A YouTuber with little-to-no makeup experience is about to rake in millions with his new beauty collection, showing the power of viral fame
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A YouTuber with little-to-no makeup experience is about to rake in millions with his new beauty collection, showing the power of viral fame

Kat Tenbarge

YouTubers Shane Dawson and Jeffree Star are poised to sell out of their makeup collaboration on Friday. There’s no doubt that the launch will be record-breaking. Already, in malls across the US, long lines arecreeping from Morphe storefronts.

The physical turnout for the sale – on a Friday morning, no less – will surely be outweighed by the sheer volume on online sales that will come pouring in. Dawson and Star were shooting to make “millions” off the Conspiracy collection, which includes a $52 eyeshadow palette, six $18 liquid lipstick shades, and $30 pig-shaped hand mirrors.

The pairing of Dawson, a 31-year-old YouTuber who is still learning how to eyeshadow, with Star, might not seem like a surefire consumer hit. But the power the two influencers have over their massive audiences – and the online community at large – shouldn’t be underestimated. 

By harnessing their collective influence on the YouTube sphere at large, Dawson is set to become a major player in the cosmetics industry, despite having zero previous experience in the field. Here’s how a YouTube channel centered on “conspiracy theories” spearheaded a makeup campaign that will almost certainly make millions.

Dawson and Star used the existing popularity of their YouTube series to wage guerilla-style marketing for their palette online

Jeffree Star Shane Dawson

Even if you haven’t watched any of Dawson’s “investigative” series on YouTube, you’ve probably at least noticed the massive cultural phenomenon of his videos. What started with an attempt to unravel the TanaCon drama Dawson was caught in the middle of in June 2018 has become a monumental online force.

Dawson’s series tend to examine other YouTubers on the platform through a good-natured lens of Dawson’s oftentimes naive and clumsy personality and interview style. He finds a controversial channel, interviews friends and associates of the YouTuber, then meets with them on-camera and creates a narrative – so far, all redemption arcs – around that person.

Dawson’s most successful image rehabilitation series has been with his now-collaborator Star, who was already a top-tier beauty YouTuber in his own right. “The Secret World of Jeffree Star,” just one of the videos in Dawson’s previous Star series, has 46 million views. 

The drive behind Dawson’s latest endeavor, “The Beautiful World of Jeffree Star,” becomes clear after just one hour-long episode. Dawson has decided it’s time to really, really capitalize off his documentaries, with Star as an over-eager business partner. It makes perfect sense. 

Previously, Dawson clearly made a hefty chunk of change off the advertising on the videos alone, not to mention the sponsorship he netted with the deal-finding web browser plug-in Honey. But why stop there when you’ve cultivated a massive audience that extends onto every social media platform?

Makeup is in the midst of a new moment, too. If it seems like every celebrity and pseudo-internet celebrity has launched a new makeup line over the last few years, that’s because they have. Makeup as commodified by YouTube has reshaped the industry.

conspiracy palette mini palette
A promotional image of the conspiracy palette and the mini-palette that Dawson tweeted out. 

Between YouTubers who launch their own mega-successful lines through brands like Morphe, to people like Kylie Jenner, who became a billionaire by marketing her own lips on Instagram with Kylie Cosmetics, the decision over which colorful eyeshadow or luxury foundation to buy has become more about whose name is on the packaging and how many followers they have than about makeup bonafides.

This couldn’t be clearer as it pertains to Dawson and Star’s launch.

Dawson, who had never seriously worn makeup before he started working with Star, and has admitted he still isn’t good at applying it. So why are consumers jumping to buy his new collection. 

Theoretically, the success of consumer goods such as makeup should hinge on trust and quality. People want to buy a reliable product that will deliver an expected outcome. But Dawson’s assured success as a literal makeup newcomer defies that understanding.

The palette itself isn’t a standout, as far as versatility goes. Star is generally believed to sell above-average quality makeup products, but the hallmark of the Conspiracy collection is an 18-color eyeshadow tin that doesn’t have a lot of everyday value – from a technical standpoint, the average makeup consumer isn’t going to use most of these shades on a regular basis.

Furthermore, it’s $52 for 18 shades. For more than $2 a shade, logically speaking, consumers should be drawn to palettes that have high-quality shades that can be worn regularly and mixed together to create a variety of looks. That’s not the appeal of the Conspiracy collection.

People are buying it for Dawson and Star – but again, Dawson isn’t even a makeup guru. 

Dawson’s own reputation, his most recent series, and his online peers all contribute to the demand for the Conspiracy collection

Shane Jeffree

There’s also a lot of incentive for other YouTubers, beauty gurus, and influencers to promote the Conspiracy collection. Dawson has positioned himself as a powerful force in the online video community at large with the unprecedented popularity and cultural resonance of his long-form documentary series.

Since the early days of YouTube, Dawson’s recommendation had the power to make or break a creator’s success. That’s still true, because when he promotes a fellow YouTuber, their subscriber base tends to inflate within hours. But Dawson also has the peculiar power to do something even more astonishing than just promote other influencers – he can rehabilitate their careers. 

Two of the most prominent YouTubers on the platform right now, Tana Mongeau and her “husband” Jake Paul, dressed as Dawson and Star for Halloween because the two “saved” their careers. When both Mongeau and Paul were suffering from seriously bad PR, Dawson swooped in with a sympathetic docu-series.

Both have since used their respective turns on Dawson’s channel to defend their actions and attain further notoriety, as well as sympathy from onlookers who regard Dawson as an unbiased authority (he isn’t, but the YouTube audience skews young, and young people admire YouTubers so much that they overwhelmingly want to become them). 

Thus, it’s a smart PR move to befriend and support Dawson – and Star, who is notorious for using his platform to bully other people in the makeup industry who wrong him. Just two days before the Conspiracy collection launched, Star denigrated another YouTuber’s new brand as “trash,” saying he wouldn’t review it on his channel, all because of a relatively tame feud between the two gurus from 2018. 

You wouldn’t want to be on the receiving end of Star’s wrath if you’re an influencer. You would also love to reap the benefits of showing love to Dawson. If you’re a tween who just likes YouTubers (and that pretty much applies to most teens), you may just want to fit in with everyone else who watches Dawson’s videos and clamors to buy his palette.

Or if you’re a fan of Dawson’s, even just casually, you’ve probably been subjected to the pervasive tone of his subscriber base, who have been campaigning to “sell out” the Conspiracy collection. Stan culture is omnipresent on the internet in 2019, and it’s easy to jump on the bandwagon of wanting to do your own personal best to endear yourself to your favorite creator.

Even though Dawson shows off his huge LA mansion in videos and is worth an estimated $12 million, he has positioned himself in his latest series as a less fortunate YouTuber. From episode 1, Dawson waxed poetic about how he wasn’t as smart as a businessperson as YouTubers like Star, and how he could have made so much more money if he’d known how to market himself and his merchandise better earlier on.

Shane Dawson Jake Paul
Shane Dawson visited controversial YouTuber Jake Paul as part of a series about whether Paul was a sociopath. 

Inconceivably, that message resonated with Dawson’s audience. Despite “ok boomer” rhetoric that blames the older, richer generation for climate change and financial ruin, young people were more than willing to jump onboard the narrative that Dawson needs more money, and its up to his young fans to give it to him.

The message prevailed in YouTube comments and on other social media platforms. A cursory glance through the #ShaneDawsonXJeffreeStar hashtag on Twitter, which trended across the country ahead of the collection’s launch, and you’ll see hundreds of tweets of people expressing their desire for a palette and collection they can’t even afford.

After the “dramageddon” of the YouTube beauty community that exploded in spring between Star, James Charles (who also has a wildly successful Morphe line) and Tati Westbrook (who is also launching her own makeup line), it was unclear what direction the gurus were going. Many, included all three main players, expressed that it was time to end drama in the beauty community.

But that same drama and “tea” culture is what the Conspiracy collection is themed after. It’s what drove people to watch Dawson’s series and continue following people like Star. It may not be pretty, but the money that follows major YouTube controversies, leveraged with the viral fame it creates and enhances, means people like Dawson and Star will see huge returns off products like the Conspiracy collection.