Last week’s YouTube’s flagship event of the year - Brandcast UK - was, as expected, a head-spinning, glamorous affair. And it was an effective reminder of YouTube’s power as an advertising platform as industry luminaries reeled off some astonishing results.
When Jack Whitehall wasn’t sharing details of his new, Fulwell-73-produced YouTube show,Training Days, Humza Arshad - one of YouTube’s Creators for Change - talked about using satirical comedy to dissuade young people from extremism and content producer Andy Taylor shared the story of his content studio, Little Dot.
Then AMV BBDO’s group chairman and chief executive Dame Cilla Snowball revealed that before #LikeaGirl, just 30% of girls thought it was a positive phrase while now 70% do – perhaps the most powerful stat.
Yet, despite all its unquestionable success and brilliant theatre, this year’s Brandcast made its own headlines.
Shortly after, The Times suggested that big brands’ campaigns placed alongside content featuring children were being commented on by paedophiles. Then Adidas, Mars, Diageo, Lidl and more promptly decided to pull live campaigns - despite Google’s managing director Ronan Harris offering reassurance that the company was working urgently to resolve the problem when he spoke at Brandcast UK just hours before.
I am in no doubt that YouTube is working around the clock to sort out this very serious issue. Google has made no secret of the fact that it is investing in machine learning to take down problematic YouTube content and is now hiring more human moderators. But I hope that the information and stories coming from the stage will not be lost in the furore.
Why? Because YouTube is an incredibly - and, increasingly - effective platform for brands, and it has the potential to influence across the whole purchase journey.
Since launching on February 14 2005, YouTube has become a major player, having guided a generation through various milestones. It has evolved with that audience as tastes changed and funny animals made way for make-up tutorials - 57 million views for a Barbie make-up tutorial, for goodness sake - music and comedy. And its influence will only increase as its enraptured audience matures.
Engagement is high, which is critical in the priming stage of any purchase journey. According to Harris, the average millennial watches YouTube at least once a day - mostly on mobile, but 15% now watch it on TV. Daily "watch time" of YouTube in the UK is now 55 minutes for 18-34 year-olds and has hit 60 minutes for 18-24 year-olds.
YouTube viewers are driven by intention and give attention that no other commercial channel can match. This is key as millennials are the decision-makers, brand holders and CEOs of the future. But it is why millennials love YouTube that is crucial. Millennials seek authenticity and interaction. That’s what YouTube stars give them, 24/7, and, by doing so, they build trust.
YouTube stars shape culture - setting trends, inventing words, making products popular. They drive engagement - replying to comments, chatting on social media and getting into discussions. Which is why videos created by the top 25 YouTube stars yield three times more views, 12 times more comments, and two times more actions (thumbs ups, shares, and so on) than traditional celebs, Google figures show.
YouTube’s innovation is strong and dynamic, too. Investment in its own content – such as Jack Whitehall’s Training Days which will be the first in a series of YouTube Originals - is an important step forward, providing a new and powerful engagement tool.
The impact of all this for brands is significant. Sixty per cent of YouTube subscribers say they would choose a product recommended by their favourite YouTube star, over a mainstream celebrity – proof, if it’s still needed, that YouTube clearly has a significant role to play in the active stage of the purchase journey when millennials are in market.
Yes, I understand why some brands suspended campaigns due to safety concerns. And I urge YouTube to solve this very serious issue, fast. But I do so not just because of the obvious dangers of ad misplacement, but for a business reason: YouTube’s power and potential for reaching millennials is second to none.
Verra Budimlija is chief strategy officer at MEC UK