Sorry Teen Brands, You were Overthrown by YouTube

Saturday, January 17, 2015

By: Weston Bonnelle

Image via goofing

More than Just Money

     The slow decline of teen brands such as Abercrombie and Fitch, American Eagle, Hollister and Aeropostale deceptively correlates to the Great Recession overstating its economics role in their dwindling market value. This correlation has caused most of the articles I've read about to be overcast with the same stubborn rhetoric of economic struggles being the sole catalyst to this dramatic shift in consumer behavior. These articles repeatedly emphasize the low cost of the ascendant brand, Forever 21 without adding more context. The words cheap and fast fashion have co-opted Forever 21's complex narrative and thus has camouflaged how the interaction between economic events and cultural shifts fueled their growth. 

    In a Reuters article, Challenger, Gray and Christmas explained that it was lowered teen employment inducing the decline, as if teen employment was an easy fix for these teen brands to secure market share. While Abercrombie and Fitch CEO, Mike Jeffries, in the same article commented that "youth spending has likely diverted to other categories". This implies that other [insert uncool] categories, such as electronics, are holding the hostage the cash for fashion. He then makes the assumption that Abercrombie and Fitch are still the top choice among teens once spending in other [uncool] categories abate. He is obscuring the issue by looking at the fashion industry as an aggregate and avoiding a reflective discussion of market share. In another Reuters article, SunTrust Robinson Humphrey Capital Markets analyst Pamela Quintiano keenly observed that “customers are spending on apparel” very selectively but her focus was still firmly planted on economics, specifically teen employment

     The Great Recession has subtly increased the importance of psychological and esteem effects of fashion thus intensifying the need for the perfect purchase. This psychological pressure has changed shopping behavior. The combination of low cost and fast fashion has made shopping even more gratifying in difficult financial times. Washington Post noted Forever 21's and similar brands' ability to quickly add new styles to stores shelves.   Social media is a tool for aiding teens to meet this demand. Marcie Merriman, a consumer-engagement consultant at Ernst and Young, observed to Washington Post "these young consumers are shopping by seeing what's on Instagram, Facebook, Twitter -they're sharing on a constant basis, it's always around them." Social reviews have become more significant and reviews derived from social media are perceived as being more trustworthy and appealing.
The Haul 

     Enter the perfect antidote to this dilemma ...the shopping haul, brought to you by YouTube, where beauty and fashion gurus offer expert visual reviews and style tips teens can trust. Teens aren't just taking advice for anyone but familiar fashion elites online. The teens can experience the thrill at home and participate in new trends before investing in clothing that could disappoint or waste money. Buyers regret is a thing of the past. 

     When most of articles gawk at Forever 21's mysterious 82 percent rise from 2007-2012 and only see the Great Recession, I think of the explosion of YouTube (founded in 2005) and its accompanying novel phenomenons such as shopping hauls( which began around 2007 according to Wikipedia). YouTube beauty and fashion gurus, such as Michelle Phan and Blair Fowler, accidentally became internet famous. Elle Fowler admitted to ABC News she didn't even expect anyone to see her video (by the way ....ABC featured them at Forever 21).  Teens and young adults were hooked on these YouTube gurus and ready to eat up what was served in a shopping haul. Whatever brands that were lucky to be connected to this organic movement would had exploded with this phenomenon and profited handsomely even if their website temporarily was knocked offline by the stampede. These teens were moving away from a culture of inaccessibility and exclusivity to cheerful and helpful fashion advice from YouTube gurus such as Bethany Mota. When talking about Bethany Mota, Meleina McCann, 15, of Oakland California told Business Insider "she's super sweet and so relatable. Her videos are so personal. It feels like she's speaking to me." Her friend Ella Philips, agreed and added "She's always laughing and smiling."

   Who Are You Attracting to Your Brand?

    Forever 21 unexpectedly benefited from an organic turn of events from ambitious and passionate YouTube fashion and beauty gurus. Forever 21's apparel attracted budding YouTube stars who were fast tracking to the top such as Bethany Mota and Blair Fowler just when the shopping haul faze mushroomed (around 2010 when it came to be a part of online consciousness, as indicated with the parody YouTube account shopping haul which started in 2010. Also, Guru Gossip, a hate site, started in 2010 on its old domain name Parody and hate usually means a character or movement has achieved some notoriety).

      Personality tends to direct personal style and cause teens to gravitate to certain trends. Bethany Mota in a haul mentioned when talking about a dress, "that is literally me. It's perfection ...When I saw this I kind of squealed." Bethany Mota, who has an affinity for sunflowers and mac n cheese, describes her personal style as "definitely bohemian, so it has that laid-back kind of free-spirited vibe and it's also girly and very comfortable” and “Once in a while … a little edgy." With more Instagram followers than Vogue, Elle, Marie Claire, Glamour and Cosmopolitan combined, her personality aligns with brands such as Forever 21 (mentioned first), Urban Outfitters, H &M and then Aeropostale.She probably doesn't have much appreciation for the austere preppy look. As a YouTube guru she needs to showcase a brand whose new styles almost sparkle on camera, this is amateur lighting not a fashion shoot! Blair Fowler's energetic personality, southern aura and sophisticated taste lured her to the colorful and lacy Forever 21.

    These girls are the type of personalities and demographics that Abercrombie CEO, Mike Jeffries, scorned. YouTube gurus inherently goes against the establishment and standard definitions of coolness. For example, Michelle Phan never hesitates to rehash a victorious story about being rejected to work at a Lancome counter only to be wooed by them a paid endorser. Abercrombie and Fitch unjustly devalued these "uncool" bullied teens without caring about the ridiculous nuances of what can make a perfectly interesting kid be considered "uncool".

     Aeropostale missed the time of YouTube before Vevo. Although promotion through Bethany Mota is high quality (as evidenced by the ton of haul showcasing Bethany Mota's clothing line at Aeropostale), she is being officially sponsored and Aeropastle is likely to be resented by the more mature audiences. Forever 21 was in an ideal position to attract online gurus because both reflected each other's budding stage, while Abercrombie and Fitch gloried into their callous arrogance and smug disdain. Blair Fowler and Bethany Mota decided to use Forever 21 to unveil their fashion sense, just when the height of their fame intersected with the highest possible innocence of the movement. These YouTube gurus preemptively introduced Forever 21 when their audiences weren't necessarily looking for that specific brand or even a shopping haul. They were the perfect channels for distributing new fashion tips. Bethany Mota's and Blair Fowler's first clothing haul exclusively featured Forever 21 adding to the excitement that they are not just doing makeup tutorials but are "hauling" audiences to new beauty adventures. Now that Bethany Mota is more famous, her authenticity and accessibility are slowly wearing off, giving Aeropostale the illusion of capturing the moment.  

Why YouTube is Important 

- Girls who are serious about fashion and beauty latched on to YouTube hoping to soak up unique yet accessible style tips outside their immediate environment/circle. Many trends in fashion magazines are runway ready but not school ground ready. These girls probably have a ton of social influence in their communities, even if notoriety like Blair Fowler and Bethany Mota. YouTube gurus are more accessible than "the stars of street style blogosphere who tend to favor more unique or au courant looks” by profiling national brands. Bethany Mota and other top beauty gurus are cognizant of their broad reach and concentrate their support on national brands than could provide the au courant feeling. 

- YouTube provides authentic promotion and user driven advertising whose millions of views proliferate and penetrates into the deep cleavages of teen fashion world that generic advertisements and promotions from the professionals don't have the resources and insight to reach. This reach then moves offline (to people who don't even know about YouTube gurus) to create infectious trends, made even more contagious by brands, catering to fast fashion such as Forever 21. 

- Girls who are clueless about fashion gladly welcome, any appealing recommendations. If they followed beauty gurus especially in the 2007 through 2010 era, they would have been nurtured into Forever 21 by Bethany Mota and Blair Fowler.

- One YouTube guru can inspire a cascade of videos for a particular brand. Then YouTube influences other social media platforms such as Tumblr and Instagram.

- Reality TV has diminished the value of professional and programmed entertainment where the viewers passively consume a fantasy life. It is the devolution of the expert and/or out of reach and corrupted authority. Reality TV highlights interesting and infamous characters who would have been shrouded in obscurity before the 2000s. Reality TV has legitimized social media and even might have inspired its birth. It is less about talent and about personalities who present an aspirational lifestyle and/or whose life makes a bold statement. The personal nature of haul has a reality quality. Bethany Mota herself is inspired by the trajectory of Lauren Conrad's fashion career who started off as a reality star.

Still Doubting?
(and yes, I do realize I'm making a bold proclamation...)
    The teens brands monopolized coolness with their logos strangling the visibility of other fashion brands. How do people know that it is Forever 21, there must have been some intention causing this explosion because they would not have been able to recognize Forever 21 among other brands.

Let's check out the numbers (as of January 17, 2015):

"forever 21 haul" About 166,000 results without quotes About 584, 000
"h&m haul" About 40,000 results without quotes About 324, 000
"topshop haul" About 19, 200 results without quotes About 254, 000
"urban outfitters haul" About 18,400 results without quotes about 190, 000

"hollister haul" About 12,400 results without quotes About 97, 500
"american eagle haul" About 8,400 results without quotes About 78, 800
"aeropostale haul" About 7, 910 results without quotes About 49, 800
"aero haul" About 1,190 results without quotes About 32, 900
"abercrombie and fitch haul" About 1,530 results without quotes About 18, 800
"abercrombie haul" About 3,830 results without quotes About 60, 500

Top Forever 21 shopping haul/ Forever 21 hauls according to view count: Some are exclusive to Forever 21 ... the main attraction or is given predominance in the headline ( as of January 17, 2015... some YouTube gurus have more static viewership than others)

1. Fall Clothing Haul! Forever 21, H&M, Urban Outfitters & more!
Published on Sep 16, 2013: 2, 266, 518 views
Bethany Mota : 636,420,791 overall channel views

2. Good Morning America Forever 21 Haul Part 1
Uploaded on Mar 18, 2010: 2, 248, 615 views
juicystar 07 (Blair Fowler): 259,053,840 overall channel views

Published on Mar 27, 2012 : 1,901,120 views
grav3yardgirl: 491,137,075 overall channel views

 4. Forever 21 Haul
Uploaded on Dec 15, 2009: 1,758,827 views
juicystar 07 (Blair Fowler): 259,053,840 overall channel views

5. Summer Clothing Haul! ♡ Forever 21, Urban outfitters & Target
Published on Jun 4, 2012: 1, 455, 364 views
Bethany Mota : 636,420,791 overall channel views

I choose Hollister as the "teen brand" to compare with because it has the highest amount of haul videos compared to the other teen brands. Many of the Aeropostale haul videos with the most reviews were driven by the mention of Bethany Mota. Many of the Hollister haul videos were clustered with other brands...yes especially Forever 21.

Published on Mar 18, 2012: 532,145 views
krazyrayray: 84,853,665 overall channel views

Uploaded on Jul 22, 2011: 225,317 views
Courtney Lee: 3,916,484 overall channel views

I excluded two that were titled in another language.

3. Big Haul de la Folie - Guess, Hollister, Victoria's Secrets, Steve Madden... CONCOURS FERMÉ
Published on Mar 7, 2014:  183,751 views
Sandrea26France: 53,287,718 overall channel views

4. SALE ! HAUL SALE ! [zara, h&m, b&bw, only, hollister] 
Published on Jul 21, 2014: 159,544
Olciiak: 2,930,877 overall channel views

5. Haul: Forever 21, Hollister, Victoria's Secret + more
Uploaded on Jan 4, 2012: 151,766
cutesygirl09: 15,552,390 overall channel views
Thanks for reading!