A lot has changed since August 2006, when the first "coming out" video was uploaded to YouTube. But one thing hasn’t changed: these videos are a source of both inspiration and empowerment, not just for creators, but also for the people who watch them. From pop stars and talk show hosts to beauty bloggers and everyday people, 25,000+ creators have already shared their coming-out stories on YouTube.
Coming-out videos serve a different purpose for everyone who watches and creates them. But whether it’s to draw courage from others, let others know they’re not alone, or just to speak one’s truth, what’s inherent in the continued growth of coming-out videos is the power of the story itself.
For many creators, their "coming-out story" video is among the top viewed on their channel overall. So it’s no surprise that these videos get a lot of likes, shares, and comments. But, even after adjusting for views, these videos still receive 3X the engagement compared to other videos on the same channel.
What makes these videos so resonant? What compels people to continue to create, watch, and share them? And what can brands learn from their evolution over time?
It’s not just about coming out. People want the coming-out story
In 2018, people are seeking a richer understanding of the coming-out experience. While early coming-out videos were mostly an opportunity for the creator to simply come out to their followers, more recent coming-out videos have focused on the story — the complexities, the journey, the fears and hopes for the future, and the reactions from loved ones. So it’s no surprise that 6 of the top 10 coming-out videos this year involve reactions from a parent, sibling, or other family member.
This change is reflective of the broader shift in the very notion of coming out. As noted in "Wired," for many, the lived experience of coming out is more of a process than a single moment. They may have to come out many times over to new people they meet. And in a sense, the evolution of coming-out videos has come to reflect this. For many creators, these videos are no longer just a short clip, but one chapter in a longer and more complex conversation with their audience that unfolds over time on their channel.
Coming-out videos are a global phenomenon
The desire for these stories has crossed oceans too. Coming-out videos may have originated in North America, but they have grown into a global phenomenon. Six of the 10 biggest markets for coming-out videos by watch time this year are non-English-speaking countries, and some of the fastest-growing include Argentina (7.3X growth over the past two years), Italy (3.7X), and South Korea (6.8X).
But interest in coming out isn’t just growing in relatively progressive countries such as these. Looking at Google Search data, we see that "coming out" searches are rising most quickly in places where it’s riskier to do so, whether because of cultural biases, deeply held religious beliefs, or legislative barriers. And that’s where the power of story through video can play a role — giving people the words they don’t have, the inspiration they haven’t experienced, and the support they may not otherwise get.
What this means for brands
If coming out is more of a story than a quick exclamation, perhaps that can inform how brands show their support. While being supportive of the LGBTQ community during Pride season is a great start, consider the impact of a sustained effort and commitment over time.
Take for example, Wells Fargo’s Standing Together commitment, which the brand brought to life in a series of videos with stories of strength, courage, and support. Or P&G’s partnership with Great Big Story, a cinematic storytelling company, for The Words Matter: How Individuals Can Affect Change, an unusually honest discussion of the long, and at times, complex path that led the company to include sexual orientation into its diversity policy, becoming among the first in the Fortune 500 to do so.
Choosing to take a stand may not be appropriate for every brand, but we know from listening to people that inclusive advertising matters, particularly for those who self-identify as LGBTQ. But this type of messaging can be broadly appealing too: according to Ipsos, 61% of American teens overall say they feel more favorable towards brands that take a public stance on issues and causes they personally believe in, and over 45% of them say they want to hear more from brands about LGBTQ issues specifically.
Everyone’s coming-out journey is different, but each step along the way matters. By keeping a focus on equality and inclusiveness for the long run — well beyond the calendar days of significance to the LGBTQ community — brands have an opportunity to join the conversation.
Cenk Bulbul is Director of YouTube Ads Marketing where he leads Google’s efforts to inspire and enable media and advertising agencies and lead marketing for YouTube as a B2B Brand.