Why Zoella’s £50 advent calendar is so controversial

If you’re struggling to do the maths on this one, you’re not alone.

Sign Up

Get the New Statesman's Morning Call email.

Celebrity beauty YouTuber Zoella has put her name to a long and ever-expanding list of products: everything from make-up to bath salts to candles to stationary to jumpers to socks. Basically, if you’ve seen something in her videos and wanted it, you can now buy a version of it with her name on it. Now, in the Year of Our Lord 2017, as part of her Zoella Lifestyle range, she’s released a Boots Zoella 12 Days of Christmas Advent Calendar.

Here are the facts about that calendar. It costs £50. It contains 12 doors. The 12 gifts, in order, are:

  1. a bauble
  2. a little packet of “Make a Wish” confetti
  3. a star-shaped cookie cutter
  4. a packet of seven (7) stickers
  5. a make-up bag/pencil case
  6. a “Festive Cookie” candle (130g)
  7. a mini bottle of “Christmas Clementine” room spray
  8. a pen
  9. a fluffy key ring
  10. a second, this time gingerbread man-shaped cookie cutter
  11. a mini notepad
  12. a “Cozy Christmas” candle (130g)

If you’re struggling to do the maths on that, you’re not alone. Vlogger JaackMaate quite literally destroyed the calendar in his review, which included him sniffing the candles and claiming “you really can smell the exploitation of young children”. Journalist Mollie Goodfellow has spent the past week tweeting about the injustice of “A £50 advent calendar?? That only lasts 12 days?? In this economy??”

The reviews on the Boots website are less than positive.

Several tabloids have written outraged pieces on the calendar. And 18-year-old YouTuber Yasmine Summan calculated the cost of the calender’s 12 items if they were bought from Amazon or Primark, and found you could get them for roughly £21.57.

Of course, the most successful beauty advent calendars come from big-name brands, ones that sell expensive, luxury products you could obviously find much cheaper elsewhere. The Diptyque calendar sells for £300 and contains a mixture of mini candles and perfumes, while Liberty sells out of its £150 advent calendar year after year. The model behind these calendars, though, is that they give you a good deal on expensive branded products: the £150 Liberty Beauty Calendar claims its products have a combined retail value of over £500.

It’s hard to calculate the exact cumulative cost of the Zoella products in this calendar, as many aren’t sold separately. The two Zoella candles would cost you £12.50 each, adding up to half the cost of the entire calendar. A similar Zoella make-up purse or pencil case costs £6. A similar notepad can be bought in a larger stationary set (£12.50), or in a two pack for £10 (reduced to £6). That would take us to around £35. None of the other items are on sale separately.

But perhaps the main reason for the outrage is that Zoella products are mainly marketed towards children, while other comparable advent calendars aren’t. “It’s just plain and simple manipulation of impressionable, young followers to spend a ridiculous amount of money,” says the writer Leanne Woodfull.

If I’m honest, I’d argue the real rip-off was when we all used to happily spend money on advent calendars that had nothing but a PICTURE behind the door. But in 2017, I think I’ll stick with Cadbury.

Anna Leszkiewicz is the New Statesman's deputy culture editor.