Video Vanguards: Marketing With the Web’s Elite Entertainers

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Article ImageNumbers rarely tell the story, but sometimes, they can go a long way. Such is the case with the growth of YouTube as a branding platform, targeted advertising medium, and vehicle to reach consumers, especially younger ones.

It's no longer just the home of cute cat videos and footage of an 8-year-old's first soccer goal; YouTube is a huge force in social media. Here's a snapshot of the company's imposing reach:

  • YouTube is the second largest search ?engine after Google, its parent company.
  • More than 300 hours of content are ?uploaded to YouTube every minute.
  • The number of YouTube hours watched ?each month is up 50% year over year.
  • Three YouTubers interviewed President Barack ?Obama after his 2015 State of the Union speech.

Popular YouTube stars--known as influencers or creators--are every bit as popular and influential as Jennifer Lawrence and Jon Stewart. With the younger crowd, they hold a considerable amount of sway.

Is It Video's Time?

According to the experts, YouTube's time has arrived as a serious advertising and marketing platform. "It's become the behemoth that you have to acknowledge," says Brendan Gahan, founder of EpicSignal. "The type of conversations that we're having with brands now have shifted from, ‘Oh, I want to do a video' to, ‘I want to create a community.' They're thinking about building up their subscriber base and thinking strategically about the content they're creating."

One company that helps businesses find and engage with creators has experienced a similar epiphany. "I've been doing this for 2 1/2 years, and just in the last 6 months, there's been a groundswell of demand," says Jonathan Davids, founder and CEO of Influicity. "I was recently at one of the big broadcasters who's looking to get into this world. We're finding that the demand is really pull side. We're not having to do a lot of hard selling, and the rationale is very simple: More and more eyeballs are moving to these services."

Asked what changed in the past year or so to make businesses take YouTube and its creators seriously, Gahan cited Disney's 2014 acquisition of Maker Studios for almost $1 billion. Maker was started by a group of YouTube creators to build a one-stop shop for entertaining videos on YouTube. The company, which is one of many multichannel networks on YouTube, says it is the largest content network on the platform.

"Maker being bought by Disney kind of shed a light on the industry, almost kind of blessed it and gave it a lot more credibility," Gahan says. "Whereas before, I don't think people were not necessarily willing to take a risk on the platform."

Another factor is that video is now ubiquitous on social networks. "The new social networks-Vine and Snapchat-are grounded in video, and all of the existing social networks are really focusing on their video features," says Gahan. "Twitter video just launched, Instagram has video, and Facebook is doing their big video push. Parallel to that, video is so accessible. Everyone is just using it as a de facto form of communication now."

And it's not just longer-form video that has grabbed many brands' attention. Vine, the Twitter-owned home of 6-second videos, is riding YouTube's coattails. "By the time Vine became popular, brands were smart to keep an eye out for popular Vine stars and work with them in the same way they did with YouTubers," Gahan says. "As a result, advertisers have really jumped onto the Vine bandwagon."

YouTubers = Business

"YouTube really proved the digital-influencer model," Gahan says. "It was an uphill battle in the early days to convince brands to collaborate with YouTube creators, but over time, it gained acceptance."

Brands and agencies should have asked teens, as they were already there and didn't need to be told that YouTubers are at least on par with TV and movie stars. A 2014 Variety study found that six of the top 10 most influential figures among teens were YouTubers, with the video network sweeping the top five. Jennifer Lawrence came in seventh.

It's not surprising businesses are flocking to YouTubers and Viners to reach this market, but the non-traditional stars are also enormously popular with the coveted age 18-34 demographic. Many YouTubers have massive audiences-tens of millions of people-so it pays for brands to team up with them.

"The efficiencies from a brand point of view are just exponential," Gahan says. "One person is talent, production, and distribution. To reach the same amount of people, you'd have to get a creative agency, get the storyboards, pay hundreds of thousands of dollars in production, and buy air time on TV. To reach the same audience, you could spend 100x without trying too hard and not get nearly the same result."

The younger, digital audience is looking for something more than a traditional TV commercial, says Rob Ciampa, CMO at Pixability. "They're looking for something like an experience that they can relate to, and that's what ties them to the brand these days."

Even though YouTube is hugely popular with teens and tweens, those age 18-34 are also finding plenty of creators to stay entertained, Gahan says, including comedian Philip DeFranco and thrill-seeker Devin Graham (YouTube handle: devinsupertramp). "I'd argue that they're more influential among that set than The Daily Show, which is what people think of when you want to reach 18-34 year olds," he says.

Adults age 35 and older aren't left out of the YouTube channel explosion, as there are more than 2 million channels with at least 50,000 subscribers, Gahan says. Brands and agencies can tap one of these niche channel experts to represent their product or service.

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