The Making of a Makeup Star

This is a marketing story involving every possible sales discipline except traditional advertising. It’s also a double reinvention story, for both Lauren Luke and her agency partners, at a time in the economy when we could all use some retooling.

Luke, a 27-year-old high-school dropout and single mom from the north of England, a sometime taxi dispatcher, is now growing a cosmetics empire (ByLaurenLuke.com) with the help of a sometime ad agency, the New York-based Anomaly — true to its name, it deviates from the norm — acting as her management.

In the past year or so, Luke became a sensation on YouTube in the U.K. In the wake of the Susan Boyle overdose, I wonder if we’re getting weary of that particular phenomenon. The difference with Luke is that she’s 27, a true millennial with a natural aptitude for both makeup and social media. (Luke, unlike Boyle, sports perfectly plucked brows, but more on that later.)

It all happened organically. It’s not like she was a character on a reality show who got famous for, well, being obnoxious and famous (like Lauren Conrad or Heidi Montag and her manager/husband) and then cashed in by starting her own clothing and makeup line. Her story is much more inspiring than that.

She had a child at 16. Leaving the dead-end dispatcher job, she started selling cosmetics on eBay from the computer in her bedroom, in a house she shared with her mother, sister and son in a tiny town. When her customers flooded her with e-mailed questions about how to apply the makeup, she got tired of trying to explain in writing and decided to post a few simple, unedited videos using herself as a model in a sort of how-to on YouTube. (She later told a TV interviewer, “I don’t edit them because I don’t know how.”)

She quickly became the most-subscribed-to YouTuber in the U.K. A natural in front of the camera, she has an engaging way that really connects. She also happens to think like a beauty editor, coming up with clever tutorials about how to achieve various celebrity looks that users would naturally want.

In terms of her own looks, she’s no Lonelygirl15. She admits to being “average size” and says she was bullied in school for being overweight and ugly. (Same with Boyle — what’s going on over in the U.K. school system?)

But Luke’s face makes the perfect palette for her videos — she’s got great bone structure, and with her wide, almond-shaped, greenish-hazel, thickly lidded eyes, she’s a born eye model, if there were such a thing. She’s the only person I know who looks great through a fish-eye lens — when she does her eyes up, she’s got a Sophia Loren allure.

In addition to providing good information, she’s an authentic and sympathetic person who is absolutely honest with her viewers.

When she got tooth veneers (or what she called her “new tooty pegs”), she reported being “over the moon — now I have teeth to smile about.” As she speaks, it sounds like she’s set up next to a heart-lung machine — it’s actually her dog, snoring. Her son also occasionally wanders through in the background. Along the way, Luke also naturally developed a few identifying trademarks-she starts with a “Hia” and ends with a “Zoom, zoom.”

Enter Anomaly, an agency that builds non-traditional brands. (Other projects include a partnership with chef Eric Ripert, who has a show coming out in the fall on PBS.) Last year, one of the Anomaly creatives was cruising YouTube, searching for British pop star Leona Lewis, and Luke popped up, with her tutorial on the “Leona Lewis eye.” It had already gotten 2.5 million views, so it wasn’t exactly brain surgery to try to maximize her talent.