It’s hard to believe that YouTube—a staple website in the eyes of many—emerged a mere eight years ago. The site was originally supposed to be a video version of an online dating service, and it was only after one of the founders had great difficulty finding a video clip of Janet Jackson’s 2004 Super Bowl incident that the idea for a video sharing site materialized. Early postings were mostly comprised of personal video blogs, original short films, videos of various songs and instructional videos. Now, less than a decade later, video sharing via YouTube has exploded, both in quantity and breadth.
As of 2012, 60 hours of video are uploaded every minute, over four billion videos are viewed every single day, and it is localized across 54 different languages. Hundreds of millions of unique viewers visit YouTube every month as well. I turn to YouTube when I don’t understand a particular concept, when I want to listen to music, watch people partake in embarrassing and therefore humorous acts, etc. But most frequently, YouTube is my go-to destination for product reviews.
Prior to almost any purchase of a cosmetic or hair-care product, I look towards videos that evaluate the product in order to see if it’s really all that it says it is. This has become a pretty common and reliable way of ensuring that you’re getting your money’s worth; if you don’t do this yourself, you most likely know someone who does.
There are certainly reviewers on the website who are sponsored or endorsed to speak highly of a certain product, but, as of now, the majority of them are average people, looking for promising cosmetics and willing to share what they found have worked or not worked for them. YouTube has essentially become a vital part of my—and several other’s—decision-making process when it comes to shopping for cosmetics.
Thus, has YouTube, initially a website for video posting and sharing, become a limiting force against the brigade of false advertising in the beauty industry?
According to its website, the FDA can shut down a cosmetics company for making misleading claims or putting its customers at risk, and the agency requires that the product’s ingredients to be listed, but that’s essentially it. It has no premarket approval method to test its claims and/or safety like it does for drugs.
Thus cosmetics are not approved by the government before they end up in the aisles of Target, Ulta or Nordstrom. Companies can basically promise whatever they please with the use of their product, with personal assessments of the product as the common method of approval.
And though companies are supposed to accurately portray their merchandise, this rarely occurs. Over-the-top advertising is so common, we’ve normalized it. In fact, we hail a product simply when it actually does what it says it does. What we usually are presented with are beautiful, flawless models with immaculate skin and hair—CGI technology at its finest. Adjacent to this unrealistic figure who probably does not even have the product on, are usually series of “proven” statements that claim your skin, hair, or body will be comparable to the perfect model’s with the use of their product.
Indeed, you can take a bottle of the cheapest, most chemical-ridden shampoo, and the product’s sponsor will guarantee you with the most thick, luscious, strong hair you’ve never had. No wonder product reviews have become so prevalent!
Though there have been several other sources for reviews prior to the emergence of YouTube, they have been written evaluations (at least the ones that I’ve seen). I prefer video reviews, like the ones on YouTube, for a variety of reasons.
Firstly, they allow the reviewer to be much more in-depth in their assessment. Writing a lengthy, detailed review is tedious and time-consuming, so most decide to be more concise and leave out details. Videos make it much easier to fully explain one’s reaction to the product, including tips and tricks, the application process, etc. The viewer is also able to see the product on the person as opposed to in the bottle, which can be misleading.
Another perk is actually seeing the reviewer. Just by viewing the video, people can at least get a feel for their level of expertise or if they are endorsed by the cosmetic company. Expertise and product biases can be completely hidden in written reviews; YouTube videos have certainly increased transparency in terms of where these evaluations are coming from. YouTubers can also offer direct comparisons of similar products, can broaden the scope of the products reviewed and can make the reviewing process more interactive by accepting questions or concerns.
All in all, it’s a pretty good check on the claims made by cosmetic and hair-care companies. YouTube has also expanded the breadth of products that can be reviewed. There are videos on people’s assessments of websites, art supplies, textbooks and much more. YouTube has thus effectively created an inclusive space where the online community can easily communicate about what actually works and doesn’t work, making for less information asymmetry and thus more well-informed decisions.
With this resource, we can depend less on the supposed claims of the products we buy, crossing our fingers and hoping they work, and rely more on the evaluations of those who you know have actually tried it.
Technological innovations are so highly regarded in today’s culture, and its pervasiveness is one reason why. It can affect seemingly unrelated aspects of our society, like consumer choices in this case, allowing individuals to really know what they are buying and what to expect out of their purchase.
—Angela Della Croce ’15 is an economics