Sledding Cat, Beauty Gurus, and Authenticity on YouTube

If you’ve been to YouTube’s “Trending” tab this past week, you’ve most likely seen this short video, titled, “Sledding with my cat”:

The video is about as simple as you can get these days. A man apparently took his cat sledding and filmed it. The video itself is 33 seconds long, not especially artistic in its presentation, and doesn’t have any advertising on it. As of this writing, the video hasĀ 1,753,317 views. Pretty much the definition of a viral video.

The thing that makes this a truly “viral” video, of course, is the cat. If this had been a video of a man sledding by himself, or even if he had gone with his dog, it wouldn’t have taken off as quickly. Why? Sledding is something people do and film themselves doing all the time. Dogs can be trained to enjoy many people-oriented activities. But cats? Cats aren’t easily trained, and when they are trained, it’s usually not for things that are fast and unpredictable and scary, like sledding. This cat authentically seems to be enjoying the ride, or at least is staying with its owner in an activity they seem to have done before. It’s an authentic moment.

There are also other markers of authenticity, or rather, of this not being a staged moment for any reason other than to document the moment. I mentioned before that there is not advertising on the video. There also are no branded products that prominently appear, as has happened in other “viral” animal-oriented videos. The account on which this video appeared has few videos on it, and not that many subscribers. It just appears to be one of those things that caught the public’s attention because of its genuine goofiness.

Leaving sledding cat on the slopes for now, let’s turn our attention to something different: Beauty gurus. For the uninitiated (and if you’re interested in YouTube, you probably are at least somewhat aware of these folks), beauty gurus are YouTube creators who show different makeup looks that they’ve created themselves, or at least a subset of beauty gurus do so. (There are also gurus who focus on clothes and hair, but we’re paying attention to the makeup enthusiasts for now.)

For the most part, beauty gurus don’t start out as professional makeup artists and aren’t tied to any one product line. They tend to begin as amateurs with a knack for creating looks with makeup on camera and teaching others how to do the same. This category has taken off since the creation of YouTube, largely for women and girls (and a few men and boys) who appreciate being able to replicate beautiful looks step by step, along with someone who is applying makeup in real time and teaching the steps in a clear, fun manner.

Over the past few years, the makeup industry has taken notice of this phenomenon and has, to varying degrees, compensated various gurus in the form of money (sponsored videos), product, product codes (to give to their viewers for discounts, with a portion of the sales being paid to the gurus themselves) and in other ways. In turn, these video creators have made videos that focus on the brands who are compensating them.

Lately, this trend has gotten a lot of backlash on YouTube from the fans of the beauty gurus, who feel betrayed in their trust when these creators “sell out.” It’s an interesting phenomenon, since the makeup these gurus are applying generally hasn’t changed, and the looks they’re achieving seem to be what the viewers want to see. However, once money is exchanged, the fans feel that these gurus, once considered “one of them,” have lost their authenticity, and become “fake.” Rather than being seen as talented amateurs speaking directly to their audience, these gurus are now viewed (by some fans) as company shills. An entire cottage industry of “guru trashing” has sprung up around this idea, spawning sites such as Guru Gossip, and channels that do nothing but report on the perceived sins of these makeup artists.

YouTube being what it is, the gossip reporters also in-fight, trashing one another for being inauthentic in their motives. If one gossip channel becomes too large, or reports on the “wrong” beauty guru, that channel is then accused of either selling out or just reporting on trending topics for increased views and increased ad revenue. And thus the cycle continues.

What does this have to do with that cat on the sled?

YouTube creators are often advised to make sure our videos are useful, unique, and shareable. While those qualities are certainly helpful, I think the one thing I’d advise is that your content be perceived as authentic. If that sledding cat was attached to a marketing campaign, or on a channel called “Funny Animals,” I suspect that it wouldn’t have taken off quite as quickly as it did. Viewers are much more savvy these days of viral marketing tactics and are willing to call out any perceived underhandedness when it comes to video content. For all that it’s grown, YouTube is still considered a space where enthusiastic amateurs connect directly with their viewers.

Stay authentic in your messaging, and you have a much higher chance of success. And if you can get a cat on a sled, even better.

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