Context: For my Introduction to Journalism, Media and Communication subject at university I had to write an essay on a media professional of my choice and relate their career back to concepts we learnt in class. I did mine on one of my favourite people in the world, Zoe Sugg, and was really happy with the end result of my assignment! I thought I’d publish it here on my beauty blog as she’s a beauty vlogger (among a million other things), but to see more of my assignments that aren’t beauty related feel free to check out my university blog at jessicarigaqut, where future assignments will be published.
Media Professional Biography on Zoe “Zoella” Sugg
In the changing media landscape, the rise of social media, digital activism and online self-expression has created a new breed of online celebrities, with Zoe “Zoella” Sugg’s digital empire leading the charge. At only 26-years-old, the English YouTuber boasts 10 million subscribers and has already released a best-selling young adult book series and acclaimed beauty and skincare line. It is evident when analysing Sugg’s success that the trends of globalisation and the benefits of media convergence have had the biggest influence on her career. Her contribution to the public sphere, with her lighthearted yet personal content, has kept her relevant amongst her wide demographic of viewers but has also prevented her from contributing to the Fourth Estate.
According to fashion magazine Vogue, Zoe Sugg is an English beauty and fashion Youtuber, author and entrepreneur, best known under her online username “Zoella” (2014). After graduating high school, Sugg created a beauty, fashion and lifestyle blog as a hobby while interning at an interior design company, and created a Youtube channel a year later (2014). According to her official YouTube statistics page, as of January 2016 her channel has surpassed 10 million subscribers and now has over 710 million views, and her side channel “MoreZoella”, which is dedicated to casual vlogs (video blogs) about her day-to-day life, has close to 4 million subscribers (2016).
Coming into the world as a last minute millennial means I grew up surrounded by not only print and broadcast media, but I had the Internet at my fingertips. YouTubers have become online personalities that are portrayed as genuine, realistic, and relatable – a refreshing change from traditional celebrities. I admire and strive to attain the same qualities and values that Sugg possesses; she’s successful, adaptable to change, and more importantly, authentic. She’s herself, and through that has become a positive role model. She’s seamlessly conquered the online realm with her Twitter and Instagram pages also gaining millions of followers (2016). Simultaneously, Sugg has branched out and published her own best-selling young adult book series and beauty and skincare products, among being reported in The Guardian as an ambassador for various charities and mental health organizations (2014). Being a young person who embodies a passion for communication and the fast pace world of technology, alongside a strong interest in the beauty and fashion industries, Sugg and her career seemed like the appropriate media professional to analyse.
The primary influences in Sugg’s career have been the effects of globalisation and media convergence. Her empire was created online, allowing her to connect with people around the world from just her bedroom. Media and Communications Professor Terry Flew writes that globalisation can best be described as “a process rather than an outcome, as a series of tendencies rather than an end-state” (2007, 3). Globalisation indicates “the expanding scale, growing magnitude, speeding up and deepening impact of transcontinental flows and pattern of social interaction” (Held and McGrew 2002, 1). It also “refers to a shift or transformation in the scale of human organization that links distant communities and expands the reach of power relations across the world’s regions and continents” (Held and McGrew 2002, 1). Various forms of global media assisted Sugg’s rapid rise to fame. As her online YouTube presence grew through her engaging on multiple social media platforms, traditional media outlets began to take notice of her, with fashion magazine Vogue defining her as a “cyberspace superstar” (2014). This widespread global promotion propelled Sugg’s online success and presented her with opportunities to branch into more traditional forms of media alongside her online content, as she released her first young adult novel “Girl Online” in 2014, and its sequel “Girl Online: On Tour” in 2015 (Sugg 2015).
While Sugg’s success has been assisted through the effects of globalisation, her brand has also benefitted from the trends of media convergence. Media scholar Henry Jenkins states this is due to the changing media landscape, as “new media technologies have lowered production and distribution costs, expanded the range of available delivery channels and enabled consumers to archive, annotate, appropriate and recirculate media content in powerful new ways” (2004, 33). Jenkins writes that with the “proliferation of channels and the portability of new computing and telecommunications technologies we have entered an era where media is everywhere and we are using all kinds of media in relation to each other” (2004, 34). The success of “Zoella” can be analysed as a prime example of a brand that has benefitted off the convergence of media. Sugg built her website on free blogging platform Blogger, and at the request of some of her readers, started her YouTube channel as an extension of the blog, transforming her words to video content (Vogue, 2014). The technological advancement of smart phones has allowed the “Zoella” brand to be accessed anytime, anywhere. With the new YouTube app notifying subscribers when she’s uploaded a new video, viewers can watch her content, “like” her posts and reply to comments to Sugg and each other, all instantaneously. All these avenues allow her fans to connect with one another, share her content and simultaneously develop her brand. This support has grown into Sugg being able to converge into traditional media forms, such as producing her “Zoella Beauty” skincare line and writing the novel series “Girl Online” that deals with issues relevant to her target audience.
Sugg’s convergence across various forms of media has allowed her to contribute to the public sphere in both online and print, sharing her opinion on beauty and fashion related content as well as serious issues facing today’s youth. According to Professor Alan McKee, the public sphere is a metaphorical term used to describe the virtual space where people can interact (2004, 4). Along with finding out what is happening in our communities, the public sphere is “where we engage with these issues and add our voices to discussions about them, playing our part in the process of a society reaching a consensus or compromise about what we think about issues, and what should be done about them” (McKee 2004, 5). Sugg built a loyal fan base through sharing her honest opinions and thoughts on beauty products and fashion trends, which has grown into millions of young people asking for her advice regarding more serious issues. It’s a widely known fact amongst her fan base that Sugg has suffered from anxiety and panic attacks since she was a teenager, which prompted her to film a video talking about her experiencing and methods of dealing with the condition. The “Dealing with Panic Attacks & Anxiety | Zoella” video was posted in 2012 and has over 3.5 million views with 27 thousand comments underneath the video of her audience engaging and sharing their experiences with each other (2012). Along with raising awareness for mental health issues, she’s also recorded videos discussing depression, body issues and unhealthy relationships (2012). The issues facing her young audience were also the key themes in her debut novel “Girl Online”, as the protagonist deals with social anxiety and online bullying (Sugg, 2014).
In regards to the Fourth Estate, Sugg has not made a contribution, as it is not part of her brand or associated with her content. The term “Fourth Estate” is often used as a synonym for “the press” (Hampton 2009, 3). According to Associate Professor Mark Hampton, “by publicizing corruption, scandal in high places, or the government’s simple inattention to the needs of the people, the press could ensure that a nominally democratic government met its obligations to its constituents” (2009, 4). Sugg has expressed that while her following is large, she continues to create her content the way she always has. In a recent vlog, “You Dreamt What?” she explains that the pressure and judgment from other YouTubers was why she had been uploading infrequently, stating “I think people forget that I have not been programmed to be a certain way once I hit a milestone, it’s not like once I get to 10 million, things have to change around here, because they don’t” (2016). To start contributing to the Fourth Estate would be out of the “Zoella” brand and isn’t the aim of her channel, which she states is “to make people happy, to give them 20 minutes of their day where they don’t have to worry about the one thing that’s making them feel like crap, and that’s why I watch videos too” (2016).
After analysing Zoe Sugg’s career, it is evident her ability to adapt to the changing media landscape whilst still staying authentic has allowed her to build a loyal and supportive following. By benefitting from the trends of globalisation and navigating the convergence of the media across both contemporary and traditional platforms, Sugg has been successful to staying relevant within the public sphere without contributing to the Fourth Estate.
Dredge, Stuart. 2014. YouTube star Zoella raising awareness of anxiety and panic attacks. The Guardian, October 10. Accessed: 25 March 2016. http://www.theguardian.com/technology/2014/oct/09/youtube-zoella-mental-health-charity-mind
Flew, T. (2007). Understanding Global Media. Houndmill, Basingstoke, Hampshire: Palgrave Macmillan.
Hampton, M. (2009). The Fourth Estate Ideal In Journalism History. In S. Allen (Ed.) The Routledge Companion to News and Journalism. Hoboken: Routledge Publishing.
Held, D and McGrew, A. (2002). Governing Globalisation: Power, Authority, and Global Governance. 1st Ed. Hoboken: Wiley Publishing.
Jenkins, H. (2004). The Cultural Logic of Media Convergence. International Journal of Cultural Studies. 1st Ed. London: Sage Publications.
McKee, Alan. (2004). The Public Sphere: An Introduction. Melbourne: Cambridge University Press.
MoreZoella. 2016. “You Dreampt What?” Youtube video, posted March 13. Accessed March 13, 2016. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=RcCrPgcJIxA
Sheffield, Emily. 2014. Zoella: Queen of The Haul. Vogue, November 6. Accessed: 17 March, 2016. http://www.vogue.co.uk/news/2014/11/06/zoella-full-interview-vogue-november-2014-issue
Sugg, Zoe. 2014. Girl Online. 1st ed. Melbourne: Penguin Group Publishing.
Sugg, Zoe. 2015. Girl Online: On Tour. 1st ed. Melbourne: Penguin Group Publishing.
Sugg, Zoe. 2016. MoreZoella. Accessed 30 March, 2016. https://www.youtube.com/user/MoreZoella/about
Sugg, Zoe. 2016. Zoella. Accessed 30 March, 2016. https://www.youtube.com/user/zoella280390/about
Zoella. 2012. “Dealing With Panic Attacks and Anxiety | Zoella”. YouTube video, posted November 7. Accessed March 28, 2016. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=7-iNOFD27G4