YouTube stars coming to the fore in branded content

Brands have long turned to so-called YouTube stars hoping to be handed a formula for viral success only to be frustrated in their search. Kellogg’s, Chevrolet and Cadbury are among a small group of brands now going a step further and co-creating content with the platform’s top talent in a bid to access millions of potential advocates for the budget of Beyonce’s hair products.

User-generated content used to be a dirty piece of video created in someone’s bedroom. The transformation of YouTube into a mainstream media channel has shifted this perception and advertisers are realising that fans have a deeper connection to their favourite video star than they do with the likes of Justin Timberlake.

This growing influence has instilled confidence in brands searching for cost-effective ways to accelerate their content marketing strategies. Where marketers were once reluctant to fully back video stars for fear of relinquishing control of their brands, now they are treating them as celebrity ambassadors in their own right.

Chevrolet is planning to cultivate a group of video stars that will allow it to drive traffic to its online YouTube channel rather than TV. It comes after the brand hailed its partnership with four YouTube producers to launch its latest Capitva SUV. The car marque says the tie-ups made it realise it needs to “give up control” and find “new ways of communication” if it wants to expand the brand internationally.

ViJay Iyer, director communications for Chevrolet and Cadillac Europe, says: “We have been closely working with Google and YouTube on campaigns for the past years, for instance our Chevrolet Sonic “Sonic’s First” launch campaign in the US featuring YouTube content creators such as Rob Dyrdek and OKGo. So we’ve already captured a lot of learning’s and best practices which we are leveraging for future campaigns.”

Elsewhere, Kellogg’s is looking to integrate vloggers further into the brand building activity it does on social media across its portfolio following the success of its latest Krave campaign. The cereal maker is reviewing the activity, created in partnership with Carat, which saw it ask video stars to produce their own branded Krave videos. Early results reveal the campaign had a significant uplift on sentiment for the brand.

Philip Hughes, an associate who specialises in media brands and technology at commercial law firm Lewis Silkin, says brands working with video stars are now benefiting from the lack of focus from regulators on this particular area.

Hughes says: “This form of content, be it by product placement or branded content, is so powerful because it doesn’t look like advertising and it is distributed to the talent’s own existing audience, which is something that may start to concern regulators like the ASA or ATVOD as the market develops.”

“These stars are starting to demonstrate that as well as building brands they can actually shift products as well. As they become more influential, the stars will create their own channels beyond YouTube and start to move into other verticals like radio – which will create the potential for further commercial opportunities.”

Cadbury is working with comedian and YouTube star Vikki Stone as part of a £6m push for its Crispello chocolate bar. Stone has been turning the nation’s cheeky stories into material for her stand-up gigs and short films for the brand.

YouTube says the shift signals advertisers’ move away from the “world of the hard to make viral success” into one where brands can collaborate with influencers and take some of the “luck out of these content campaigns”.

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