PewDiePie: responsible in part for the growth of viewers on YouTube
PewDiePie: responsible in part for the growth of viewers on YouTube
A view from Richard Herd

What PewDiePie and Katy Perry can teach brands about success on YouTube

YouTube stars like PewDiePie, stampylonghead and TheDiamondMinecart are responsible for helping the platform reach 1bn viewers a month. Richard Herd, network manager, Fresh One TV...

The growth in YouTube viewing was mainly driven by an 80.5% rise in the view count for the Top 100 YouTube channels. This YouTube elite attracted an accumulated 9.46bn views in July, up from 5.24bn in July 2013, according to a report from Tubefilter/OpenSlate.

Big players

It’s a top 100 dominated by entertainment (gaming, film and music channels with the odd celebrity thrown in). So you’ll see Swedish video gamer PewDiePie at number one, rubbing shoulders with the likes of Katy Perry, Calvin Harris, and World Wrestling Entertainment. All have something in common: their audience is a battalion of tablet wielding 13- to-17-year-olds watching bite-sized chunks of content in their bedrooms and on the move.

This growth should interest brands because it’s hurting TV audiences. The X Factor, for instance, is still massive but attracts smaller audiences than three years ago. Partly because younger viewers are turning to YouTube and other video sites for their content.

New lessons

When PewDiePie tells his 30m subscribers that a video game is great or awful then it carries a lot of influence. And these YouTubers are managed well. They will agree to occasional endorsements but they don’t overly commercialise their actual video content.

This points to new lessons for brands. That you need to talk differently to the YouTube audience, who are all about sharing and want to feel part of a club. In fact, they are less an audience than a fan base and should be treated as such.

Avoiding the cheesy grins to cameras and adopting a soft and gentle integration of products into their content would be a good starting point for brands.

Avoiding cheesy grins to camera and adopting a soft and gentle integration of products into their content would be a good starting point for brands

Traditional media rules go out of the window because much of this YouTube content takes the form of targeted two or three-minute video. Lumping a pre-roll 30-second TV commercial, even if it cost £2m, ahead of this won’t work. Ratio of content is important, lots of three to four-second bumpers combined with product placement is a good model because the YouTube audience understands that it helps pay for their content without destroying its authenticity.

Endorsements can work when they are sufficiently relevant. Let’s imagine that the Pixiewoo makeup channel raves about the new Mac makeup brush. The likely result? A run on sales in Boots and on Amazon.

Evolution of reach

YouTube has attempted to extend its channel content model beyond the millennials audience. We launched Jamie Oliver’s Food Tube as part of the move by YouTube in early 2013 to convert a more traditional audience to the YouTube platform by investing $100m in its partner programme.

We learnt important lessons from the pre-existing channels. Most importantly that Jamie shouldn’t simply repeat what he does on TV on the YouTube channel. We changed our style towards more of a Q&A, interactive, approach and began using channels such as Instagram to take this further. Brands can learn from this approach. That it’s about being less passive with the viewers and interacting with them.