of dollars. We know what an advertisement looks like on TV, but not everyone knows this on YouTube. The choice for advertisers to work with YouTubers creates a weird power dynamic, which beauty guru Veronica Gorgeois describes here.
“Once a company sends you something they pretty much think that you work for them. And there’s this whole sub-industry now that is basically these intermediary companies trying to connect advertising companies with YouTube channels. They call these ‘opportunities’ for YouTubers.”
Gorgeois goes on to explain how “opportunities” is a vague term for an advertising company to be using, but that many advertising companies will not only ask a YouTuber to review a product, they will ask the YouTuber to show them the review beforehand. Usually when a beauty guru on YouTube becomes sponsored by a company, they will create a video to announce the change in an attempt to be transparent. But users are often just voice boxes for the company, which owes them little to nothing, unless viewers use the promo code that the YouTuber links them. YouTube creators are often paid in free stuff, which seems awesome if making videos is your hobby, but it’s a cheap way for a company to make more money off you.
It’s the engagement factor that reels people in and keeps viewers coming back. These girls make you feel like they’ve done the hard work for the viewer, and have carefully picked through and chosen the best products to showcase. They represent ordinary girls with honest and genuine opinions, so viewers feel like they can connect with them easily and rely on their advice. In addition to this, each channel is sort of its own community. Because these channels almost never start out as sponsored, and because not every video is sponsored, it still feels like thoughtful advice. And the water gets murky when advertisers take advantage of this. The community becomes a sales platform.
In case you want to view knowing who’s trying to sell you something and who isn’t, there’s no real guarantee. Some YouTubers try to be transparent about this stuff, while others let that information go by the wayside. In the meantime, a few tells include monthly favorites videos, product hauls, “get ready with me” videos, product raves from anyone with over 10,000 subscribers, gift guides, giveaways, and promotional codes.