Although modern advertising techniques have existed for the past century, the creation and prevalence of the Internet and social media has created a new form of advertising and marketing which has never been seen before. Through the Internet and social media, there is no area in the average person’s life which is not touched by advertisements, now personalized by online traces of activity such as cookies and Google’s data storage. This rise of panopticon-like marketing, where everything you looks at online is eventually advertised to you, has sinister implications when it comes to the beauty industry. Since beauty Youtube channels, referred to as beautubers, and Instagram influencers began to make their online presences their main source of income in the mid to late 2010s, the beauty industry has taken advertising to the next level. Through things like sponsorships, where a company sends a content creator their product and pays them to “review” it, beauty advertising is no longer impersonal; by using beautubers and influencers, a familiar and friendly face is now the icon of a certain brand or product. By using people who seem to be ordinary, as opposed to celebrities, viewers are more effectively persuaded to buy products which visibly alter their appearances. This change marks not only a drastic shift for the industry, but also for the consumers of beauty products, primarily young women, by further impacting their perceived attractiveness and resulting mental health and wellbeing.
Historically, beauty advertisements have created and encouraged insecurities regarding physical appearance. As proven in a psychological study done by Datta Gupta, Nabanita, et al on white American men and women, the more physically attractive a person considers themselves to be, the better their mental health and overall wellbeing is. Beauty companies have historically taken advantage of this with advertisements that glorify hair removal, extending lashes, and making lips and cheeks a bright red. However, most women who purchased cosmetics did not buy another lipstick or blush until their previous one had been used completely. Then, Revlon introduced the concept of “color of the season,” similar to the fashion industry’s concept of seasonal trends, as explained in Marlen Komar’s article “The 9 Most Famous Beauty Campaigns In History Will Probably Surprise You.” As advertisements evolved, celebrities became the faces of beauty brands, such as Taylor Swift, Rihanna, and Sophia Vergara becoming a few faces of the brand Covergirl. This method encouraged buyers to choose a certain product over another because a certain celebrity used and approved of it.
A significant problem arising from celebrities being the faces of certain makeup brands is the use of computer programs such as Adobe Photoshop, allowing a user to edit a photo to an extreme degree. Ashley Brown’s article “Picture [Im]Perfect: Photoshop Redefining Beauty in Cosmetic Advertisements, Giving False Advertising a Run For the Money” writes, “there have always been techniques to ‘improve’ the captured image. However, technological advancements have drastically altered the types of modifications that are now achievable” (88). So, while advertisements have been using photo editing techniques long before Beyonce showed up in L’Oreal advertisements, the concept of using trusted figures and editing away “imperfections” draws consumers in with a false sense of security. Consumers then buy the products advertised to them through celebrities, believing that if they use the product their favorite celebrity uses, they will be able to have the same beautiful clear skin or thick black lashes.
However, cosmetic brands have turned from mainstream celebrities to beautubers and Instagram influencers. In Marijke De Veirman et al’s article “Marketing through Instagram Influencers: The Impact of Number of Followers and Product Divergence on Brand Attitude” it is reported that, “Rather than pushing their (whether or not personalized) ads to their target audience, brands are turning to trusted online personas to get their products and messages out to the consumer” (813). These brands have discovered that the best way to get to modern day consumers is through social media, not television or magazines, and that using content creators consumers trust is a sure way to get them to purchase their products. Celebrities are seen as out of reach and having a different lifestyle compared to the modern day beautuber or influencer. Youtubers and Instagram influencers are believed to be just like their viewers, especially since there is high access to interaction with commenting on videos and posts and being able to expect a response. Compared to celebrity interactions, these content creators truly feel like they are regular people just like the viewers. However, this belief is skewed by the fact that viewers have no idea how much the modern Youtuber or Instagram influencer makes from sponsorships and advertisements.
Due to the nature of brand sponsorships, it is hard to determine if a product review is truthful or not, since many content creators do not disclose when a post or video is a sponsorship or promotion. There are also many ways in which sponsorships can be carried out. After reaching an agreement, brands send content creators their products for free and pay the creators to mention, use, review, or post an affiliate link for the brand’s products in their content. Cheryl Wischhover’s article “The Shady World of Beauty Influencers and the Brands that pay them, Explained” writes of beautuber income from sponsorships, “unnamed influencers are asking beauty brands for $20,000 to even $85,000 for a single video or Instagram post to tout their products” (9). Although this sounds like a high price, using beautubers and influencers as advertisers is financially beneficial to beauty corporations given that a single black and white page advertisement for Cosmopolitan Magazine can cost $189,600, according to Gaebler.com's article “Cosmopolitan - Magazine Advertising Costs” (2). It has even been reported that brands will pay content creators even more to talk negatively about a competing product. Upon learning this, it is easy to understand that beautubers and influencers who participate in this form of sponsorship have begun to function less like content creators and more like corporations. Many beautubers and influencers also have their own brands, such as Tati Wesbrook, Jeffree Star, and Huda Kattan, encouraging their followers to purchase their products along with the products they advertise in sponsorships.
The nature of both the beauty industry and beautubers or influencers is incredibly sinister when considering that young women are the majority of their audience. By endorsing so many beauty products and convincing young women that these products will make their skin clearer, their lashes longer, or their lips bigger, beautubers and influencers are slowly but surely creating a generation of women who are more brainwashed by the beauty industry than ever. There are many young women on the Internet who report experiencing high levels of distress when they go out in public without makeup on, reflecting the claim that perceived attractiveness has a significant impact on your mental health. It’s clear that beautubers and influencers are partially responsible for the mental health of young women due to their constant exposure of beauty culture and their untrustworthy reviews of products. By exposing young women to a constant stream of makeup and skincare advertisements and reviews, seeing their natural, bare face becomes something horrific to them, resulting in an inability to look at themselves or go out in public without wearing makeup.
The most damaging aspect of this phenomena is that beautubers and influencers preach a message that their viewers are beautiful as they are, no matter any “imperfections” they may have. However, this message is muted in comparison to the unrelenting stream of videos about cosmetics, body modification, and other ways to become more beautiful by societal standards. By preaching this message of natural beauty while also selling and advertising products to their young audiences, beautubers and influencers convince young women that it is their choice to wear makeup, rather than a pressure to fulfill societal standards of beauty. This false sense of agency leads young women to put more trust into these content creators and buy the products they sell. The beautuber and influencer motto has become, “You’re beautiful the way you are…but more beautiful with this product.”
Berryman, Rachel, and Misha Kavka. “‘I Guess A Lot of People See Me as a Big Sister or a Friend’: The Role of Intimacy in the Celebrification of Beauty Vloggers.” Journal of Gender Studies, vol. 26, no. 3, June 2017, p. 307. EBSCOhost, doi:10.1080/09589236.2017.1288611.
Brown, Ashley. “Picture [Im]Perfect: Photoshop Redefining Beauty in Cosmetic Advertisements, Giving False Advertising a Run for the Money.” Texas Review of Entertainment & Sports Law, vol. 16, no. 2, Spring 2015, p. 87. EBSCOhost, search.ebscohost.com/login.aspx?direct=true&db=aqh&AN=108802574&site=ehost-live.
“Cosmopolitan - Magazine Advertising Costs.” Resources For Entrepeneurs, Gaebler.com, http://www.gaebler.com/Cosmopolitan-magazine-advertising-costs 26651.
Datta Gupta, Nabanita, et al. “Beauty in Mind: The Effects of Physical Attractiveness on Psychological Well-Being and Distress.” Journal of Happiness Studies, vol. 17, no. 3, June 2016, p. 1313. EBSCOhost, doi:10.1007/s10902-015-9644-6.
De Veirman, Marijke, et al. “Marketing through Instagram Influencers: The Impact of Number of Followers and Product Divergence on Brand Attitude.” International Journal of Advertising, vol. 36, no. 5, Sept. 2017, p. 798. EBSCOhost, doi:10.1080/02650487.2017.1348035.
Komar, Marlen. “The 9 Most Famous Beauty Campaigns In History Will Probably Surprise You.” Bustle, https://www.bustle.com/p/the-9-most-famous-beauty-campaigns-in-history-w....
Wischhover, Cheryl. “The Shady World of Beauty Influencers and the Brands That Pay Them, Explained.” Vox, Vox, 31 Aug. 2018, https://www.vox.com/2018/8/31/17801182/beauty-influencers-pay-negative-r....