Late last month, popular natural hair vlogger Whitney White, also known as Naptural85, posted a video in which she shared her frustrations about how her decision to do sponsored hair product videos had affected her relationship with her viewers. In this video, Whitney revealed why she began doing these types of sponsored videos, and she even allowed her viewers to have the final say in whether or not she would continue doing them.
By the end of the video, she had implicitly raised some interesting questions about natural hair vloggers and sponsored hair product videos. Is there something inherently unethical about doing sponsored hair product videos? Are vloggers not allowed to use their positions to support themselves and their families?
As interesting as these questions are, they require more than some surface-level examination to answer. Uncovering the answers requires that we consider the origins of the natural hair community’s vlogging scene, as well as take a look at how influencer marketing has evolved.
The natural hair community as many of us know it has not always been so large. As a matter of fact, just a little over ten years ago, finding a twist out or braid out tutorial would have been much more difficult than it is today.
Tutorials were not the only things which were scarce at the time. Natural hair products were few and far between, and the products which existed would have cost an arm and a leg. Some of Miss Jessie’s products, for instance, went for upward of 50 dollars about a decade ago.
Then, slowly but surely, the natural hair vloggers, forums, and products we know and love began to make their way onto the scene. Even so, influencer marketing had not quite caught on yet in the natural hair community. It would take a few more years for companies to understand how to effectively utilize vloggers.
The Rise of Influencer Marketing in the Natural Hair Community
Influencer marketing has existed for more than a century now. It did not, though, become big in the natural hair community until less than a decade ago.
So what brought on its surge in popularity?
In truth, a multitude of things brought on this increase in popularity, the first of which was the internet. To be more exact, the creation of video-sharing and other social media platforms such as YouTube brought about the change. Anyone and everyone who had an opinion or some sort of advice could now upload videos which could be easily accessed by the general public.
Of course, the video-sharing platforms themselves weren’t enough to bring about such huge change. There was another force at work: Relaxer sales had begun to fall significantly while commercial natural hair care products had begun to become more and more common.
This force is still at work even today. In fact, between 2009 and 2014, relaxer sales dropped by 34 percent. These sales are expected to continue dropping; the projected decline between 2014 and 2019 is a whopping 45 percent.
This decrease in sales coupled with the increasing popularity of video-sharing platforms made rising to internet stardom relatively easy for many early vloggers. They were able to individually amass hundreds of thousands of followers over the course of four or five years.
By this time, companies which specialized in natural hair products had become more common, and several of them had taken notice of the huge followings that natural hair vloggers had attracted. As any decently managed business would, many of these companies figured that they could use these vloggers to their advantage.
And, much to their credit, they were correct. Money talks, and there were plenty of vloggers in the community who spoke its language. The only thing that some of these vloggers didn’t anticipate was that receiving compensation for their craft would one day put them in an uncomfortable, and perhaps unfair, position.
One Bad Apple Spoils the Bunch
Sponsored hair product videos are arguably a godsend for vloggers who aren’t exactly “living the life.” Vlogging for a living takes time and resources, neither of which are free, and this is something that Whitney talks about in the vlog mentioned earlier.
While I personally believe that Whitney is genuine whenever she reviews a hair product, I can definitely understand why some of her followers (or any vlogger’s followers) would have a hard time swallowing sponsored hair product videos.
To be completely blunt, there are a number of dishonest vloggers on the scene, and not just in the natural hair community. Vloggers can easily get away with telling their followers that they love a certain product or brand since it’s impossible to fact-check these types of statements. If anyone calls a vlogger out for having twenty favorite hair products, that vlogger can always say that he or she does indeed have twenty favorite hair products.
No matter how unlikely that sounds.
Further still, it’s difficult to put much stock in a vlogger’s review of a product when his or her livelihood depends on whether or not he or she gives a glowing review. In other words, sponsored videos practically incentivize lying, something that’s so apparent that it’s not really up for debate.
I suppose that the underlying question here is: Where does this leave honest vloggers?
The Starving Vlogger
Some of your favorite vloggers’ lives may seem glamorous from where you’re standing, but the reality is that vlogging isn’t as rewarding as some of us believe it is. Whitney was extremely honest about how she lived in her recent vlog: fairly small apartment, used cars, and so on. She, with the help of her husband, also has a family to support. She has a daughter and recently gave birth to a son.
And somehow still manages to put out vlog after vlog and work as a freelance graphic designer.
Knowing these things, it would be hard to argue that she should pass on opportunities to do sponsored hair product videos. She does, after all, put out creative, quality content on a regular basis, and this content is free of charge. It seems completely unfair that she should have to choose between supporting herself and her family and completing projects which help inspire women to wear their natural hair.
The fact that she is pretty upfront about her business dealings with the companies she works with makes her predicament seem that much more unfair. In my experience, whenever Whitney does a sponsored hair product video, she clearly indicates that the content is sponsored in either the video’s title or the description box below the video.
Should she be expected to work so hard for so little monetary compensation just because so many other vloggers are unscrupulous? Most people probably wouldn’t think so.
The Disconnect Between the Community and Commercialization
Perhaps this debate about sponsored content in the natural hair community is more than the product of just a few dishonest vloggers. That is to say, we have to entertain the idea that some parties view the community as a sacred place.
Yes, this idea likely sounds hippy-dippy to several of you. Still, we can’t deny that the natural hair movement relies on a sentimental language which urges women to love and accept themselves. These women feel that the community is a place in which they can share their feelings about their hair while learning to take care of it.
Now imagine how these women, who essentially view the community as a philanthropic hub, feel when they see their primary sources of information (i.e. vloggers) throwing commercial products in their faces.
In this case, their discontent isn’t the result of dishonesty, for there are plenty of vloggers who give honest product reviews. Their feelings are instead rooted in a distrust of commercialization itself.
Given the history of the black hair care industry, these feelings make sense. Companies have for decades now sold hair products to black women by playing on their insecurities about their kinky hair. Now some of these same companies are looking to capitalize off of black women’s newfound confidence in their natural hair.
True, not all companies are guilty of this, but maybe some women are looking for a respite from commercialized products. Much to their thinking, the natural hair community should provide that, regardless of how fair or unfair it is to professional vloggers.
So Should Natural Hair Vloggers Do Sponsored Hair Product Videos?
At the end of the day, we’re not all going to agree on this, nor should we. The issue is complex, and should be treated as such. Some people don’t mind sponsored content while others loathe it, and both parties have good reasons to feel the way they do.
Unfortunately, this means that honest natural hair vloggers who just need some extra cash are stuck in the middle of the mess that dishonest vloggers (and a history of oppression) who did sponsored content before them created.
My only piece of advice for vloggers like Naptural85 is this: If you believe that you are so genuine that your goodwill shines through, then you should trust that your followers will see it as well, sponsored content or not.
As for anyone else who happens to be reading this, don’t be afraid to chime in below. What are your feelings on sponsored hair product videos? Yay or nay?