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In the last few years, media companies have increasingly turned to video as a potential salve for dwindling traffic and advertising revenue. By most accounts, that attempt has largely failed. But if there’s any industry in which the medium still has legs, it’s beauty.
Vogue’s “Beauty Secrets,” for which celebrities and models detail their beauty routines on camera, has become one of its most popular series, with views reaching up to 7.3 million. Refinery29’s most popular videos include a “terrifying facial” video (1.4 million views) for its series “Beauty With Mi” and another episode exploring how ColourPop’s buzzy lipstick gets made (7.7 million views). BuzzFeed’s Boldly channel, which explores everything from Brazilian waxing to wedding skin prep, has seen similar traction.
It’s a crowded space, and not just among traditional media: Endless competition from top beauty vloggers like Huda Kattan and NikkieTutorials, who have staunchly loyal followings, has made capturing long-term viewers more difficult for these companies.
That often leaves the producers behind beauty videos putting more insightful content on the back burner, in lieu of quicker, eye-catching narratives that are more likely to drum up attention and go viral. For our latest confessions, in which we grant anonymity to someone in the industry to speak openly about their profession, we asked a producer at a media company to spill what that’s really like and whether it actually pays off.
What did the company you work for bring you on to do?
I was brought on last summer to consult on content that a media company was producing for their beauty vertical. I spent six weeks studying what sites like Refinery29 and Popsugar were doing to see where we could come in and make a name for ourselves in a crowded space. They then hired me full-time to execute on what I had found, which was that there was room for a more elevated version of those sites. The mandate was to produce, own and operate content into something that could rise above Refinery29, their holy grail.
Okay, but that didn’t happen. Why not?
Well, unfortunately, we’re not actually dedicated to content whatsoever. We want to be a company that gets deals with big brands like Pantene, but our content isn’t at that level because we don’t spend time on it. Instead, we’re focused on ads, clicks and revenue, always looking for the easiest way to make a dollar, but under the guise of “we’re content people and we know content well.”
If you’re going to declare yourself as a media and entertainment entity, you should probably actually look at and value your content. Otherwise, you look foolish. It’s very clear to people when such little care goes into what you produce.
Is that the case with content across the board?
Yes. The editorial content is shockingly bad. The writers here literally just Frankenstein pieces from other websites; no thought gets put into it. There’s also no communication between our video team and the edit team, so we’ll often cover the same things twice.
Unfortunately, the beauty-themed video content I was tasked with creating sits next to it, which makes us look bad. So even if we’re trying to produce higher-quality stuff, we won’t be taken seriously.
Has this had any repercussions with management?
Two major higher-ups left in the last few months because they felt that the initial goal of trying to elevate our content was just not being enacted or taken seriously. As a result, everything has been sort of on pause and a lot of my responsibilities have been taken away. There’s no strategy now; it’s all about pushing out more and more stuff.
So then how does your team come up with the next idea?
I lead up the creative, so I have a coordinator who pitches ideas to me. Our main question is: Does it have the proclivity to go viral? We’re not necessarily going to be talking about Drunk Elephant’s latest cream, for instance, because that’s just not very interesting on video. Anything with glitter, or that’s odd or unusual, is a go, however.
What makes a video really go viral?
The ironic part is that many of these videos go viral from hate-watching. Lots of people comment, saying they hate the product or the hosts. People hate-watch Refinery29’s beauty tutorials, too, because they’ve declared themselves as experts, and beauty fiends disagree. People have no problem ripping the products they use apart and complaining about how Refinery’s makeup artists are lacking in skill. That’s why we try to approach it without acting like experts. The people who do like our hosts say it’s because they’re funny and take it less seriously.
How often are you churning out these videos?
Facebook has made it very clear that they want series content so that people will regularly tune in, so we aim to post these beauty videos two to three times a week. It’s tough, though, because I only have one videographer. We’re definitely not a well-oiled machine.
Is your company making any money from this?
Our company makes all of their money on ad clicks, and nothing on the videos we make. We supposedly have a sales team working to sell our series as a platform, but the main feedback has been that there’s no brand recognition and that, because the main site is filled with very low-brow clickbait, there’s just not a lot of interest.
Your company covers fashion, so why not create fashion videos, too?
They first asked me to create fashion videos, and I immediately said no. I knew it wouldn’t work, because it’s just such a hard topic to make interesting video content about. Beauty, on the other hand, is so tangible, and it elicits reactions from people immediately.
Got it. So are there any upsides to the role?
The best thing about my job is that we’re not married to a brand or brands the way many content producers are. Every time I read an article about a new product, I see the exact same article on every other beauty website. If I have to read another tidbit about Glossier’s Solution, for instance, I’m going to shoot myself in the face.
Why do you think that is?
Beauty media operates from this place of, “If you don’t have anything nice to say, don’t say it,” but consumers are a lot smarter than that, and it’s very transparent. Not every product is going to change your life, and when all the celebratory press is coming out in the same day, it’s so obvious it’s just from a PR push. I’m not saying sites should tear a brand apart, but they should tell consumers if something doesn’t work out for them, instead of just singing everyone’s praises.