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Cracking the Code of Beauty Vloggers’ Authenticity

Beauty vlogging has become so powerful that its basic premise serves up contradictory messages that can strain credibility.

A flood of up-and-coming beauty vloggers are ripe and ready to make deals, hoping to catch a book or a fragrance contract and even the chance to be on “Dancing with the Stars.”

Over the last decade, the phenomenon of the self-made video makeup expert has exploded on YouTube, drawing 700 million monthly video views collectively, according to Pixability’s 2014 Beauty on YouTube report. In the process, these young starlets have turned YouTube into a hunting ground for brands hungry for digital ambassadors to young audiences in cyberspace. Beauty vlogging has been such a boom that the original pioneers — Michelle Phan, Bethany Mota and Ingrid Nilsen — have given birth to a new generation of content creators.

“The reason why people are really gravitating toward them is they are not just a one [trick pony],” said Lisa Green, head of industry, luxury, and branded apparel at Google. “They’re almost lifestyle brands within themselves.”

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And yet, beauty vlogging has become so powerful that its basic premise serves up contradictory messages that can strain credibility.

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Case in point: beauty vloggers of all ages are putting forth their honest opinion on specific beauty products, but an increasing number of them have gone to work for brands and are drawing a paycheck. This raises a question: How unbiased is the advice?

Maureen Mullen, cofounder of L2 Inc., and head of research, acknowledged that while the practice of hiring vloggers as spokespeople has become more common, traditional concepts of credibility are undergoing redefinition. “The pay-to-play program with the vloggers has hit it a little more mainstream,” she said. “The link has become a little bit more tenuous.”

But the vloggers insist that they remain unbiased in their viewpoint, even if they are on the corporate payroll. “If there’s a brand I don’t like, I normally don’t even talk about it or feature it,” said Michelle Phan, queen of the beauty vloggers with an estimated empire worth $84 million, including a licensing deal with L’Oréal. “If someone is going to pay for something, it has to be a product that I really enjoy.”

As for the question of who is calling the shots, beauty vloggers claim they’re pulling their own strings. These content creators, like Phan, contend that they won’t endorse products that do nothing for them.

Brands seem to be catching on. On Monday Lancôme disclosed its partnership with Lisa Eldridge, while Dulce Candy was made ambassador for Too Faced’s Better Than Sex Mascara last summer.

So what can brands look forward to with this new onslaught of beauty vloggers?

“There will definitely be consolidation [with vloggers],” said Wende Zomnir, founding partner and chief executive officer of Urban Decay. “[Also,] there’s going to be segmentation. You’re going to find specialists in certain areas.”

“It’s going to get pretty cluttered as more brands [enlist vloggers] more often,” said Joy Chen, ceo of Yes To. “But the key part is to find the right creative collaboration with the right vlogger.”

In January 2014, Yes To enlisted Nilsen to help design a set of limited edition wipes for the holidays. According to the company, the wipes have been available on since mid-September and are outselling every other wipe by more than 300 percent. The page where the wipes are featured thus far has had more than 23,000 views and is the second most-trafficked page after the company’s homepage. Additionally, Nilsen encourages readers to check out the wipes under many of the video tutorials she posts.

“I am okay with turning down brands if it’s not in line with my vision,” said Nilsen, otherwise known as MissGlamorazzi. “I’ve been working with fewer brands, [which] means I am able to focus on building out those relationships with a long-term potential and have room to still create my own content.”

Given its experience with MissGlamorazzi, Yes To is looking for a vlogger to promote its acne line.

And no wonder. According to a survey conducted by Variety, which was given to 1,500 Americans aged 13 to 18, YouTube stars are more popular than mainstream celebs among U.S. teens. Variety noted that this is due to the fact that they enjoy a more intimate, authentic experience with vlogging celebrities who aren’t subject to images or strategies carefully orchestrated by PR pros. Also, the survey found that “teens appreciate YouTube stars’ more candid sense of humor, lack of filter and risk-taking spirit, behaviors often curbed by Hollywood handlers.”

“It’s accurate to say that these vloggers have become celebrities,” Green said. “But they are almost one step better because they feel more accessible, and the connection is that much stronger.”

Even Proactiv, which is known for reaching consumers through a celebrity voice, is modernizing its perspective by tapping into YouTube influencers. Hosted by vlogger Eva Gutowski, Proactiv’s #BeYouTV, which launched in December, consists of tips and tricks.

“[Vloggers] create a level of engagement, authenticity and empathy that you can’t really get by putting a TV ad up,” admitted Jay Sung, chief marketing officer at Guthy Renker, who added that the Proactiv videos would live on the brand’s and vlogger’s channel. “Plus, a lot of people struggling with acne are teens and Millenials that are engaging with YouTube at an extraordinary rate.”

“Vloggers are evolving, and they understand what their strength of their relationship is based on,” said Terry Rieser, cofounder of digital agency Tag Creative. “They are becoming much more discretionary in terms of who they partner with and why they partner with them.”

For Phan, she said she has to like a product’s texture to push it on her channel. “I’m not trying to sell it to my viewers,” Phan said. “I have to fall in love with it first and then it sells itself.”

Who can blame her? With Phan’s busy schedule, she has to carefully choose what she supports.

On Dec. 8 at 10 a.m. Phan sat in the L’Oréal offices to do an interview. Eight hours earlier she filmed her New Year’s video. After that, she washed all the glitter off her face, changed clothes and hopped into a car to head to LAX. She arrived right before the plane took off and when she landed drove to the L’Oréal offices to call WWD for the interview. The 27-year-old beauty vlogger gets four to five hours of sleep per night.

Mota, for her part, didn’t have time for a phone call.

“It’s natural for [vloggers] to shop, test and review tons of product for our channel,” wrote Mota via e-mail. “So I really like it when a company understands that and doesn’t expect [vloggers] to be completely exclusive to one brand.”

Karen Robinovitz, chief creative officer of Digital Brand Architects, an agency that represents 80 content creators across categories including beauty, fashion and food among others, noted, “[Authentic vloggers] will never take something just for money,” giving the example of her client Keiko Lynn, a supporter of animal rights. “[Lynn] has walked away from incredibly lucrative projects because it went against her personal ethos.”

According to Robinovitz, when a brand is considering a partnership with a vlogger it is always based on the scope of work such as the size of audience or what it takes for the content creation process to happen.

While the prices range for enlisting a vlogger, Robinovitz added that it can cost $2,500 for one Instagram post and can go up to $250,000 for an advertising campaign or brand ambassador role.

But to join the beauty vlogger realm, the barrier to entry is pretty low; all they need is a video camera and products. The new generation of vloggers feel entitled, and some of their agents haven’t caught on to the proper etiquette. “I thought [vloggers] operated like any other member of the media with respect to editorial, but the very first vlogger I reached out to wanted an obscene amount of money ($5,000) so I kindly declined, and I got a nasty e-mail from their manager,” explained a brand representative, who requested anonymity. “After the whole thing, the vlogger did what some people think is the most insulting thing you can do to anybody nowadays — she un-followed us on Twitter.”

“The amount of content that’s created on the Internet doubles practically every year, and the power [of beauty vlogging] continues to be distributed to that small number at the top,” said Mullen, who added that there is a huge drop off in quality in beauty YouTube videos.

But Robinovitz put it best, “Content, point of view and talent will never go away. The format to which it comes to life will evolve and change, but [this business] is not about being a beauty blogger or vlogger, its about galvanizing an audience and connecting with them in a very authentic, truthful way.”

Vloggers Poised for Influence
Source: L2 Inc.

Name: Tati Westbrook
Channel: GlamLifeGuru
Subscribers: 521,528 as of 1/7/15
Why Watch: The 32-year-old produces makeup tutorials and product reviews five times a week. 88 percent of her viewership is over 18.

Name: Cassandra Bankson
Channel: DiamondsAndHeels14
Subscribers: 743,320 as of 1/7/15
Why Watch: Bullied as a youth for her acne, Bankson developed a method of covering it up and exposed her story on YouTube. Allure magazine tapped the 22-year-old for her own show on its channel called Cassandra to the Rescue.

Name: Lauren Elizabeth Luthringshausen
Channel: LoLuFullyLoaded
Subscribers: 837,769 as of 1/7/15
Why Watch: The 18-year-old takes a quirky approach to product reviews with her wacky sense of humor and youthful vibe.

Name: Chloe Morello
Channel: ChloeMorello
Subscribers: 883,830 as of 1/7/15
Why Watch: Based in Australia, Morello started her YouTube channel in 2012 with beauty how to’s while working as a makeup consultant at a crematorium.

Name: Tiffany D
Channel: MakeupByTiffanyD
Subscribers: 904,109 as of 1/7/15
Why Watch: The southern belle from Atlanta, who is currently pregnant, spills her favorites on makeup, fashion, home and décor with or without a baby in tow.

Name: Sam and Nicola Chapman
Channel: pixiwoo
Subscribers: 1,742,331 as of 1/7/15
Why Watch: The British sisters, who also run a digital magazine called Two, provide tutorials on their channel ranging from basic skills, recreating a celebrity’s look and party makeup.

Name: Dulce Candy Ruiz
Channel: DulceCandy87   
Subscribers: 1,848,756 as of 1/7/15
Why Watch: The California-based beauty vlogger, who is also Too Faced’s ambassador for its Better Than Sex Mascara, provides tutorials, DIY’s and her monthly favorites and must-haves.

Name: Nicole Guerriero
Channel: nguerriero19   
Subscribers: 1,880,429 as of 1/7/15
Why Watch: While her specialty is makeup, this 28-year-old launched a skin care line in December called Best Damn Beauty because she believes makeup is the fun part, but skin care is most important.

Name: Jarmaine Santiago
Channel: JLovesMac1   
Subscribers: 1,889,102 as of 1/7/15
Why Watch: This beauty vlogger has little to no filter. Her product reviews always combine a corny element of humor and a bit of TMI regarding a private issue.

Name: Wayne Goss
Channel: gossmakeupartist   
Subscribers: 1,889,577 as of 1/7/15
Why Watch: The male beauty vlogger posts videos that range from step-by-step beauty tutorials of how to get a celebrity’s look to revealing why a product just won’t cut it.