Monday, 10 May 2010

Reviewing Gurus

It's nothing new to speculate as to the ethical implications of a popular guru advising their minions to go buy a fabulous new item, yet here we are again. This article in the New York Times , crudely titled "Look What I Bought (or Got Free)" has exposed the trend further. 

The tone of the article is rather derogatory, as in this segment describing the narrative of a "haul":

“If you follow me on Twitter, you know I was Twittering about my dilemma,” she said earnestly to her audience. “Should I get the gray or should I get the black?” She held up a pair of black Uggs. Mystery solved.

Recently when the somewhat notorious "Elle" and "Blair" featured on Good Morning America, the TV hosts concluded, "Did I hear it right, this young girl had to quit school because she's so busy shopping?!" (this comment provoked ire from Blair, in the only video I've seen of hers, where she responded - but also included outtakes where she spoke about "putting on her voice" and how "no, I can't say that or they'll think..." which ironically added credence to the accusation of the sisters as a business enterprise controlling a huge, dumb audience.)

Celebrities front ad campaigns all the time (just ask disgruntled models!) but I don't think anyone accepts that a YouTube celebrity is afforded the same luxury. Whereas when Eva Longoria fronts a L'Oreal home dye we all know there is hardly a more unlikely scenario than her dyeing her own hair at home, with plastic gloves on - when a YouTube guru does the same pitch, we accept it as genuine. Afterall, invariably the reason a YouTube personality is embraced by so many, is because of their 'homeliness'.

So when emails were leaked (linked in the NYT article) which revealed the fact that once a Guru is popular, an agent will come along and poach them, and demand money for reviews... we feel betrayed. FTC rules only go so far; there is no reveal of how much consideration is given, let alone any bribes/"gifts".

The article speaks of a trend for "haulers" and avoids the heart of the makeup community, which is arguably makeup tutorials. The beauty community is described as having been fully absorbed into a shallow hauling frenzy. Perhaps it has, and perhaps, as the article suggests, it is a tonic for these recession hit times, "a voyeuristic thrill: seeing how other people spend money". 

I am unfamiliar with any of the Gurus profiled by the NYT, except Lauren Luke, who they describe as: "a role model to many haulers (she parlayed her YouTube videos into a career as a makeup artist with her own product line and TV show)". This does her a huge disservice, as she is in fact a prime example of a Guru who has got to her exalted position purely through tutorials.

I know the beauty community is insular, and we bond because we know most people would mock the way a certain tone of lipstick can make our day (!), but even so, I feel upset to see how the article denies any scope of intelligence, as it sums up: "Then she caught herself with a philosophical thought, which seems to be a rarity among haulers. 'When is it going to be enough stuff?' "

But some of the videos I watch are very articulate and informative. It's a shame to see the dumb airhead stereotype being reinforced like this. Having said that, dozens of Gurus enjoy nothing more than to be called Barbie, they revel in the shallowness. But in the main they do it self-effacingly and for effect, right? Right?? (just hope so.)

And if you can harness such a huge audience and companies approach you for a review, why should the company get away with free publicity? Some Gurus can rival a TV show audience, and what's more, an audience saturated with admiration and trust. So, in many ways, it is unfair that companies balk at paying for a spotlight review! On the other hand, viewers feel personally affronted to see that an honest review is inevitably compromised once sums change hands. Making money by becoming a partner is fine, making money with your own TV show, makeup line, T Shirt selling, website... all fine. But undermining the integrity of your channel is surely very different. Perhaps they could set up a different channel for paid reviews, would that be a solution? 

It is a fine line, and it's hard to argue that if your position allows you to cream off money with endless reviews, you wouldn't take it. YouTube is an unknown quantity, relatively new. Will a major Guru always retain their power or will it fade away? Should one seize the free money and assume that viewers should rely on their own judgement, 'a fool and their money, and so on?'

It is a tricky situation. I have been watching makeup videos for a while, and there is an argument to say that the mass of haul videos and review videos have corrupted YouTube. The Partnership programme has corrupted YouTube. But everything gets commercialised. 

Luckily when a blog or YouTube personality gets a great reputation, they can be loath to lose it. "Reputation, reputation, reputation! O, I have lost my reputation! I have lost the immortal part of myself, and what remains is bestial!"  Temptalia is the clearest example. As a long-standing blog resource, it has set its own pace and tone and is never compromised. I am grateful that when I'm considering a purchase, I can go there for an objective analysis. And the brands continue to send products whatever the review, because any self-respecting beauty company knows, blogs are the lifeblood of a true beauty consumer, and the only thing worse than being trashed, is being ignored.

I would like to review more makeup, but reviews take time and ultimately can lead to sales, so if it can be a gifted product, I would see no harm at all. And luckily many successful reviewers go by that maxim. I wish articles and news segments would focus more on well written blogs, or well executed YouTube reviews. That might allow makeup to be aligned with art, rather than tart. Or something. 


  1. A very well-written post.

    I read that NYT article and also wondered why the tone was so patronising towards the YTers. There are valid questions to ask about the changes we're all seeing on YT and some fair concerns around transparency, but this could have been a fairer representation of the blogging and YT beauty community. You know, a bit more like balanced journalism?

  2. #Right On# I really appreciate this post. I've been approached a few times to review things but have never taken up the opportunity bcos I am purely not interested in the products (despite them being brands). I accepted one product when I first started reviewing bcos I had done a review on the brand already. I think at it's heart as you point out the YT community is genuine but that inevitable commercialism has made it suffered - inparts. In the end, the reviews, tutorials do make money for those companies.
    I think it remains with the subscriber/watcher too - although the YTers have a large role to play - to be sensible, mindful of what is being shown and of course - to make their own decision.
    Hope you are well too!xxxx