While a growing number of influencers are dictating what brands sell, beauty entrepreneur Jackie Aina is of the view they have the duty to use their platforms responsibly.
Mixing up the inspirational with informative, the thought-provoking with tongue-in-cheek, and sarcasm with calling out brands for not being inclusive, Jackie Aina is influencing the beauty industry one product at a time.
With over three million YouTube followers and 1.2 million on Instagram, Aina is one of the stand-out digital influencers cashing in on online followings to broadcast messages to millennials, lifestyle brands and billion-dollar cosmetic conglomerates.
Although Aina does all of this with a dose of humor, the journey to YouTube stardom started some 10 years ago for the 31-year-old beauty entrepreneur, when she was desperately searching for a way to escape loneliness and unfulfillment.
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“I had gone on to marry the guy who inspired me to join the military. We were stationed in Hawaii and we were very unhappily married. I didn’t have a job and YouTube was buzzing in 2009. We had a lot of Asian faces who were really the faces of beauty on YouTube and I didn’t really see anyone like me. So, my best friend, literally every day, said ‘why don’t you put your makeup looks on YouTube’ and I always said no.”
Her friend’s unrelenting pursuit finally paid off.
“So, one day, I decided I wasn’t doing anything, and being bored and not being fulfilled emotionally and I didn’t have a lot of positive things going on for me at the time, so that left me a lot of time to consume content and then I started creating it.
“I truly tapped into something that I needed at the time mentally and that was great. People didn’t know me but they would just gas me up; they were so nice and would always give me positive encouragement which I really needed at the time,” Aina says.
That was a lifetime ago. These days, the Los Angeles-born influencer, who was called ‘beauty influencer of the year’ by Women’s Wear Daily last year, is short-listed among the top beauty influencers in the United States, with lucrative brand collaborations behind her.
Most notably is her collaboration with the Estée Lauder-owned brand, Too Faced, as part of the Born This Way foundation range, which she helped to create.
Celebrities and influencers are increasingly being paid several thousands of dollars per tweet or Instagram post to promote products, services and even social causes.
With most millennials avoiding posts that look like sponsored ads, brands are now increasingly interested in ads that appear organic. And that is where influencers come in.
Remuneration for such posts is usually decided after considering factors like number of followers, popularity, engagement, frequency of posts, as well as the format of the post.
Furthermore, influencer accounts with massive follower counts can leverage their social media clout to showcase brands to their followers and perhaps, most importantly, use their brand voice to fight against injustice in the industry, something Aina is passionate about.
“A lot of years on YouTube were spent seeing comments from people who say things. It is easy to sit and complain but what are you doing to change the industry?”
In response, Aina decided to use her platform to fight for the change she wanted to see in the industry. She holds other influencers accountable for offensive remarks and joins controversial and tough discussions about issues like colorism in the beauty industry. And brands are starting to listen.
It was her outspoken voice in the beauty space that caught the attention of the beauty conglomerate, Too Faced, which short-listed Aina to help expand its foundation range and ensure the makeup undertones would also compliment women of color.
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“That was a testament to brands actually listening. Just because you think someone is not watching, doesn’t mean they are not watching. They are definitely watching. Sometimes all you really need is that one opportunity and that can be leveraged over and over again,” Aina says.
As brands increasingly turn away from traditional marketing, towards social influencers, young, connected digital natives like Aina, will continue to play an important role in the success of beauty brands for the foreseeable trend-obsessed digital future.