Five tips from YouTube and Vine stars on effective brand collaborations

Children and young adults still favour the gogglebox over other platforms, but in a fragmented media landscape, the TV no longer has their sole attention.

YouTube stars: Fleur DeForce says audiences will spot obvious endorsements
YouTube stars: Fleur DeForce says audiences will spot obvious endorsements

According to Nielsen data, young adults aged between 18 and 24 years old spend almost five hours accessing the web on a desktop PC per week, and around 18 hours watching linear TV.

That means brands are experimenting with new ways to reach this shifting audience, including tapping up the new breed of TV presenter – YouTube stars.

Speaking at the Guardian Changing Media Summit, YouTube star Fleur DeForce and Vine stars Leslie Wai and Huw Samuel gave their tips on the best ways to work with brands.

Collaboration not endorsement

Make-up vlogger Fleur DeForce said the most effective ads come about when brands realise that collaboration is key.

She said: "The best brands I work with come to me with aims and objectives and ask they can fit this into my native content, in a way that my audience will understand and engage with."

That means ceding creative control, and trusting the stars to come up with an original idea that will still fit with a brand.

Ariel King, content strategist at agency Arena UK, said: "You have to be freer when working with them. You  assume that it’s the same as going to a creative agency – but this is their channel, their audiences and they know what works best for them."

It also means providing creative stars with fleshed out briefs and as much information as possible, so their ideas reflect the brand tone of voice.

The audience is smarter than you think

Transparency and authenticity are absolutely key when it comes to working with social media stars, all three speakers agreed.

Given that many are young people looking to turn their popularity into a career, most won’t risk losing their audience because of poorly thought out product placement.

Leslie Wai, who has collaborated with Domino’s Pizza, said: "I have seen some Viners who will snatch at anything for the cash – but the audience knows when it’s an advert."

DeForce added: "You can lose your audience so quickly, and that’s five years of hard work you’ve been building up. So it can mean turning down substantial amounts of money from brands."

Samuel added that viewers will make their displeasure known, by writing ‘#ad’ under a video where a product endorsement is obvious.

That doesn’t mean audiences are against ads, however. DeForce said that she puts the word ‘ad’ into the title of her sponsored YouTube videos, and that audiences have responded well to that transparency. The key is to mark out ads and sponsored content clearly, but keep them in the style of the stars’ usual content.

Don’t ask for exclusivity

While brands can ask that rival products don’t appear within their promoted video, it’s unwise to ask for total exclusivity.  

DeForce says that, as a beauty vlogger, most of her video content revolves around discussing a range of products, so exclusivity isn’t possible.

Arena UK’s Ariel King added: "Sometimes brands assume they can chuck budget at [the creative] and get everything they want, but this is their livelihood."

Create win-win content

The stars said their most effective brand partnerships came about when everyone ‘won’ – the brand, the audience, and the star.

For example, when Huw Samuel partnered with the BBC for The Voice, he spent a day larking about with Tom Jones, and it was "really good fun".

DeFleur added that a partnership with a fashion brand resulted in ‘behind-the-scenes’ content that her audience genuinely loved.

Regulation is coming

Two YouTube stars, Dan and Phil, earned a slap on the wrist recently from the UK’s ad watchdog. The pair teamed up with Oreo on a sponsored video, but failed to make it sufficiently clear that the video was an ad. That’s despite the fact a caption beneath the video read: "Check out the Oreo site for more licking action. Thanks to Oreo for making this video possible!"

The Advertising Standards Authority subsequently called for clearer guidelines on brands working with vloggers, suggesting there are still grey areas.

While most of the focus to date has been on YouTube, the ASA is looking closely at Twitter-owned Vine, which has so far escaped scrutiny.

Huw Samuel said: "At the moment, there is not much policing on Vine, but you do need to use common sense. You do have to be very careful.

"The ASA is looking into Vine, and currently it’s also a case of Twitter trying to come up with their own way to monetise from the creatives."

That suggests that marketers working with Vine stars will eventually have to wrestle with Twitter for control, in much the way Google is increasingly becoming the middleman between YouTube stars and brands.

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