It’s fair to say that the past six years have been a transformative period for the LADbible Group. The company has gone from a single Facebook page to become the world’s largest social media publisher with a combined audience of more than 120 million people globally.
The group currently boasts 20 brands spanning food and sport to gaming, entertainment and gossip, which together clock up 5.2 billion video views and 207 million page views each month.
LADbible’s ambitions, however, do not stop there. The company purchased rival Unilad in October, which collapsed into administration with debts of £6.5m, including £1.5m owed to the UK tax authorities. Speaking at the time, LADbible described the acquisition as transforming the media landscape worldwide and creating a “youth media brand to be reckoned with”.
LADbible’s head of marketing Lizzie Barclay describes the two platforms as complementary and says the acquisition gives her confidence the group will “reach new heights” in 2019, but she is unwilling to go into details about the role Unilad will play in the wider business as plans are still in the early stages.
Our initial focus was to change the behaviour of those who do not feel comfortable talking about their mental health.
Solly Solomou, LADbible
Over the past couple of years LADbible has shifted its positioning to promote social good and raise awareness of the causes that matter to its core demographic of 18- to 34-year-olds . In 2019, the focus will be on using the brand to bring about everyday social empowerment for young people, moving from awareness to action.
“We want to be authentic. We want to continue to have a fun tone of voice, but we just want to talk to young people about the topics that matter to them so they can make well-informed life decisions,” Barclay states.
The strategy around which issues to pursue is based entirely on feedback from the LADbible community. Solly Solomou, company founder and CEO, explains that whereas in the past there was a “data world” and a “creative world”, which stayed firmly in their own lanes, today things have changed.
“We are in an era where these two worlds have come together. We asked our audience what they care about and mental health, politics and damage to the environment were the three topics that stood out. This data informed the creative that we moved forward with and the campaigns we created,” he states.
Three campaigns have shaped the LADbible content over the past year, the mental health-focused ‘UOKM8?’, ‘Trash Isles’, which took a stand against single-use plastic, and ‘Extinct’, which addressed the crisis facing endangered animals.
The first iteration of UOKM8, which launched in 2016, focused on raising awareness of male mental health. The second wave of activity featured ‘First Steps’, a video series starring mental health activist Hussain Manawer, which addressed topics such as how to help a friend deal with loss or ask for help. To date the campaign has reached more than 35 million people and it will continue to be a cornerstone of LADbible’s content in 2019.
Going into 2019, the focus will be on taking action and equipping the youth audience with practical support to improve their mental health.
“Our initial focus was to change the behaviour of those who do not feel comfortable talking about their mental health. We feel this starts from the environment people are surrounded by. So changing that by making it something that is accepted in discussions among your friends was our first mission and the mission we will continue to work on,” Solomou explains.
“Building on this we are now also working on making tools more accessible that people can use to help manage their mental health.”
LADbible is continually looking at new ways to amplify this message and create a bigger offline audience for its social movement. The publisher is keen to work with brands on the “cusp” of connecting with issues around mental health and the environment, says Solomou, but which also show a passion to capture “the post TV/print generations”.
Current partners include fast fashion online retailer Boohoo Man, which has teamed up with LADbible on a limited edition UOKM8? T-shirt, the proceeds of which go to the campaign’s charity partner Mind. Yorkshire Tea has also created a limited edition branded box of UOKM8? tea, encouraging mates to get together and talk over a cuppa.
While the focus first and foremost is to land its everyday social empowerment message and leverage the platform’s strength in social-first content, Barclay explains that LADbible would not rule out experimenting more in the offline world as it wants to engage with young people on multiple levels.
She stresses that providing entertaining content is the core principle for LADbible, whether it is creating a viral video or a presentation for brands.
A video starring former footballer Jimmy Bullard, created in collaboration between LADbible and pizza chain Domino’s, became the most viewed branded social video during the 2018 World Cup, generating more engagement than official FIFA-sponsored content.
We want to continue to have a fun tone of voice, but we just want to talk to young people about the topics that matter to them so they can make well-informed life decisions.
Lizzie Barclay, LADbible
Keen that none of its campaigns, branded or purpose-led, are just a “flash in the pan” LADbible prefers to start what it describes as a “positive conversation” and then open up the floor to its community, rather than shoehorning its opinion into the discussion.
Going forward the focus of the campaigns will likely extend into other areas that impact on mental health, from careers and credit ratings to what type of debt is sensible to take on.
The environment will also continue to be a hot topic, building on its Trash Isles campaign over the past year. In industry circles the campaign caused a splash, scooping eight awards at the Cannes Lions Festival of Creativity in June, including two Grand Prix gongs, alongside the PR and Brand Storytelling Award at the Marketing Week Masters in October.
“For the company it felt like a fantastic validation that the creative industry believes and cares about what we’re doing,” says Barclay. “We have huge credibility to play in that creative space and make a difference, create a genuine social movement and raise awareness around single-use plastic. The whole company was chuffed to bits.”
LADbible’s focus on social good has enabled the publisher, once famed for comedy gifs and viral videos, to carve out a position as a credible campaigner with a clear purpose, which looks set to define its content strategy into 2019 and beyond.