Skincare influencer Susan Yara has been forced to apologise following backlash after revealing her involvement with a brand she's been promoting for months, making her followers believe she was an objective consumer, rather than co-founder.
Yara has two YouTube channels – a personal one, with 258,000 subscribers in which she posts some beauty-related videos but mostly day to day life updates such as "What I eat in a day" or "Newborn baby must-haves", and her skincare channel called Mixed Makeup, which has 1.25 million subscribers, and is best known for reaction videos to skincare routines.
(For the uninitiated, "skincare routine" videos are posted by influencers and traditional celebrities on channels such as Vogue and Harper's Bazaar. They literally show beautiful people going through the process of cleansing, toning, moisturising, serum-ing, and more.)
Anyway, Yara is one of the biggest skincare influencers on YouTube. Viewers follow her for tips, advice and general entertainment. She is really the perfect YouTuber: wholesome, charismatic and seemingly knowledgeable about her specific area.
For a few months now, Yara has been mentioning a new brand called Naturium on her channel. She's repeatedly endorsed their products and encouraged her followers to purchase them.
This is a very interesting one, because I tend to not find such interesting formulations, so I like this one. They also have another vitamin C that mixes ingredients like salacilic acid and retinol in it, and I'm very curious about that.
Because it has all those ingredients in it, I'm actually surprised it's only $20 to be completely honest!
On 15 April, according to screenshots circulating online, she posted on her Facebook page comparing Naturium to Deciem-owned competitor The Ordinary, saying Naturium has "higher quality ingredients and feel nicer on the skin".
And when she was asked how she discovered the brand, she claimed she was sent a "PR mailer" when they launched, which fans understandably assumed meant she had no personal involvement with it.
So people were kind of speechless when Yara posted a video this week announcing that Naturium is actually... her brand.
In the video she interspersed clips of other influencers' shocked reactions at the news after having reviewed the products, including Hyram (2.47 million subscribers), Liah Yoo (1 million subcribers) and James Welsh (800,000 subscribers).
She then went on to spend 20 minutes talking her viewers through what she referred to as "my skincare brand".
Shocked reactions aside, the video was pretty standard for an influencer launch announcement, talking about her humble background, her hard work to get out of her small town in New Mexico where she grew up, and how it led her to the point of being able to launch a brand.
Yara said in the video that "we [the brand] officially launched in Februrary, and it was really important to me to get honest and true feedback from everyone, and I took a step back and thought 'I don't think I'm going to get that if I just announce that it's my skincare line from the get-go'".
This seems to be her justification for keeping her involvement a secret, as well as saying she "didn't want it to be an influencer brand", because she didn't consider herself to be an influencer. (Reminder: 1.5 million subscribers over her two channels.)
It's a little confusing though, because she then goes on to claim that she was going to disclose her involvement in February, but because of the global pandemic, it didn't "feel like the right time to be happy for myself". But as many people pointed out, this didn't stop her from promoting the brand, while heavily implying she had no involvement.
Viewers were unimpressed, and the comments were flooded with criticism, pointing out that there were lots of ways she could have achieved an unbiased review without promoting the brand herself while failing to disclose her involvement.
@Mantombiii @susanyara @NaturiumSkin Yea the approach would have been fine had she not promoted it, lied about how… https://t.co/jmPKjgWjzX
After days of backlash, Yara posted an intermittently teary apology video last night entitled "I'm sorry". In it, she claims that the reason she didn't disclose her relationship (aside, presumably, from coronavirus and wanting unbiased reviews, as she has previously claimed) is that she didn't actually sign the contract until two weeks ago.
She also implied that she was forced to disclose her involvement after people figured it out and began to "contact reporters" about it.
In an accompanying statement, she says:
In April, when I first mentioned NATURIUM on my Mixed Makeup and personal platforms, and through May, we did not have an agreement in place. For many reasons, this was delayed. At this point, I believed there was a real chance that our deal would fall through.
I decided to talk about NATURIUM because I was asked for my opinion by followers. I genuinely loved the concept of this emerging brand. I saw all the finished product and packaging come together when I received the first press kit with the full collection. I was so excited.
It was my mistake to talk about NATURIUM without disclosing my relationship with the brand. I did not make a disclosure, because I was uncertain of what to disclose. At this time, we were in such an in-between place on my role. Simply, nothing had been finalized with NATURIUM.
People were very confused. Many pointed out that she is not claiming to be a spokesperson for or investor in the brand, but a co-founder. A co-founder of a brand that launched in February. One would assume a co-founder would know they're a co-founder when a brand is, well, founded.
A 'material connection' to the brand includes a personal, family, or employment relationship or a financial relationship – such as the brand paying you or giving you free or discounted products or services.
And say that influencers must:
Disclose when you have any financial, employment, personal, or family relationship with a brand.
It would be hard to argue that this doesn't apply to saying how great a brand is across social media while also secretly being its co-founder.