Yes, beauty gurus are charging companies more than $60,000 for sponsored videos — but here’s why it’s not a big deal
Shattering the illusion of authenticity
by Nian Hu
Recently, the beauty community has been the epicenter of yet another massive scandal. This time, it isn't allegations of racism that are ripping the community apart — rather, it's accusations that beauty influencers are charging exorbitant sums for sponsored content and failing to properly disclose how much they actually get paid by brands.
These latest accusations have sparked an enormous debate among nearly every single member of the beauty community, from cosmetics companies to beauty influencers to casual makeup enthusiasts alike.
Marlena Stell, the founder of cosmetics company Makeup Geek, kicked off the discussion when she uploaded a video claiming that influencers have been charging her up to $60,000 for sponsored content
Stell's video, uploaded August 27 and entitled "My truth regarding the beauty community", ignited a firestorm of controversy across the internet. Within a few days, the video hit almost 900,000 views and even spawned YouTube uploads reacting to the original video.
In the unique position to speak as both a brand owner and a beauty influencer with over 1 million subscribers on YouTube, Stell admitted both sides have contributed to a growing problem in the beauty industry. She said that while most beauty influencers make videos because they want to share their passion for makeup and support themselves by doing something they love, there are many who enter the industry with far more opportunistic intentions.
"Some, unfortunately, are doing it because they just want to be famous," Stell said. "They want to have a nice paycheck. They want to go on trips. They want to have the fame."
In fact, Stell said some influencers charge her $60,000 for a single video where they review a product from her cosmetics company, Makeup Geek. She explained that while she understands firsthand how much work can go into creating content as an influencer, the prices commanded can be ridiculous. "There's a difference between making a good living for yourself and charging so much that there comes a sense of entitlement."
Several members of the beauty community confirmed Stell's views, and even claimed influencers lie to their followers about their income
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I'd like to thank @marlenastell for having the courage to publish a YouTube video exposing what's going on behind the scenes in the cosmetic industry. I've attempted to shed light on the mobster-like behavior of top-level beauty influencers and their management… and I've been accused of jealousy, called a liar and hater. FACT: A brand I consulted with asked me to inquire about working with a top-level beauty influencer. The influencer's management offered me these options: 1) $25K – product mention in a multi-branded product review. 2) $50K-$60K – dedicated product review (price determined by length of video). 3) $75K-$85K – dedicated negative review of a competitor's product (price determined by length of video). 4) A minimum 10% affiliate link or code to use on IG and YT. Yes, option #3 is legit – payment to damage the competition's business. I told you it was mob-like behavior. The demands and threats of "influencers" and their management have GOT TO STOP. The lack of disclosure by top-level influencers is FRAUD and it's time for the Federal Trade Commission (FTC) to step in, start charging fines and shut this bullsh*t down. To the followers/subs who STILL refuse to believe their idols are thugs – pull your head out of your favorite beauty influencer's ass and SEE what's actually going on in this industry. #beautyinfluencers #fraud #FTC #makeup #makeupeducation
In the wake of Stell's bombshell video, several other people in the beauty community jumped in to corroborate her allegations.
Kevin James Bennett, a makeup artist and cosmetic developer, confirmed on Instagram that some beauty influencers charge $50,000-$60,000 per branded video. Furthermore, Bennett added that some influencers even charge brands $75,000-$85,000 for a dedicated negative review of a competitor's product.
He also claimed many influencers are failing to properly disclose these sponsorships, attempting to skirt Federal Trade Commission laws and, in some cases, violating them outright.
"To the followers/subs who STILL refuse to believe their idols are thugs," Bennett wrote, "pull your head out of your favorite beauty influencer's ass and SEE what's actually going on in this industry."
Jaclyn Hill, a beauty influencer with more than 5 million subscribers on YouTube, said that influencers charge far more than $60,000. "Honey, $60,000 is just the beginning!" she exclaimed before diving into the details.
Hill said she spoke with an anonymous beauty influencer who told her that they get paid $70,000 just to mention a product for at least 30 seconds in a makeup tutorial. She said that she also knows someone who charges $150,000 per video. Hill also said that she had personally been approached by two separate brands with million dollar contracts.
However, many major influencers still deny both six-figure fees and FTC violations
Chloe Morello, a beauty influencer with over 2 million subscribers on YouTube, refuted the claim that beauty influencers get paid $75,000 for a negative review of a competitor brand. "I've never ever heard of this happening before!" Morello responded on a tweet. "It's probably not true. I've been on YT since 2008 and never heard of ANYONE doing this."
James Charles, a beauty influencer with 8 million subscribers on YouTube, responded specifically to Bennett's claim that influencers get paid thousands of dollars for sponsorships that they then fail to properly disclose.
"I've NEVER heard of this happening and believe what you want, but most of us DO disclose sponsorships," Charles tweeted. "I can't wait to talk about people like the man who posted this in a video very soon."
And RawBeautyKristi, a beauty influencer with over 400,000 subscribers on YouTube, also refuted the allegations. "I hate this ridiculous misinformation," she tweeted. "How have I been doing YouTube for FIVE YEARS and have never heard of such a thing… because if it exists, it's SO UNBELIEVABLY RARE."
For the fans, learning about their favorite gurus' massive paydays is upsetting
Even though it is unclear to what extent these accusations are true, people across the Internet have had visceral reactions to the claim that beauty influencers are charging upward of $60,000 for sponsored videos.
According to many people, influencers should not be charging any amount of money in exchange for sponsored videos. Instead, they should consistently upload videos about makeup purely because they are passionate about it.
"You know what, I think getting makeup sent to you should be MORE THAN ENOUGH to make influencers happy," YouTube user Liliya Kasko wrote under Stell's video. "If they're truly passionate about makeup they'll be posting tons of videos showcasing products!"
Many others echoed this sentiment. "I miss the old YouTube so much," YouTube user Georgie Ashford commented. "The days when it was all about the passion and not about social climbing."
Aspiring beauty influencer TheMexicanBeauty also commented under Stell's video and said that she started her channel "out of love," not because she wanted fame, free products, or money. "If brands recognize my hard work then I appreciate it but a passion and a love for the makeup industry comes first!" she wrote.
Again and again, a common thread emerges among all of these criticisms: passion, not money, should motivate beauty influencers.
In order to understand why people feel so strongly that beauty influencers should not accept money from companies in exchange for sponsorships, it's important to analyze how influencer marketing works.
Influencers operate under the mantle of authenticity. Unlike prominent celebrities whose lives are far removed from the everyday person's, influencers present themselves as regular people, just like you and me. They talk openly about their mental health issues, they share funny Snapchat stories of themselves hanging out with friends, and they make you feel like you really know them — almost as if you're friends with them.
It's this illusion of closeness and authenticity that makes people more inclined to trust beauty influencers. This, therefore, gives companies the perfect marketing opportunity. People are more willing to listen to beauty influencers for makeup recommendations because they assume that these are normal people who simply happen to be passionate about makeup — like your best friend or older sister.
The revelation that they are not, after all, genuine makeup lovers but rather savvy businesspeople is what is so troubling for many people.
"I can't even tell you how much money I have spent/wasted on products deemed as amazeballs and the holy grail of all mothers, blah blah blah," YouTube user Julie Kerr commented underneath Stell's video. "You put your trust into these people and they're all about the money without a thought or prayer for the hardworking individual wasting money on less than satisfactory products."
Influencers are nothing more than incredibly savvy businesspeople
While it may feel disorienting to learn that the beauty influencer that you looked up to as an older sister was actually a salesman paid to promote products, the reality is that full-time beauty influencers are businesspeople who happen to specialize in cosmetics.
Being a beauty influencer is not just a hobby for casual makeup enthusiasts — it is a full-time career. For beauty influencers who spend their entire lives creating high-quality content and building a large audience on YouTube, it only seems fitting that they receive compensation from companies for the massive exposure they could bring to their products. After all, cosmetic companies have historically paid enormous sums to celebrities and magazines to endorse their products — why would they charge any less when they work with beauty influencers with millions of subscribers? The expectation that beauty influencers should work for free simply because they are "passionate" is an unrealistic one.
"Makeup brands paid for magazine, newspaper, billboard, and television ads," YouTube user violetgrl said in a comment under Stell's video. "No one calls the owner of Cosmopolitan magazine 'entitled.' No one wonders if NBC is 'passionate' about makeup."
And in fact, companies already save thousands of dollars by using influencer marketing instead of traditional marketing techniques. As violetgrl pointed out, it costs $100,000 for companies to put a full-page advertisement in a top magazine like Vogue. And once you add the cost of hiring a model or celebrity, as well as the assorted production costs, the cost can easily multiply to $900,000. Paying an influencer $60,000 for a sponsored video that receives millions of views, therefore, is an absolute steal in comparison.
And in fact, some people criticized Stell as well as owners of other cosmetics companies for trying to shame hard-working influencers into working for them for free just so they can rake in larger profits for themselves.
"Obviously Makeup Geek doesn't value paying people $60,000… and want to guilt people into working for free or very cheap," YouTube user dreamcatcher75418 pointed out in a comment under Stell's video.
From the beauty influencer's perspective, it can be difficult to straddle the line between passion and desire to make money
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🎨 (I'm reposting from yesterday because the quality was messed up) Inspired by the talented @makeupbyjaack So @kris_mari_ told me I should try this out and I loved it…so heres my version of this look. Details: @anastasiabeverlyhills brow wiz @jeffreestarcosmetics velour Liquid lipstick "drug lord" @jeffreestarcosmetics liquid frost "frostbite" and skin frost "ice cold" @urbandecaycosmetics electric palette @bhcosmetics take me back to Brazil palette @toofaced melted matte liquid lip "jawbreaker" @urbandecaycosmetics individual moon dust eyeshadow "space cowboy" @urbandecaycosmetics naked skin foundation and concealer @benefitcosmetics hoola bronzer @urbandecaycosmetics afterglow blush in "score" White paint : @graftobianmakeup propaint "white swan" #paintmakeup #undiscovered_muas #makeupartist #makeupartistsworldwide #nycmakeupartist #statenislandmakeupartist #jeffreestarcosmetics #anastasiabeverlyhills #urbandecay #motd #whiteoutmakeup #motd #beautyguru #franciemua #abhglowkit #maryhadalittleglam #bhcosmetics #takemebacktobrazil #liquidfrost #bretmansvanity #slave2beauty #cutcrease #purpleeyeshadow #purplecutcrease #100daysofmakeup #underratedmuas @bretmansvanity @undiscovered_muas @featuring.muasss @underratedmuas @makeupartists.worldwide @jeffreestarcosmetics
According to Frances Spatola, a makeup artist and beauty influencer with over 7,000 followers on Instagram, it isn't inherently unethical for beauty influencers to charge companies for sponsored content.
"I understand that this is how some beauty gurus make the majority of their money, because this is a goal of mine also," she said.
However, Spatola claimed that she draws the line at promoting products that she doesn't actually like. "The problem lies with the fact that some influencers are being dishonest for money," she explained. "I only accept [brand collaborations] if I like the brand or product." In this way, she is able to stay authentic to her followers while working with companies on sponsored content. "It's important to me to be honest to my followers," she explained. "Beauty is my passion. I want my followers to watch or follow me because I'm real with them."
The only recourse might be radical transparency from influencers to their fans
As beauty influencer Pretty Pastel Please points out in this video, the solution isn't for beauty influencers to stop charging companies for sponsored content altogether, but rather to be more honest with their followers about which content is sponsored and to only accept sponsorships with brands and products that they actually believe in.
The onus isn't entirely on influencers to change, however. She also explains that influencers are often compelled to only say positive things about sponsored products because brands would remove them from their PR lists and deny them early access to product launches if they say anything negative.
Increased transparency and honesty across all members of the community, therefore, seems to be the way that beauty influencers can remain true to their audience while still making enough money to support themselves.
"There's a difference between getting paid for what you love and just selling out for the money," Spatola said. "I will always try to make my platforms as honest as possible, because that's how I try to live my life."