Eighteen-year-old Blair Fowler swishes her glossy, glossy brown hair around, flashes her white, white porcelain teeth and pulls out a bulging plastic bag. This, she proclaims to her YouTube viewers, in a high-pitch voice, is her “drugstore haul video”.
So-called “haulers” are tween-to-twentysomething, largely female shoppers who haul their purchases back home and post video reviews on YouTube for their followers to watch.
Ms Fowler pulls one product after another out of her bag. Make-up remover pads; extra-large Velcro rollers – she explains that she plans to wrap her hair round the rollers “and kind of let that sit while I’m doing my make-up” before apologising for fiddling with her hair on camera by explaining that “I’m having a major hair anxiety day”. As she goes through her haul, she becomes more and more animated, before unveiling her most choice purchase: nail polish strips. “Look how cute they are,” she says, waving the packet in front of the camera. “They have little ghosts on them . . . but I saw them and I was like ‘Oh, my gosh’”.
To the uninitiated, this might sound like a rather meaningless exercise in exhibitionism and consumerism. But it has made stars out of Blair and her 25-year-old sister Elle, who go under the monikers AllThatGlitters21 (Elle) and juicystar07 (Blair). The two started in 2008, filming make-up tutorials and clothing hauls, and then building a large audience that has attracted the attention of retailers such as American 21 and Nordstrom, as well as luxury label Coach and fashion group Guess. Elle’s YouTube channel has more than 800,000 subscribers. Her younger sister has just over 1m.
Chris Sanderson, co-founder of The Future Laboratory, a trends and innovation consultancy, says: “If that’s your world, to go to the shops and show off your stuff, then it’s incredible.
“This becomes a whole new mechanism for [retailers to] understand and target a demographic”.
The Fowlers’ influence can be powerful. Coach, for example, sold out of a handbag that Blair featured as one of her favourites. They have worked with Cellairis, the mobile phone accessory company, to create a new line for girls.
JC Penney, the US retail chain, held an online contest this summer, giving people the tools to create haul videos and enter to win a trip to New York. “Customers are the new marketers,” says Bill Gentner, the company’s interim chief marketing officer. “When it comes to teens, they often want to hear directly from their peers. They are true evangelists.”
He adds that, by incorporating hauls into its back-to-school marketing campaign, “we turned teens into JC Penney brand ambassadors”.
The Fowlers believe their appeal lies in the fact that they “really love creating videos that people enjoy watching. In the past, subscribers have told us that we seem really friendly, open and they often feel that we are their ‘BFFs’ [Best Friends Forever] when reading our posts or watching YouTube.” The two have moved to Los Angeles and acquired a talent agent.
However, some haulers have been on the sharp end of criticism from viewers who accuse them of dishonesty. As MacBarbie07, who was recruited by JC Penney, said recently: “Some people can be really, really mean about haul videos.” And Elle Fowler recently posted a rant about accusations from her subscribers that she has been unethical by endorsing goods she received for free: “A company will offer to send [us] free stuff. I’ve sent products back on my own expense if I don’t like it.
“I’ve never promised a video in exchange for free products. I’ve [always] said the company sent me this.”
Jonathan Alpert, a New York psychotherapist and author of forthcoming book Be Fearless, worries that hauling fuels a shopping frenzy “as there’s a push for more fans, more comments, more reactions from those who watch the videos. Ultimately, people must ask themselves: what am I really seeking?
“Perhaps it’s attention, or to fill a void, or maybe there’s just a fierce sense of competitiveness.”
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