Wednesday, 5 August 2009

Beauty Blag

Since my recent fame and fortune (well one of those... OK, ok then, a smidge of one of those) I have caught a fleeting glimpse of the mechanics which underpin the 'Beauty Industry'. For anyone wondering, here is the proof of Glory: lil ol me sandwiched between the great and the good! Has to be seen to be believed! P.S This Metro edition came out on my birthday!!

Anyway as I was saying... After the piece, which incidentally was written by the masterful British Beauty Blogger, I was contacted by several PR people, congratulating me and offering to send a few samples for me to review. Although constant blog sales and constant blog reviews - blatantly featuring free gifts - get on my nerves, I am not above getting free stuff myself. Hypocrisy is such an ugly word though.

PR people are as new to this development as we independent bedroom bloggers are; previously there may have been a set list of magazine or possibly TV contacts etc to get in touch with, to organise brand exposure. Yet now, with the proliferation of beauty blogs, particulary those which become required reading for any self-respecting beauty junkie, PR have been swift to re-evaluate their agenda. With YouTube burning up millions of dollars in bandwidth every day by allowing anyone the opportunity to "broadcast" themselves, the potential to gain viewers and subscribers at an electrifying speed is a reality. Do the maths and it's not hard to understand why Google (owners of YouTube), who pioneered AdSense, would develop a similar strategy for their most popular "Channels": the Partnership programme. Introduced in 2007, early Partners such as Pogobat cut great deals which famously meant he earned $2,500 a month. And once the Partnership programme hit UK, Lauren Luke's Panacea81 channel was amongst the first to be rewarded. Finding out how much money Partners make is shrouded in secrecy: contracts with clauses forbidding one to divulge their YouTube earnings mean guesswork is futile. To compound this, different Partners get different adverts with different rates and not all Partners are equal, according to YouTube.

Regardless of the specifics, the very nature of being paid or seduced by companies can surely play havoc with the independent stance of a makeup enthusiast turned 'reporter' or at the very least change the tone of their blog or videos. I will however refrain from debating such a moot point. The YouTube partnership programme, which aside from any financial advantages, carries perks such as a personalised logo banner and the ability to make longer videos, and similarly the popularity measured by "Followers" on one's blog, which is naturally enough how a PR would determine your value, means I am reminded of the recent UK media story of The Archbishop of Westminster who decried the trend for online social networking:

"It's an all or nothing syndrome that you have to have in an attempt to shore up an
identity; a collection of friends about whom you can talk and even boast. But friendship is not a commodity..."1

Is the makeup community on YouTube and within Blogs guilty of this, being as it is reliant on popularity? Or is the unique nature of the beauty community, which has proven itself to be beautiful in a metaphorical as well as a literal way, enough to make it exempt from this scathing attack on the "dehumanising" of community life? And is the immediacy of 'tutorials' and the discursive nature of blogging emblematic of the very skills which he applauds: the "ability to build interpersonal communication that's necessary for living together and building a community". Indeed I would go further and say that far from leading to suicide in young people (for that was the extreme prediction) belonging and following, in a hobby as integral as your makeup routine (which incidentally takes on a religious symbolism if you ask me! - not to be sacriligious!) actually can be very strengthening.

Anyway to put aside these somewhat woolly issues, one of YouTube's biggest success stories has been Lauren Luke. Her journey has involved meeting the Queen at Google HQ, regularly being featured, having the homepage devoted to her makeup launch and indeed the makeup launch itself - nothing short of a modern day fairytale. Lauren's genuine warmth and humility endeared her to countless fans. Her appeal proves irresistable for YouTube to promote. Yet when one considers YouTube was bought for $1.65 billion by Google in October 2006 it is clear that popular users, who after all make the site what it is, have earned about .06 percent of the purchase price. Nevertheless it would be misleading to imply their video making is exploitation, being as it is, a hobby.

Google is currently defying the recession and making profit, though YouTube itself is burning hundreds of millions of dollars each year. However it is poised to eventually become a "strong revenue business". The company also said that it was continuing to build up its substantial cash pile, which now stands at $19.3bn. The strategy is evidenced by the progressively more invasive pop-up adverts that clutter the site, particularly visible on YouTube Partners. This is complicated by the trend for false clicking - either to support your favourite YouTube channels; or, more menacingly, by competitors who click rival business adverts and cause unjustified expense, and of course makes small emerging companies especially vulnerable to such tactics. Companies like Mally Beauty and Coastal Scents would be wholly unfamiliar to me were it not for YouTube so clearly small companies can use the Beauty community to their advantage. Yet the commercialisation of YouTube has meant that many of the adverts are by huge companies, for whom YouTube costing is more economical than TV, yet can significantly rival its impressive viewing figures. Trying to figure out how the huge cost of bandwidth compares to ad revenue is very difficult, with analysts speculating YouTube loses between $174 million to $470 million though the company denies this and insists on the bigger picture. Plausibly videos on demand and tailored to specific categories and communities is the future, moreover everyone enjoys the tale of the little person who conquers the stage, and what better example is there than YouTube?

Now to address blogging, which has a more analytical advantage. Companies have perhaps realised that some beauty addicts surreptitiously access blogs from work, when they can't risk YouTube, and quickly develop an allegiance to specific blogs. Much like a hybrid between a magazine and a chat, blogs can certainly affect spending habits. It affects an emergent company's image to secure niche advertising. Drugstore makeup may be most suited to TV advertising, but more high end like Lancome and YSL usually aim for glossy mags. MAC's strategy by contrast is to put their ad funding into new designer's backstage shows and propel the image of MAC as the industry favourite. Yet their presence in every department store alongside Lancome makes this distinction rather unconvincing. Illamasqua have exploded on to the scene and are still fairly exclusive, though they have proliferated.

Probably most similar to MAC in terms of colour range and price point, Illamasqua have taken a similar approach to the MAC of ye olde days, before it became spat on by purists for 'selling out' to Lauder. I.e, Illamasqua are befriending the true fanatical experts and expecting a drip-down effect from the top down. I think this is a very shrewd move, and what's more, the Illamasqua blog is a surprisingly good read! Full of tips and interviews, the tone is far less self-serving than equivalent branded blogs and eases you in to the Illamsqua product range in a subtle yet very enticing way. All in all Illamasqua have it seems succeeded in creating not only a stunning and distinctive promo image, but also a respect for the true makeup conoisseur. (It is a shame that some of their Selfridges makeup artists are not quite as welcoming, but they are placed right next to MAC so they have a bad example.)

That Illamasqua, Barry M and Coastal Scents, to take these examples, have shown themselves receptive to blogs and YouTube at a grassroots level is impressive. I believe that individual amateur makeup reviewers will ultimately prove to be at the heart of future customer research. With less people buying magazines (print media is notoriously the first to be hit in times of recession) and more people checking comparison websites and forums, YouTube and blog reviews present a natural resource. And besides, representing the niche market of the makeup consumer who will absently buy 3 blushers and still come back the next week for another - surely those are the customers any makeup business is keenest to attract!

What beauty bloggers and YouTube Gurus must remember is the uncorrupted guilelessness which made them so vital in the first place, which is conceivably difficult if they gain unbridled popularity. Nonetheless many manage just that, and Lauren Luke is a blueprint for how it's done best. So this is my spin on Archbishop Vincent Nichols' dire warning.


  1. Fantastic article - really enjoyed reading it

  2. I enjoyed that - really informative and thought provking x

  3. With clarity and a keen lens, you have examined, in such an engaging way all of our enthusiasm and well pointed out skepticism surrounding this community. Thank you Gail for such rich material to wade through and think about....

  4. Gail - another fantastic and thought provoking post - my own take is that I always disclose when I have been sent products to review, and I give honest reviews in which I try to consider the needs of people with other skintypes and tastes to myself - That way, I feel its fair to the lovely people who do take the time to read my ramblings!

    By the way, I tagged you over in bloggy land -

    I really hope we get to meet in person one day! xxx

  5. Well said, Gail! I've been pondering on this issue for the past year since I started getting hooked on Youtube and later, beauty blogs.

    I find the developments surrounding the rise in awareness and popularity of brands such as Illamasqua and Barry M through Youtube and blogs very fascinating. Kudos to them for being so quick to embrace this form of marketing. There is no better form of advertising than through word of mouth. Listen to and read what consumers are saying to each other and feed on this lemming-ness. Become a sponsor of contests organised by popular beauty Youtube gurus or bloggers and in no time, your brand is famous! Sigma Brushes is a case in point. Smart and low-cost advertising is what I would call it.

  6. seriously you should write a book. You are like einstien. only waaaaay prettier! and everything you say is on point. Brilliant read!

  7. @Magpie Sparkles

    Thanks Emma, I thought of you when I wrote this, I always love how you call my posts "articles"! haha you let me believe my own fantasy there, so THANKS! Xxxx

  8. @Lorla

    Gosh what a generous thing to say, thank you! xxx

  9. @MizzWorthy

    Oh wow just read it, will certainly be delighted to do the tag! How VERY KIND!!!

    You know when I met Lisa she mentioned she was meeting you the next day, and I seriously considered whether it would be too weird to gatecrash! haha I decided it might be a bit... but now you say it's OK, let me know when you are next in London!! That would be sooooo much fun!!! Xxxxx

  10. @Deborah

    That made me laugh! Literally that is amongst the best compliments I've ever got in my life! Thanks!! Love that!!! hahah xxxx Oh and yeah I would LOVE to write a book, it's a pipe dream for now. But I so appreciate the encouragement.

    (Oh PS I checked out your blog and really enjoyed it. Also a fan of your vids!)

  11. Great message. I love the background too!