Normalising Beauty: How Thai consumers are turning towards beauty influencers and ignoring corporate advertising
It is easy to be overwhelmed by the number of beauty cosmetic posters, adverts for nips and tucks, skin whitening products and make-up brands seen all over this country. But with the advent of digital media, the power of traditional advertisement is being diminished and replaced by the propulsion of social media. Whether it is the distrust of big business which is turning consumers to the voices of beauty bloggers, or simply the change in consumerism behaviour, but much of the standards, information and market for beauty is to be found in the hands of social influencers.
These new ‘beauty influencers’ spend their times reviewing products and sharing opinions, tips and tricks to a growing number of consumers actively seeking out such information. According to Pixability, YouTube currently has 14.9 billion beauty-related videos, which are viewed over 700 million times a month. Yes, a month. Other platforms include Facebook, Instagram and Twitter. Izea.com states that, “there is no single definition for a beauty influencer, but in marketing terms they are described as a social media user with a significant and engaged following endorsing specific makeup and beauty brands through shareable, digital content.”
These beauty influencers do not have to be models or celebrities in order to be influential, most simply have a passion for beauty products and a certain amount of online savvy. In 2012, research on online influencers was carried out by Mahidol University which revealed that a whopping 88% of Generation Y’s beauty product purchases were in direct response to beauty influencer-created and promoled product trends. The study found that before Thai consumers buy a product, most people seek out reviews online, rather than trusting the brand’s own advertising. The more number of followers an online influencer has, the more trustworthy they are seen to be in the eyes of the user. As a result, many corporate marketing strategies now target these influencers directly, further legitimising the new market platform…and by default delegitimising their independent status as a critic.
There are currently two ways for beauty brands to attempt to influence the influencer; sending free products for independent review, or by invitation to various events or workshops.
“The demand for honest, impartial advice and reviews was what gave rise to this new trend,” said Sirisopa ‘Tukta’ Hoffmann, a 23 year old Chiang Mai based beauty influencer. “But now companies are getting so involved, people are beginning to trust beauty influencers less, fearful that the review is as bogus as the adverts themselves.”
Tukta began reviewing cosmetics only one year ago, but now has over 260,000 followers on her Facebook page. She began sharing reviews of lipsticks she liked on Twitter but quickly built her own channel after she found her reviews being copied and pasted onto other review pages without giving her any credit. “I have been criticised of being ‘unethical’ because I sometimes receive free products or money from cosmetic brands,” she said. “Although there are some beauty influencers out there who review products for money and treat the review like an advert, the majority of us only post something if we genuinely think the product is good. We are basically lab rats for consumers to help them decide what products to buy.” Many marketing strategies today include providing free cosmetics to thousands of influencers with the hope that some will like it and post about it — the strategy itself is to let the product speak, rather than the money. “I think it’s not right to lie and say that a product is good when you haven’t even tried it yet. We have followers who might see us as their inspiration, and if one day they discover that all of our reviews were just lies, then what would our followers think of us?”
StarNgage, an influencer marketing agency (yes, it’s a thing), recently published that 70% of teenagers follow and trust the opinions of beauty influencers on YouTube over traditional advertising or celebrity endorsement. 86% of women turn to reviews on social media platforms before making a purchase, and only 14% of the most-viewed beauty videos on YouTube were generated by beauty brands — the other 86%? Influencers. Over half of all beauty and fashion companies use influencers as part of their marketing strategies.
I myself fall squarely into the 86% of women who rely on influencers before making a purchase. It comforts me in some way to know that the product I will buy is independently vouched for.
“When I use a beauty product that is really good, I want to share it, because many girls don’t know that this product exists,” said 20 year old Saira Wongsuwan, owner of the YouTube lifestyle and makeup tutorial channel Saira Mirror, which has over 100,000 followers. “A lot of girls don’t watch television anymore and influencers are often entertaining while also appearing to be trustworthy.”
According to Siara, if she is paid to promote a product that she is either allergic to or doesn’t like, she would pitch the product in a fair and unbiased way, frankly listing the pros and cons while reminding her viewers that she is not the standard for everyone. However, more often than not, Saira invests her own money into the products she reviews — that’s why most of them are positive. “Although I don’t have any income from YouTube, I find making videos really fun. All the positive comments and knowing that my followers admire what I do are the main reasons that kept me going.”
Ironically, Saira herself is one of the 87% of women who seek out influencers’ opinions before purchase — like a never ending circle of review, influence, purchase and review. “As to concerns that society is focusing too much on beauty and ‘looking perfect’, I say that it’s not wrong to want to look beautiful. With make-up you can look anyway you desire.”
With more and more beauty influencers out there, there is a higher chance for women and even men to find someone they identify with. No longer are beauty products being used on photo shopped faces of the most beautiful people in the world, but by everyday people —all of whom have different ideas about beauty, have different skin tones and complexions, and on the whole, are not told what to say by a big company trying to maximise sales. It is a concern that here in Thailand, we focus too much on what is ‘beautiful’ — white skin, slim body, big eyes — but maybe through these beauty influencers, we will be able to break away from the standard and start accepting the beauty in all types of people regardless of what the industry wants you to think.