YouTube Capitalism: Vlogging Celebrities and Advertisers

YouTube’s presence within social media is a driving force for content. Social media is accessed by two billion people worldwide and accounts for twenty-eight percent of an individual’s media usage per day 1. These statistics make it no surprise that advertisers have flocked to social media for promoting their products. Advertisers have targeted popular vloggers, who record aspects of their lives, to become vessels for increased commercial profit. The engaging relationship between vloggers and their followers means advertisers have entered a valuable resource. What are the consequences of vloggers siding with advertisers?

Vloggers’ Informal Approach

Primark Haul | Zoella

Vloggers’ primary aim for success is using their personality. Vloggers have to be friendly and speak to their followers causally, or else they will never be able to sustain long-term popularity. Zoe Sugg, known to her followers as Zoella, is a fashion and beauty vlogger. Since Sugg began vlogging in 2009, she has regularly made videos reviewing fashion and beauty products. Sugg as a self-obsessed consumer essentially is the same target audience as her followers, making Sugg trust-worthy in her opinions. In Primark Haul, Zoe reviews various Primark products. Zoe is always giving her opinions and making suggestions to her followers, as if she is talking to a close friend. When Sugg discusses the handbag, she notes that “I don’t really have a decent night out handbag, and I just figured the pink color would go with a lot of different things”. This sentence shows Sugg’s casual style of discussion with her followers, which lets them feel closely connected to Sugg. The use of Sugg’s living room as a setting makes her followers feel like they are part of a one-on-one conversation, continuing the informality of Primark Haul.

How I Met Lady Gaga

Tyler Oakley began his vlogging career discussing entertainment topics and homosexual issues. From television and music to homosexual celebrities, Oakley’s honesty and openness regarding these topics has made him one of the most popular vloggers with over six million followers 2. Similar to Sugg, Oakley is informal in conversation. Oakley’s use of phrases like “oh my gosh” and “I’m freaking out” reflect his informal manner. Another similarity Oakley has with Sugg is use of settling. How I Met Lady Gaga shows Oakley in a room, which he has personally designed of those who he admires and respects. It reflects how Oakley constructs an intimate relationship with his followers.

Advertisers’ Use of Vloggers

Get Ready With Me : Beach Walk | Zoella

Sugg’s popularity has not only given her over seven million followers 3, but has made her a force within fashion and beauty marketing. Sugg has her own range of branded products 4 and co-wrote a book aimed at her target audience 5. Experts within the fashion and beauty industry understand why this is a perfect strategy, noting that “shoppers trust their online idols to create products they would use themselves” 6. Beach Walk is evident of Sugg’s crucial role for advertisers. Sugg’s actions are staged and every product is shown in extreme close-ups. This makes Sugg’s followers remember every product she uses in case they wish to make a purchase. Beach Walk also contains a soundtrack of current music for entertainment purposes, as well as becoming another product that is marketed towards Sugg’s followers. Every product shown is linked within Beach Walk‘s description, making sure Sugg’s followers know where to purchase.


Oakley’s surging popularity as a self-confessed “fangirl” means he has worked with various commercial organisations to promote their products and has crossed over to other media platforms 7. Energy Drink From Hell shows Oakley promoting various products while continuing to be his usual self. First, Oakley shows himself in an issue of teen-orientated magazine Tiger Beat. Oakley asks his followers to buy a copy of Tiger Beat and take a selfie, so that Oakley will acknowledge them. This is an obvious ploy to help advertisers make a profit and target Oakley’s followers in future promotions. Oakley then promotes almonds from Nature Box as another of his many ‘suggestions’. Even though Oakley continues to be open and friendly, he is being directed by advertisers’ ulterior motives for increased profit. As with Sugg’s Beach Walk, the description within Energy Drink From Hell contains links to all the products featured.

A Vloggers’ Integrity

Zoe Sugg promoting her book. She has become vital for various advertisers.
Zoe Sugg promoting her book. She has become vital for various advertisers.

While Vloggers like Sugg and Oakley have made a fortune in becoming figureheads for advertisers, there can be questions regarding a vloggers’ integrity and the controlling nature of commercialism. Before Sugg and Oakley reached the mainstream, they discussed products and topics which they truly enjoyed. Although Sugg and Oakley still conduct similar conversations with their followers; simultaneously, their integrity is diminished by shifting their focus on promoting products. Advertisers know vloggers’ relationship with their followers is close-knit, so they use vloggers to manipulate sales. Now, Sugg and Oakley are only vessels to embody an advertisers’ marketing scheme. Vloggers who have become mainstream make it harder for those who want to use social media as a platform for personal expression. There are many vloggers who are lesser-known yet discuss important topics.

One of which is TomVeeTv 8, who posts videos of their political activities to raise awareness of global injustices. However, advertisers would never use vloggers like TomVeeTV for the obvious reason that there is no content which can be connected to any product. TomVeeTV’s content includes supporting Palestine against Israel, an American ally, and Native American rights. Advertisers supporting a vlogger who attacks American foreign and domestic policy will never happen as they criticise Government authorities, who usually have good relations with advertisers. Whereas advertisers will never have a problem with Suggs and Oakley because they only critique products that have no controversial links. Therefore Suggs and Oakley become more accessible, while TomVeeTV only has less than a thousand followers 9. YouTube capitalism will continue to engage with vlogging as it is dominated by marketing than it is for personal expression.

Works Cited


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  1. Jacque Venus Tobias

    Thanks Ryan for getting me up to speed on Vlogging.

  2. I think this is an important topic for marketing.

  3. It is appropriate to say that throwing money at any campaign without a targeted plan with targeted metrics can end badly. I can see this a problem on utube.

  4. Google owns us all.

  5. Helen Parshall

    I’ve never really thought of youtube as an element of capitalism. This is really provocative, and a great read!

  6. Alysha Woodruff

    YouTube has not just become a repository for the best commercials: it has actually changed the nature of marketing.

  7. Aaron Hatch

    I feel Youtube has been the most common place to get news, entertainment, and opinions, all around the world.

  8. It proves that online marketing works!

  9. Another article that lays concrete evidence to the fact that commercialism is entering every other aspect of our lives. More advancements in technology and the way we socialise, more will our lives be infiltrated by such PR activity.

  10. YouTube is a valuable source for product reviews and it is important to remember as an audience member to be mindful about who you are watching in terms of honesty. That being said, when I am looking for a new foundation, YouTube is one of the first sources I run to as there are oodles of YouTubers, big or small, who review those products online. There are negative aspects of YouTube as it relates to marketing. But it is hard to deny that it can be a valuable resource.

  11. I think there’s nothing wrong with them making a profit, I just hope consumers aren’t too stupid to buy into every single product that is promoted.

  12. This was very insightful. I have been watching YouTubers for years without even thinking about this aspect of vlogging. Excellent read!

  13. Alora

    An interesting companion to this piece is the documentary Please Subscribe. Its from 2012, so most of the references and vloggers are actually already outdated, but there is some interesting discussion about the nature of the YouTube business.

    YouTube has taken celebrity culture to a new level. Its strange because these vloggers make achieving stardom easy and contribute to our obsession with achieving fame.

    Vlogging has the ability to spark so many different discussions. I love it!

  14. When vloggers reach a certain level of influence on YouTube, starting off as average citizens who have become role models for their subscribers, they seek other opportunities to continue creating content, while profiting at the same time. Plugging in advertisements allows for both the viewers to profit and the vlogger to engage with both the company and its viewers. I feel as if YouTube has become bigger than it intended and has created a new market for average citizens to empower themselves, with the opportunity of becoming their own brand and outlet of influence.

  15. I believe Marketing through Vloggers is an important leap in marketing material. Marketing success is based on reaching the right target market and if a Vlogger reaches 7 million viewers that can prove to be rewarding for marketers. I also believe the marketers may be persuading the Vlogger to promote different products but it is similar to product placement in Television content.

  16. This is a really interesting take on the discussion of ‘selling out’- it’s true, an advertising company would never use a social-justice related vlogger to sell. Meanwhile some ‘personal’ vloggers are used to make money and their content is no longer simply their own.

  17. thebrobster

    Digital advertising is a pervasive thing to define these days. Most ad agencies double as professional production studios with in-house teams for creating commercial content, or double-dip into the tech industry providing business-to-business services to other companies.

    Vlogging has grown into this gray space of content that’s easily misunderstood by those who’ve grown up with 30-second airtime slots and highway billboards. YouTube’s business model, nowadays, almost depends exclusively on the top 10% of their earners (majority of them being vloggers) and that involves a lot of brand integration with advertisers and their clients.

    I disagree with the notion that these vloggers who incorporate branded content into their videos act as “vessels to embody an advertisers’ marketing scheme” – I believe there’s a more naunced relationship going on here between content creator, advertiser, and audience.

    Looking at it empiracally, you could, say, inventory all of Zoella’s produced videos and try to categorize how many ar overt product promotion, how many are personal vlogs, how many are make-up tutorials – and determine if she is indeed “selling out” when comparing the ratio of product advertising to more “geninune” style content.

    I use scare quotes there not to delegitimize the argument that vlogging is now a space for advertisers to target consumers with an intended product – the fact of the matter is that there is no cleaner, cheaper, more direct way to get a consumer’s eyes on a product that have someone they like, and more importantly, TRUST, tell them it’s good to their face.

    But I don’t think it’s selling out if they incorporate a brand, into their video, within the context of what they do; share it, talk about it, and are open about it, because it lets them sustain their professional career as a YouTuber (which nowadays, is a dime a dozen).

    I come to the defense of this kind of advertising, because I ALWAYS think its a better alternative to having advertisers load pre-roll ads before a vlogger’s video where they rake in money-per-click, and the vlogger struggles to find the money to do what they love because their fans will think they’re a sell-out the moment they gain enough success to have advertisers willing to pay them to promote their product, on YouTube, to their fanbase, in whatever way the vlogger sees fit.

    Just my two (very long) cents.

  18. Personally I think that the more informal style is a bit of a fad; it probably doesn’t make much of a difference whether you use a more formal or informal style; it’s how comfortable you are using it. Just a thought.

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