Influencers have long made money by striking deals with companies and brands to promote products on their channels and streams — in the case of more popular influencers, sometimes upward of thousands of dollars for a single post or video. According to members of the beauty community, however, some companies are now paying influencers extra money to badmouth those companies’ competitors. Makeup artist Kevin James Bennett called this practice out on Instagram, decrying it as “mobster-like behavior,” and claiming that one influencer’s management company requested between $75K-85K for a “dedicated negative review of a competitor’s product.”
There are rules influencers have to follow when making promotional deals. The Federal Trade Commission requires influencers to clearly disclose on social media if their posts are paid for by advertisers or if there is a financial relationship. Influencers on platforms like Instagram and YouTube have edged around or flat-out ignored these guidelines before, and companies such as Microsoft, Electronic Arts, and Warner Bros. have paid influencers to post positive coverage. Bennett’s claims, which have been echoed by others in the beauty community, followed a video posted by beauty vlogger and makeup company CEO Marlena Stell about why her company, Makeup Geek, has struggled in the last year.
“The lack of disclosure by top-level influencers is FRAUD”
In the video, posted August 27th, Stell says “we haven’t been supported by influencers because we haven’t paid them massive amounts of money,” adding that she doesn’t have $60,000 to pay someone for a single video. “That’s the rates we’ve been given.” According to Stell, some companies have echoed this sentiment to her, saying they aren’t getting return for their investments.
“It’s a very competitive time,” she says. “There’s thousands of beauty influencers that just want to — some of them just want to make a name for themselves … Some, unfortunately, are doing it unfortunately just because they want to be ‘famous.’ They want to have a nice paycheck. They want to go on trips. They want to have the fame and not really share the love of the beauty industry.”
On August 28, Bennett included an image of Stell’s video and a lengthy post thanking her for “exposing what’s going on behind the scenes” in the beauty industry. “I’ve attempted to shed light on the mobster-like behavior of top-level beauty influencers and their management… and I’ve been accused of jealousy, called a liar and hater,” he wrote.
“The lack of disclosure by top-level influencers is FRAUD and it’s time for the Federal Trade Commission (FTC) to step in, start charging fines and shut this bullsh*t down.” A screenshot of the post. A screenshot of Bennett’s claim has since begun circulating twitter.
The post has been divisive for the community. Influencers like James Charles pushed back against this claim. “I’ve NEVER heard of this happening and believe what you want, but most of us DO disclose sponsorships,” said Charles on Twitter. YouTuber RawBeautyKristi echoed this sentiment, tweeting, “I hate this ridiculous misinformation, how have I been doing YouTube for FIVE YEARS and have never heard of such a thing... because if it exists, it’s SO UNBELIEVABLY RARE,” in response to Charles.
In a video posted today, however, influencer Pretty Pastel Please said that the claims made by Bennett are “100 percent true.” The video, “GETTING PAID $85,000 FOR A NEGATIVE REVIEW,” is the first part in a series exploring the world of influencers. Pretty Pastel Please says she’s experienced this both as an influencer and as a marketing professional. “Companies are willing to pay people to put down other products to make theirs look better,” she says.
In one example, in which she’s changed details to obscure the specific campaign, Pretty Pastel Please says she’s seen first-hand how companies ask influencers to praise their products while dumping on the competition. “They specifically said we are willing to pay more if you are willing to say that our product is better than the other one, or that you recommend our product over the other one,” she says. Pretty Pastel Please adds that neither Bennett nor she have anything to gain from speaking out about this practice.
“I’m trying to raise awareness in this video to explain to people the secret world of influencers, what happens behind the scenes that you guys never see,” she says. “You guys would be so surprised by the amount of your favorite influencers who never ever ever disclose that their content is sponsored.”