Beauty vlogger Michelle Phan’s “Matte About You” video posted on her YouTube channel on March 7 already has 1.2 million views, a norm for her. Then there is MAC Cosmetics, whose most-watched video so far this year is “Viva Glam — Behind the Scenes With Rihanna.” It has received more than 58,000 views since early February.

This story first appeared in the March 14, 2014 issue of WWD. Subscribe Today.

The numbers don’t lie — when it comes to beauty content on the Google-owned YouTube, vloggers like Phan are running mascara rings around the major brands.

YouTube has become the authority for makeup artistry online — and major beauty brands are missing out. Users want to view tutorials and product reviews, and they have more than 30 seconds to watch them, according to Rob Ciampa, chief marketing officer of Pixability, a data software company that helps major brands with YouTube.

A surprisingly small percentage of beauty videos on YouTube come from the leading beauty houses, Ciampa said. Of the platform’s 14.9 billion beauty-related video views, just 3 percent come from these companies, while 97 percent of views are for independent content creators. In 2010, beauty-related content on YouTube saw about 300 million views a month, and by 2013, the number had ballooned to 700 million — with 27,000 beauty videos posted in January 2013 alone.

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“It’s amazing how teenagers in their bedrooms can create more YouTube content than some of the major brands and their agencies,” Ciampa told WWD. “This isn’t that brands can’t do it; there is [just] so much emphasis on high-end content. They don’t need as highly produced content — and this is a by-product of what’s coming over from the TV world.”

Pixability last month released research that tracked 168 brands; 45,000 personalities, brands and content creators; 877,000 videos, and 14.9 billion views. The data showed that top beauty bloggers produce 270 percent more content and publish content seven times more frequently than brands. Vloggers typically have 10 times the amount of videos on their YouTube channels than brands and post about two times a week — while brands publish a new video once every six weeks, on average. YouTube’s top 25 beauty bloggers have 115 times more subscribers than branded beauty channels, and receive 26 times more comments.

Phan is the leading beauty vlogger on YouTube, with nearly six million subscribers and more than 817 million video views as of December. Bethany Mota isn’t far behind Phan. The California-based Mota has more than 5.5 million YouTube subscribers on her channel. U.K.-based Zoe Sugg of Zoella and Ingrid Nilsen of Miss Glamorazzi have four million and 2.4 million subscribers, respectively.

Then there are the leading beauty brands and retailers, many of which have less than 200,000 subscribers on their respective YouTube channels.

Ciampa credits this gap to brands looking at YouTube through a TV lens.

“They [brands] are taking a TV legacy mentality to the digital world. They are pretty sophisticated and good marketers, but we haven’t seen a shift of true digital mentality. They’ve got some phenomenal non-digital content, and a lot of these folks are taking this well produced content — commercials — and dumping it on YouTube. It’s just content that they’ve replicated for digital,” Ciampa said.

This doesn’t work, though, because the audience online is younger and searching for authenticity and a story. “Their response to the commercial content isn’t very good, so it tends not to be viewed and shared — and that’s backed up by our numbers,” he said.

Twenty-six-year-old Phan attributed Pixability’s numbers to a new generation that isn’t going into stores and discovering new products like they used to.

“The whole world is right in front of them [online], whether it’s their phone or laptop. It’s much more personal than the store. They connect and bond with the creators and a real authentic voice. Authenticity is key and it’s hard for a brand who didn’t start with that authentic voice to hop over and create a YouTube channel,” Phan told WWD.

Phan began working with L’Oréal in 2010 when she was tapped as a Lancôme’s online spokeswoman and online beauty guru. Last year, she partnered with L’Oréal USA on a line called Em, or “sister” in Vietnamese, that launched a global online presence in January with more than 230 different products. She is clear that even though she has her own line, she uses and advocates products from other brands to maintain authenticity.

“The biggest disconnect — and I see this with mobile as well — is that big brands don’t really understand the notion and impetus of video blogging,” said Dr. Parham Aarabi, chief executive officer of beauty technology company ModiFace. “They sometimes throw quite a bit of money at agencies, hoping that that generates significant followers on YouTube, but that doesn’t always work.”

But perhaps it could also be a testament to a vlogger’s personality versus an overall brand message. It could be argued that it’s more difficult for a brand to build the human connection that independent creators excel at, even though these companies have large budgets and marketing muscle behind them.

“It’s not news to me that there are a lot of women out there — and we call them ‘women in bedrooms’ — who’ve been creating beauty content and getting millions of views, way more than any retailer or beauty brand out there. This isn’t new, but it’s mind boggling,” said Bridget Dolan, Sephora interactive vice president.

She compared independent beauty creators to an extension of’s more than two million consumer ratings and reviews — which are often seen as unbiased.

“If Sephora tells you it’s the best new product, you may or may not believe me. They have this unbiased credibility. It’s a next generation ratings and review,” Dolan said.

This year, Sephora is taking a more “bottoms up” approach when it comes to creative video content. The retailer is looking at what clients are searching for and what their questions are. Rather than last year’s campaign-centric video strategy — or what “Sephora wanted to tell you,” Dolan said — the brand is zeroing in on what consumers are looking for and how the retailer can solve those needs. Sephora has 181,896 subscribers and, as a multibrand retailer, publishes content on YouTube several times a week. MAC has 146,437 subscribers and posts content anywhere from one to two times a week, and Lancôme USA has 19,434 subscribers. L’Oréal’s LorealParisNYC YouTube channel has 15,000 subscribers and its French counterpart has almost 17,000. Estée Lauder has just less than 9,000 subscribers on its YouTube channel — a surprisingly low number for a company whose sales surpassed $10 billion for the 2013 fiscal year. 

However, when it comes to YouTube conversion footprints — or total views of videos mentioning a brand — Maybelline led the pack in Pixability’s research. Maybelline was mentioned in 371 million videos, Urban Decay 347 million, NYX 318 million, Sephora 305 million, Dove 237 million, L’Oréal Paris 171 million and CoverGirl 107 million.

Unilever-owned Dove has had success with viral videos such as “It’s Real Beauty” sketches that went live in April of last year — the three-minute short has garnered more than 62 million views on YouTube, 5.6 billion media impressions and became the most watched online ad ever with more than 170 million views. Dove’s channel in the U.S. has more than 35,000 subscribers.

Jennifer Bremner, Dove’s brand director, skin cleansing, said that the brand has experimented with video since 2006 — including its Evolution, Real Beauty Sketches and Selfie videos.

“Through video, Dove has revealed meaningful insights about beauty and confidence gleaned from our research, resulting in global reach and sparking thought-provoking conversations. Video and platforms like YouTube provide Dove with a medium to have a living, evolving connection with women everywhere and to foster relationships with women where they’re spending their time,” Bremner said.

Then there’s Estée Lauder, which would rather co-habitate than dominate.

“If you were just doing social listening on your brand — or even if you were to Google your brand name — I think it would be problematic if the brand itself owned the majority of the content around the brand,” said Marisa Thalberg, vice president, corporate global digital marketing at the Estée Lauder Cos. Inc.
Social media destinations like YouTube have resulted in the formation of accessible, conversation online, something once limited to word of mouth.

Rather than viewing the fact that brands own so little of the online video beauty conversation as a disconnect, Thalberg thinks of it as a “natural reality” of digital ecosystems today. She believes in taking the entire brand footprint into consideration, and using video as a way to tell stories, whether collaborating with influencers or creating their own content.

In a sense, these companies are living off the legitimacy of these independent creators, while still maintaining a presence in the YouTube ecosystem through branded pages from Estée Lauder, Bobbi Brown, MAC and others. Bobbi Brown’s I Love Makeup channel has become the number-two branded beauty channel on the platform in terms of views per video.

“None of it [our approaches] are just ‘put your TV commercial on YouTube,’” Thalberg said. “When there is an ecosystem with a passionate audience, our job should be understanding that total ecosystem and getting smarter about it.”

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