YouTube turns 10: Airbnb, Barclaycard and Jamie Oliver reflect on its impact and future

YouTube is 10 this month. What started as an obscure platform for early adopter UGC has become a media phenomenon, encompassing music, film, TV, journalism, vlogging, advertising, branded content and cat videos. Marketing asked an array of senior brand and agency people how they thought YouTube has shaped marketing.

YouTube at 10: Airbnb, Barclaycard and Jamie Oliver marketers reveal the past and future of the video platform
YouTube at 10: Airbnb, Barclaycard and Jamie Oliver marketers reveal the past and future of the video platform

Jonathan Mildenhall, chief marketing officer, Airbnb

Jonathan Mildenhall

How has YouTube shaped marketing in the last 10 years?

Just 10 years old? It's crazy. I can't imagine a world without YouTube.

First the platform was all about individual expression a way to broadcast yourself to anyone who was interested. Small scale moments and ideas but self expression none the less.

Then came the music industry who, as record sales slumped would focus on video views and their YouTube launches became of greater strategic importance that MTV or radio of old.

Then came the marketers and brands - chasing the millennial target audience because we had all learnt to fish where the fish are and there are plenty of millennial fish in the YouTube sea.

Now YouTube has become an undisputed dominant force in the entertainment industry. The biggest driver of which has been its incredible investment in facilities and top millennial entertainment talent.

I have spent a lot of time at the YouTube Space in LA working with their young talent including YouTube stars like Kirk Hugo Schneider and his posse of incredible music talent.

The creativity of YouTube's talent is among the very best in the world and this is driven by the fact that YouTube invest massively in nurturing and supporting such talent.

For young emerging talent in the entertainment industry YouTube has become like the 21st Century manifestation of the Italian Medici family.

More so than any other media company I know YouTube manages that elusive sweet spot between audience, advertiser and talent perfectly. And what makes the YouTube elixir taste even sweeter is that absolutely anyone can join in the party. Pure media gold.

Nicolas Roope, co-founder and creative partner, Poke

Nicolas Roope

How has YouTube shaped marketing in the last 10 years?

YouTube has performed a number of miracles in its short tenure as the world's most dominant video platform.

First it turned the aimless viral video into ‘content’, then it flipped rubbishy UGC bile into vibrant and compelling content created and consumed by passionate communities across the world.

Then it figured out that hitherto closed videos could connect to anything the Internet could touch (although this is the bit most marketers still don’t really bother with).

Finally it stopped being telly's low-res, spotty underling and has become hyper-targeted and contextual, hi-res and a stronger culture-creating force than the handful of commissioning editors out there deciding what we get to watch on our tellies.

10 years isn't a long time to usurp the old-guard. YouTube has achieved this, even though most are still in denial.

How do you think it will evolve in the next 10 years?

When I look forward to the next 10 years I would caution even using the term ‘video’ because it asserts too many familiar references and limits how far you can see it going. Everything in the whole chain, from the original equipment to the editing, effects, publishing, interactive authoring, as well as the distribution, formatting and, last but not least, prevailing standards and expectations of the receiving audiences, devouring experiences on their plethora of devices.

Think back to 2005. What phone did you have? What did it do? And then think about your phone today. It shoots HD to a quality level a decent director could shoot a decent movie. You've probably got a multitude of ways to treat, publish, share and manage every video you shoot. You don't consider for a second how mad that would have sounded 10 years ago.

So in ten years from now? Amazing quality video with deep interactive potential, incredibly sophisticated but natural sharing and meritocratic networks to recognise and promote quality and interest, nuanced to every taste and desire, enabled by what will be a highly evolved, data-harmonised platform keeping every viewer transfixed.

In 10 years, perhaps advertisers will have finally abandoned getting in the way and will be producing some of the very best content and experiences on offer. There’s a lot to look forward to.

Ben Carter, marketing director, Notonthehighstreet.com

Ben Carter

How has YouTube shaped marketing in the last 10 years?

I think on two different levels. Obviously, content is the buzzword of marketing and brands are struggling to work out their role as content providers. YouTube as a platform has empowered brands to create, host and distribute content, but they’ve got to work out their role - do they want to be broadcasters or push out functional content.

Google talks a lot about YouTube being a hub carrying everyday content, then there’s the big ‘hero’ stuff like Volvo ‘trucks’.

More recently, YouTube has introduced the concept of vloggers, like Zoella, Alfie Deyes and Pixiwoo - names that have come out of nowhere and who have created a sub-economy in their own right.

From our point-of-view as a lifestyle business, we’ve got a huge amount of content - from the stories behind our partners' businesses and the products they make, to our own story. So maximising stories like that, by putting them on YouTube and disseminating them through other channels, helps us demonstrate what our brand is about and is key to our YouTube content strategy.

YouTube has also become the second-biggest search engine after Google and last year we noticed that people were using YouTube to search for gift ideas. So we took the 10 most popular Christmas search queries and created bespoke gift guides. There are numerous opportunities for brands to go out and create their own space.

The other way brands can use YouTube is as a means to launch their above-the-line campaign, and using TrueView as a way of building the reach of your TV advertising.

With YouTube, like a lot of brands, I wouldn’t say we’ve nailed it completely - we’re learning all the time and that lets us try out a lot of stuff, as it’s very inexpensive.

How do you think it will evolve in the next 10 years?

Already TrueView allows users to skip ads, and it’s important that YouTube maintains a balance, ensuring that the user is in control and is not sold to all the time. So there will be more controls and options around whether people want or don’t want to watch ads.

I think the hype and celebrity around vloggers will die down, which will make them not that unique or original. There will still be vloggers, but they will become an established stream in their own right.

But we will continue to see the rise of YouTube stars, not necessarily vloggers but people making entertaining content, which will give brands opportunities to partner with them.

We’ll also see the traditional broadcasters looking at how they can get involved with YouTube. But they will face challenges, as the language and content is very different to what they do with linear TV.

Overall, I think YouTube will become more commercial, and, more emphatically than ever, embody the notion of marketing in the moment.

Richard Herd, head of Food Tube at Jamie Oliver

Richard Herd

How has YouTube shaped marketing in the last 10 years?

When YouTube started, it was much more focused on user-generated-content - cats playing pianos, that sort of thing. But YouTube and Google have spent a lot more money on it and it’s become a much more sophisticated platform.

But it’s important to remember not to treat YouTube as you would a traditional medium. I see many brand channels popping up on YouTube with lots of money pumped in and they immediately lose their authenticity. It’s not TV; so don’t treat it like TV. The successful brand content is always more intimate. People have a passive relationship with their TV, whereas with their smartphone or PC it’s active.

For brands, YouTube is powerful because you’re talking to fans, rather than just consumers. If content is heavily branded, you might get views thanks to a clever video, but you’re not necessarily going to get fans that come back next time.

Another virtue of YouTube, compared to TV, is that you are able to access analytics that give you the age of person watching and where they’re from. That to a marketer is hugely valuable. You can target people who are into say food or motor mechanics and serve them relevant content.

For us, YouTube is all consuming now. Around three of four years ago we started to see a dip in TV audience numbers, with a lot of that audience moving into the digital space. That was what attracted us to YouTube.

Jamie has had a YouTube channel since 2006, when he had about 49,000 subscribers and a couple of million views. But we were lucky enough to get funding form YouTube’s original Partner Programme, so we could invest in our content.

YouTube said at the time that if we got around 100,000 subscribers by the end of that year, we’d be onto a good thing. We put an interactive video out called ‘Slap Jamie’, where people could throw fruit at him; it was exciting because it was so different from telly.

In that video was the message that Food Tube was coming on 21 January. We hit 100,000 subscribers on the night of launch, way ahead of schedule. And since then we’ve continued to grow.

It is difficult and we are still learning every day. It’s slightly cowboy - it’s that authentic dialogue you have online that you don’t have on TV.

Where YouTube differs markedly from TV is that it’s our audience who tells us what to do. Rather than relying on producers, we listen to the audience and trends and react to that. That’s how you win. The world changes so quickly, that the quality and relevancy of more linear TV is only going to come a cropper. It’s such a fast-moving world that you have to keep up, react and stay on top.

TV shows will continue to be shot as long as people watch TV. But a programme takes six months from conception to edit and broadcast and during that time you might have missed huge shifts in trends and people’s opinions.

There’s an immediacy to YouTube that’s attractive as a brand and media owner, although we are much slower than a lot of native YouTubers because we have slightly more layers to go through.

Jamie still has a core audience on TV. But it’s a different Jamie online, slightly more irreverent and a bit more how we see him in the office - bit of an idiot and likes to muck around. In fact, he’s more like the Jamie we saw during ‘The Naked Chef’ back in 1999.

With YouTube, he reacts to the environment and he’ll ask questions of people out of shot, so we’ll spin the camera around. That quality is what people want from Jamie.

How do you think it will evolve in the next 10 years?

YouTube has turned into a platform that has value for brands and is a place to be for advertisers. The worry is that by becoming more established, it loses its ‘club’ feel as a place for the young to be.

Meanwhile, there are so many ways to monetise content and so many rules and regulations surrounding branded content, that I think there will be some hardening and fastening of those rules.

With technology advancing, like 360-degree streaming, 4K and 8K resolutions, multi-screening, YouTube is only going to get better, and we’ll see more amazing ways that people work with it.

There will always be contenders for the crown; but Google and YouTube are so intrinsically linked to searching for content, that they are in a strong place.

Andrew Hogan, head of brand strategy and advertising, Barclaycard

Andrew Hogan

How has YouTube shaped marketing in the last 10 years?

For marketers, there are essentially two ways to use YouTube - as a channel to post content you have created; and paid-for, where it works in a more similar way to traditional TV or other bought media.

Marketers have long talked about word-of-mouth - stimulating conversation about brands has always been a key objective of marketing and advertising. But YouTube puts it on steroids - the water-cooler moment, times 10.

YouTube has also put greater focus on understanding the customer, what motivates them and engages them, and as a result allows brands to develop creative that will inspire and excite the customer.

It has magnified the concept of advertising as an event, enabling that approach to be bigger and more impactful. The obvious example are the John Lewis Christmad campaigns, which without YouTube would be completely different. Another is in sponsorship, with Red Bull. Their stunts - such as Felix Baumgartner’s space jump from a balloon - would probably only have existed with YouTube, and certainly would not have had the same impact without it.

In terms of impact, YouTube has not only given consumers more control, but has given brands themselves the scope for greater control and influence. It’s made it more possible than ever to reach consumers in more direct ways. If you do it right, if you have a concept that’s brilliantly creative, to a large extent you can circumvent traditional media.

How do you think it will evolve in the next 10 years?

One of the areas of growth for brands is to tap into the growing phenomenon of the blogger or vlogger, recruiting them as brand spokespeople. It’s already had a massive impact on traditional PR approaches, but I think it will grow exponentially.

However, I do think that one of the things that is under-exploited is using YouTube as a research tool. I don’t think that marketers yet realise the potential of analysing viewing trends to generate consumer research. YouTube as an insight base hasn’t really been tapped into.

YouTube is currently at something of a crossroads, with audiences defecting from TV, but I think that the more it behaves like a TV channel, the greater the danger it will lose what makes it so fun and vibrant. Both YouTube and the brands it works with need to maintain their grasp on what makes YouTube unique, and continue to embrace the spirit of UGC.

Nils Leonard, chairman and chief creative officer, Grey London

Nils Leonard

How has YouTube shaped marketing in the last 10 years?

The old potent filmic tool of the ‘opening shot’ has always been critical to a great bit of work (see Guinness’s ‘Surfer’ as a case in point). But we need to think more broadly now, to think about the opening five seconds in the battle to win attention anIn a battle to win attention. We’ve learned to play different games to engage people.

When talking about digital, there’s an obsession with hits and YouTube hits, with a lot of people saying it’s a bad thing. It’s not a bad thing. It’s unhealthy for sure, but it’s healthier than chasing awards. From a creative point of view, we feel validated by awards, but hits equal fame, fame sells and it’s redefined success for creatives and shown them the power of fame over the insular nodding of crooked juries.

By the same token, the petri dish of hate and cynicism that is the YouTube comments section has thickened our skins. In a good way. The freedom anonymity has given people to rail at stuff they don’t like has taught the usually vulnerable creative industry to get tough, and also that direct commentary on YoTube isn’t an necessarily an accurate representation of whether something works or is good.

Also, we have new rivals. Previously, most the industry was obsessed about other television ads, going toe to toe with other agencies in the ‘my tv ad is best’ game. Now we are fighting music videos, remarkable tutorials, grumpy cats and short films for the attention spans of our audience.

To win, we’ve liberated ourselves (well, some of us) from the tired old TV formats and classic gags in order to make dents in culture. Thank you, YouTube. You have been a stage upon which all this change has occurred and our industry is a more open, competitive and creative space because you exist.

How do you think it will evolve in the next 10 years?

Everyone is talking about user experience, or ‘UX’. You’ll see greater levels of interactivity and ‘open eds’ appear in YouTube and online films in general. You’ll see the UX of brands spread in these environments, like in David Guetta’s dual screen video.

The idea of dual wielding screens raises an interesting point. Everyone thinks people view YouTube on their phones, and many do. But the truth is that people also have an iPad and a laptop next to their phone. You’ll see YouTube start to encompass multiscreen more in online film.

Peter Markey, chief marketing officer, Post Office

Peter Markey

How has YouTube shaped marketing in the last 10 years?

YouTube is a global phenomenon. It’s become the go-to destination for so much content - from movie trailers to music videos, to cats falling off fences and more. Its become the battleground for brands to showcase their ads and even the making of their ads, as well as for content to help them better connect with their customers - from cooking with Waitrose to how to fit your loft insulation from Direct Line.

The numbers of views are staggering and no other platform comes close. It’s taken on and challenged more ‘traditional' media with some audiences relying on it more than traditional channels like TV for their content. My 14 year old son watches more YouTube than TV - an interesting and thought-provoking challenge for today’s marketer.

In short, it has opened the door to a world of greater closeness between brand and consumer. YouTube feels like it’s far more personal than other media like TV. The customer is choosing to watch your content and commenting on it.

The most engaging content is viewed and the poor content is left alone – it’s a battle ground for the greatest consumer engagement. This has forced marketers to raise their game and think more heavily about how to engage customers. Gone are the days of lazy ‘making of’ behind-the-scenes-of-the-advert films and in their place are richer, more interesting pieces of content.

How do you think it will evolve in the next 10 years?

Its challenge as a platform is its commerciality and its application. Is it essential to the marketing mix or just ‘nice to have’? And, can it truly work for all sectors? - fine I want to watch the new ‘Avengers’ movie trailer but do I really want to watch a 20 minute video on fitting loft insulation?

In short, it’s missing some hero case studies of how its use as a platform has generated the strong ROI that makes it the essential part of the mix.

Its other challenge is the part it plays in the channel mix - YouTube is still not seen as the real challenger of the likes of TV. The best examples I have seen are when YouTube works as a companion channel to others, not as a standalone. This is a real challenge if YouTube want to take more spend away from traditional channels.

In the next 10 years, YouTube must be seen to be a go-to platform and destination and one worthy of taking more vital marketing spend away from more traditional channels. As a platform, I see it strengthening its relationship with brands and further pushing the boundaries on content.

Customer engagement is key, so I see a far more immersive, real time experience in the future connecting brands and customers alike.

Simon McEvoy, planning director, Jam

Simon McEvoy

How has YouTube shaped marketing in the last 10 years?

The cultural impact of YouTube has been immense. If I had told you 10 years ago that teenagers spilling their hearts to a camera would be cultivating a bigger audience than ‘Coronation Street’, or that a cat falling off a roof would be considered the highest form of entertainment you would have naturally been sceptical. But yet here we are.

Arguably, the main impact that YouTube has had on brands has been that their customers are now a bigger threat to them than their competitors are. As evidence, there are no FMCG brands in the top 200 most-subscribed YouTube channels. People are typically more original than brands, better at creating authentic content and have licence to say what they think. It’s tough for brands to compete for share of voice in a ludicrously cluttered online space unless they have a very clear voice and purpose.

More than ever brands have to become culturally relevant to both fit in, and stand out. YouTube is a platform where content that draws the viewer in and is worth sharing always wins. Even the paid ad products give the viewer control to skip. Adding real value to cultures is the key to modern marketing, particularly as the next generation sees traditional linear TV as a diminishing part of their lives.

How do you think it will evolve in the next 10 years?

I think the next few years are going to see YouTube really start to experiment with their business model. The much mooted subscription services are due to arrive soon, with the ambition to start turning advertising eyeballs into paying customers. A grand ambition, but one which is far from trivial to do, particularly when the customer is used to paying nothing (as the likes of Spotify have found).

Whilst I think they will continue to invest in home-grown stars like Zoella, I believe we’ll also see them invest in bigger budget content to try and make a grab for big TV ad revenues. They will be looking at the success of House of Cards on Netflix enviably as the benchmark for how to do this well. Whilst this could pay huge dividends it could also risk losing the faith of YouTube content creators, who are already looking to new platforms like Patreon and Vessel as ways of monetising their content more profitably.

Of course, a big factor in their long term health is how they deal with threats. The logical thing to do would be to buy up serious competitors as Facebook have done with Instagram and Whatsapp.

However they were way too slow off the mark to realise the threat from online streaming service Twitch and let it slip into the hands of Amazon. They’ll have to be much more decisive next time to maintain their position as the home of online video for another ten years.