#ThrowbackThursday: Brands + (Me+YouTube)

Vloggers - your best friends on the Internet

Some of my personal favorite vloggers, from left to right: comedic danisnotonfire, lifestyle/beauty guru Zoella, and gamer PewDiePie

Some of my personal favorite vloggers, from left to right: comedic danisnotonfire, lifestyle/beauty guru Zoella, and gamer PewDiePie

This is a post I wrote as part of the blogging assignment in the Social Media Strategy and Tactics class I took during my last semester at American University. It was one of my favorite classes, taught by one of my favorite professors, Scott Talan.

In this October 31, 2013 post, I attempt to informatively gush about one of my favorite online social platforms, YouTube, and how video bloggers, or "vloggers," are being tapped by marketers for their influence and audiences.

YouTube used to be a place where I would go to look up music videos or watch a stupid video that a friend recommended. Now, it has become much more for me and for others in the growing YouTube community.

Now, YouTube is a site I visit everyday. Ever since I curiously watched a video of British vlogger Dan Howell (aka danisnotonfire) talk about the reasons why he is an “awful human being” that a friend had posted on her blog, I became enthralled in the vlogger phenomenon that has been fostered by the YouTube platform. Through spending almost three hours engrossed in the task of watching every single video posted to the danisnotonfire channel, I found other YouTubers who posted similar types of content. I aggregated such a collection of favorite channels and YouTube personalities that I finally gave in and made a YouTube account to keep track of content. I found myself becoming “attached” to these YouTube personalities, eager to see what they would do or talk about in their next upload, liking the way they told stories, gave advice, or just ranted about relatable things through the respective style of their videos. YouTube has become another form of television-like entertainment for me, but with content that comes from a more relatable place.

Vloggers have become so influential that most have made creating YouTube videos a full-time paying career that warrants an agent, live show tours, and attendance to events alongside more traditional celebrity guests. The connections that vloggers make with their viewers (or more so fans) are important ones, as seen in the premise of the documentary that is to be released, Vlogumentary. The documentary makes the point that viewers become “invested” in the content and the creator, making these content creators a trusted source for viewers for everything from entertainment to life advice. Watching snippets of the lives of these vloggers on a frequent basis, seeing glimpses into the things they do with friends on Twitter and Instagram makes a viewer feel like he/she knows these YouTubers on a personal level, perhaps much more than they could feel attached to a traditional television/film celebrity.

It is also no wonder that several online video conventions have been established to bring together content creators, industry members, and viewers. I recently attended such a convention, VidCon in Anaheim, California, this past summer (with the same friend that introduced me to the “YouTube world”) and was able to meet some of my favorite YouTubers and hear them talk about what they do.

Me with YouTubers Dan Howell and Phil Lester at VidCon 2013

Me with YouTubers Dan Howell and Phil Lester at VidCon 2013

So how is the popularity of YouTubers important? Well, if we’re talking brands in need of more social media marketing tools, there you go. YouTube personalities offer a new frame of endorsement, allowing brands to reach the new generation of consumers who find their entertainment online and have created emotional links with vlogger personalities and their content.

A brand that I think has utilized YouTubers for their marketing in an effective way is the UK branch of Kellogg’s. In efforts to advertise its Krave cereal and a related sweepstakes promotion involving a chance to win a pair of tickets to a popular British amusement park, it circulated the “Krave Challenge," similar to the challenge tagging trend on YouTube in which one YouTuber “tags” another YouTuber to make a similar video so the challenge is replicated in multiple videos. Each Krave Challenge was tailored for each YouTuber and asked the vlogger to complete a task that involved the cereal and various items in a box the vlogger received. At the end of the video, the YouTuber explained the Krave-sponsored contest viewers could enter through Twitter and disclosed that the video was funded by Kellogg’s Krave Cereal in the description box of the YouTube video.

Several popular British YouTubers participated in the challenge, including danisnotonfire, who, for the challenge, tried catching pieces of Krave cereal in his mouth that were shot at him with a slingshot, while he wore a dinosaur costume (a nod to his calling his viewers “Danosaurs”). His video has reached over a million and a half views.

Other British YouTubers whom I follow that also participated in the Krave Challenge campaign are AmazingPhil, who had to eat the cereal confined in a lion costume (over 800 thousand views), and JacksGap, who had to create a Rube Goldberg machine that serves cereal (over 1.5 million views).

This tactic not only resulted in a plug for the brand and sweepstakes in each YouTuber’s video that reached a large portion of the target audience, but it also created fitting entertaining content for the YouTubers’ channel, therefore using the platform productively.

More recently, UK confectionary brand Cadbury did its own version of a YouTube tactic by recruiting British YouTubers Marcus Butler and Alfie Deyes to put each other up to challenges to see what “gives them joy” and, of course, eating a Cadbury chocolate bar was featured as the last task in each of their videos.

Through YouTube, vloggers have become a new influencer group that brands can tap into in order to reach a younger, more Internet social audience that now look to Internet personalities for relatable entertainment. In the future, YouTube viewers may see more brand plugs and sponsored content in the videos their favorite YouTube personalities put up on their channels.

UPDATE: My YouTube watching dwindled a bit for a couple months as I became busy with work and had my boyfriend visit, but these vloggers are still amassing millions of views on each of their videos and millions of followers across their social media accounts. Just recently, slowly but surely, I have gotten back into YouTube watching, but I imagine catching up on four months worth of video content from a few dozen vloggers isn't going to happen over night, especially since some content creators upload videos daily. During my absence, a lot has happened in the vlogosphere from what I've gathered from browsing Twitter and Instagram, in lieu of watching videos. Some vloggers have published books and launched their own product lines. A dozen brand partnerships probably popped up in some of the videos I still need to watch.

More recently, three YouTube stars interviewed President Obama about his State of the Union address which was live streamed via the White House's official YouTube channel, in an attempt by the White House to reach the online millennial audience. The YouTubers discussed topics like healthcare and education to cybersecurity and international policy - issues that resonated with them personally and with their fans. Oh, and of course the interview session ended with a YouTuber/President selfie.

I think President Obama's team was smart in which YouTubers it chose to interview the head of state - each YouTuber's audience corresponds to different parts of the diverse YouTube community. Hank Green appeals to the bookish types, GloZell Green appeals to the comedic types, and Bethany Mota appeals to the beauty/lifestyle types, generally speaking.

How effective the live stream was is a different story. Each of the YouTubers included in the event have MILLIONS of followers across YouTube and Twitter, yet veiwership of the live-streamed interview with the President reached only 86,000. (The video of the stream is up on the White House's YouTube channel and now has over 3 million views - was it more convenient for people to time shift this content?) Furthermore, the live chat feed featured next to the interview stream was littered with emojis and irrelevant comments. But, engagement was seen on Twitter with thousands using the "YouTubeAsksObama" hashtag and showing support for the YouTubers.

Perhaps the low viewer count was attributed to the format of the event. President Obama sat down with each YouTube star on a makeshift set decorated by the YouTuber with personal items that reflected the premise of his/her channel to mimic the backdrops they use when filming content in their own space (which is usually in their homes/bedroom). This carried over elements that regular viewers are familiar with when watching content on these YouTubers' channels, keeping that personal connection conscious. The interview style did seem too stiff and formal for the platform and audience. I understand a really important person is being interviewed and the subjects being discussed are serious, but a part of being successful in reaching certain audiences is to be relatable and adjust to fit the medium - "the medium is the message" is something I have learned. Structuring the Q&As like popular YouTube challenge tags, making it some sort of playful game for at least picking which question President Obama was going to answer next, would have hooked the audience in to really listen and digest the President's answers.

Bethany Mota and President Obama discuss education

Bethany Mota and President Obama discuss education

The White House, in keeping with the precedent of presidents tapping into the contemporary technologies of their respective terms, had the right idea in trying to encourage a younger audience to stay up to date with politics and current issues, especially issues that are or eventually will affect the target audience. When talking with Mota, Obama made the point that sometimes young people are turned off from the realm of politics and current issues because of seeing all the arguing that goes on during a political news show. He also made the point that it's important for young people to have their voices heard in relation to certain issues that are salient to younger generations. He compared this to going out to the movies with friends and deciding which movie to see - arguments must be made for all sides and compromises may have to be reached, but above all, you must express your own views to make a difference and have an impact.

What the interview stream did do was further legitimize YouTube as a viable media platform. Not only do young audiences flock to the video hosting social network for entertainment (more so than they do to traditional outlets, like television, nowadays), but also for news and advice from peers and people they see as role models. So again, you can see how bringing the President and these online influencers together would bring younger Americans closer to current political issues and events.

Now excuse me while I dedicate the rest of my night to binge-watching Zoella videos.

The YouTube viewer cozying up with a laptop and a few freshly-baked cookies,

#ThrowbackThursday on Bria's Slice of Cake nostalgically dwells on past events that deserve some reminiscing or resurrects material I've written for previous purposes and now wish to share again with a bit of an update on the subject. Think of it like a nice catch up over afternoon tea or a really thoughtful regift.