YouTube beauty gurus, in combination with traditional marketing and advertising techniques, manipulate the opinions of cosmetics consumers. Today, advertising techniques are not only being applied online by companies and corporations using conventional strategies (e.g. banner ads and text-based Google ads), but are becoming blended, integrated, and disguised as user-generated content. So-called “beauty gurus,” for example, are using online advertising platforms to spread messages that promote cosmetic products to the public on behalf of corporations. This paper will examine how beauty gurus on YouTube review products while offering advice that is accepted as truth on an allegedly democratic, or at least user-generated, online platform.
This Major Research Paper will examine the application of advertising models and propaganda techniques to YouTube beauty marketing using the insights of Edward S. Herman and Noam Chomsky (1988), as well as Edward Bernays (1935), whose ground-breaking and influential methods of analyzing advertising and public relations can offer new insights into contemporary online media and the ways these seemingly open platforms are being taken over by private interests and large corporations (all while projecting the images and ideals of authenticity, amateurism, and open access). This study will demonstrate that YouTube beauty reviews are a form of advertising that utilize trust and bias, two important factors that Herman and Chomsky (1988) and Bernays (1935) explore, in order to disguise advertising as individual opinion expressed in the interest of the consumer. My findings suggest that corporations have been able to adapt traditional methods of beauty marketing to YouTube (and, implicitly, other online video platforms beyond the scope of this study) through the use of “beauty gurus.” Despite disclaimers in these “beauty gurus’” YouTube channels that products have been sent to them for free, the lines between what constitutes an advertisement and what constitutes user generated content are being blurred. My suggestion is that this blurring leaves the public confused and more susceptible to influence within the realm of online beauty guides, reviews, and tutorials.