YouTube followers: 4.4M
The haul video is the girlie answer to the tech world’s unboxing videos: a wildly popular YouTube niche where vloggers show off items they recently purchased. They’re almost always girls, and they’re as pretty as they are approachable, with screen names like Dulce Candy, JLovesMac1, msglamorazzi, and Macbarbie07.
The queen of them all is Zoella, a.k.a. Zoe Sugg, a 24-year-old who lives in Brighton, England, who begins each video by trilling “Hellllllooooo evvvverrrrboody” in a plummy accent. She’s thin and conventionally attractive, with blue eyes and ombré hair whose updos are the stuff of YouTube envy (“My fishtail braids never look as good as yours,” one commenter wrote). According to a popular post on her blog, her interests include “scrapbooking & oraganising things,” her favorite book is The Diary of Anne Frank, and she loves The Hills. She and her boyfriend, fellow YouTube star Alfie Deyes of PointlessBlog (and the so-called YouTube boy band), even have their own fan-christened portmanteau: Zalfie.
Zoella’s videos usually take places in her home with a bouquet of white tulips or a Diptyque candle flickering in the background. She’ll show off her latest find with hypnotically banal commentary: In “Boohoo Haul & £500 Giveaway,” she holds up a gray turtleneck dress. “It’s almost silly not to have something like this in your wardrobe,” Zoella declares. That video got over 1.2 million hits. In “Home ‘Stuff’ Haul” (view count: over 1.6 million), she reveals that she is “quite selective with drinking glasses.” Fans write messages like, “Putting cereal in a glass jar is such a cute idea!” There are more than 20,000 comments.
Ninety percent of her videos, Sugg says, are filmed on her own with a tripod; she edits all of them herself. Something like a video look book of outfits can take four days of shooting and another two of editing. Zoella has seen products she’s mentioned, like from the online retailer ASOS, sell out quickly after she mentions them in her videos, but she says she’s not taking paid product placement. (She has the same “social talent” management company, Gleam Futures, that represents many of the other big British YouTubers, including her boyfriend; it’s sent the lot of them on tour in the United States alongside other Internet stars.)
But viewers don’t tune in just for eyeliner tutorials and shopping sprees. There is a secondary channel for the deeper things in life. “Nothing is sugarcoated,” Suggs explains.“I’ve got videos on my channel about anxiety I suffer with, and my best friend, Louise, and I discuss breakups and going to uni versus not uni on my second channel.”
Sugg, who has been vlogging since 2009, says that her audience is between 13 and 17, and lives in the U.K., the U.S., and Canada. This teenage fan base perhaps explains why the most popular haul vloggers are pretty and sweet in an approachable way, sort of like an idealized popular girl in high school. Except this time you get to hang out at the mall with her while she shops. And while the most successful of these girls, like Sugg, have made buying expensive (or heaps of inexpensive) goods their full-time jobs, accessibility remains a hallmark. “OMG you are SO quirky!” wrote one of Sugg’s fans under a video. “Not too quirky, just nice and quirky, not too challenging or weird though.”
*This article appeared in the April 21, 2014 issue of New York Magazine.