VidCon 2015: YouTube Celebrity Endorsements

Social Media Celebs Are Eclipsing Traditional Celebs, Because of Access and Authenticity

This past July, like thousands of other vacationers, I headed to Anaheim, California, home of the magical and enchanting Disneyland. However, for me, Disneyland wasn’t my final destination. Instead, mine was the Anaheim Convention Center, home to VidCon 2015.

Generation Y and Z would rather spend time following YouTube stars over traditional celebrities.

For those of you not familiar with VidCon, the name sums it all up: It’s a convention (slash conference) for all things online video. VidCon is the creation of YouTube personalities Hank and John Green, also known as the VlogBrothers. They’ve seen their niche conference grow from 1,400 to almost 20,000 attendees in only six years. And while VidCon is a way for YouTube celebrities to meet with thousands of their fans, something else was going on high upon the third floor of the Anaheim Convention Center. That’s where 2,000 industry leaders met to talk about where online video is headed and how it’s impacting traditional television (and no, I’m not about to predict the death of linear television, but it sure is taking a few punches to the kidneys).

Social Media Stars Are Perceived to Be More Accessible and Authentic

Of these nearly 20,000 VidCon attendees, the vast majority was teenagers (often, with parental chaperone in tow). As it turns out, Generation Y, and to an even greater degree, Generation Z, would rather spend time following YouTube stars over traditional celebrities on social media because they feel these online video creators are more accessible. They feel this way because … well … they are! YouTube celebs share much more of their daily life and communicate much more frequently with their respective communities than their Hollywood counterparts. Variety commissioned a survey of American teens 13 to 18 and discovered that the top five most influential figures in their lives hailed from YouTube — not traditional Hollywood or pop star fame.

Artist Josh Levi at VidCon 2015

Another study conducted by Defy Media found that 62 percent of 13- to 24-year-olds feel better about themselves when they view online video content. Defy Media posed that digital content appeals to Gen X and Y more than TV because it’s “more relatable.” Apparently, the attraction to YouTube celebs extends to endorsements as well. The same study found that 63 percent of respondents would try a product or brand recommended by a YouTube star versus 48 percent recommended by a TV or movie star. When you look at these statistics, it’s no wonder why there were 2,000 industry attendees at VidCon. Online video is more than cute kittens and dancing babies.

63 percent of respondents would try a product or brand recommended by a YouTube star versus 48 percent recommended by a TV or movie star.

However, before you start scouting YouTube for your next brand endorsement, there are a few things you should know.

Aligning Brand and Personality Can Be Hard

First, the reason that YouTube personalities have more cachet with their audience is that they are genuine and usually quite transparent. That’s why their fans trust them so much and respect what they have to say. As soon as a YouTube celeb promotes a product that doesn’t align with their personal brand, their community can spot it a mile away. Not only does this have a negative impact on the brand, but often it can also cause damage to the YouTube celeb — and then they run the risk of losing a huge chunk of their audience. Dominic “D-Trix” Sandoval offered advice to fellow YouTube personalities in a session outlining a successful collaboration with Mountain Dew Kickstart: “Don’t just do it for the check.”

YouTube personalities are typically genuine and usually quite transparent.

Christine Ngo, digital brand manager for PepsiCo, stated that one of the reasons she thought the Mountain Dew Kickstart collaboration was successful is because they turned the creative reins over to D-Trix. Of course, they discussed the salient brand points that needed to be communicated and agreed upon which lines shouldn’t be crossed, but it was up to D-Trix to do his thing … that thing that won him his audience in the first place. Of course, the dynamic that made this a win for both brand and YouTube personality is that D-Trix was a longtime, vocal fan of Mountain Dew (despite no official endorsement deal), so his audience already was familiar with his alignment with the brand. So the second thing a brand should consider is leveraging the talents of the online personalities it’s hiring.

How can every brand ensure this perfect alignment? The simple answer is, they can’t. It’s a bit of risk for both brand and YouTube (or any online video platform) celeb, and that risk increases exponentially for both parties if the alignment is forced. However, the potential risk shouldn’t prevent brands from exploring possible partnerships and endorsements with online video stars. Brands should look for a natural alignment between brand and online video personality (e.g., is there an existing promotion or organic relationship already in existence?). Also, brands should try turning over the majority of the creative control to the YouTube personality — they have millions of subscribers for a reason. As long as they are given plenty of guidance and talking points, any catastrophic results should be avoided.

Of course, this is just a small sample of what was discussed at Vidcon 2015. Look for future articles with more useful facts and advice.

Photos: Shutterstock

Dennis Balgavy

Dennis Balgavy

Dennis Balgavy is a serial career changer: audio recording, product development, marketing communications, IT, research, video production, web development, and writing—and, oh, yeah, there was that time he flipped hamburgers.

Meet Dennis Balgavy