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YouTubers and Brands

December 18, 2018


Brands want to work with YouTubers, but the latter is a new species of human beings that, while earnest and honest, are fickle and unpredictable. I’ve watched YouTube for 8+ years and follow so many channels that I’ve seen many examples of complete brand partnership fails, or even fails that did not come from partnerships—they simply happened because the brand accidentally "brushed shoulders" with a creator.


Everyone agrees that YouTube is still a relatively new platform, new medium, with so much potential, but I don’t think many people know how to deal with it. And I think a lot of companies are messing things up for themselves and don’t realize how lightly they have to tread while dealing with individuals of the YouTube Community.


These people are not Hollywood celebrities. They are far from it—yet in some cases, they seem much more popular nowadays. Approaching them cannot be done in the same way as with actors and actresses. YouTubers are no one’s puppets.

They operate independently. It’s just them and their own cameras most of the time. And when they are popular, they can command their followers.


Everyone agrees that YouTube is still a relatively new platform, new medium, with so much potential, but I don’t think many people know how to deal with it. And I think a lot of companies are messing things up for themselves and don’t realize how lightly they have to tread while dealing with individuals of the YouTube Community.


These people are not Hollywood celebrities. They are far from it—yet in some cases, they seem much more popular nowadays. Approaching them cannot be done in the same way as with actors and actresses. YouTubers are no one’s puppets.

They operate independently. It’s just them and their own cameras most of the time. And when they are popular, they can command their followers.



One Word to the Minions


VitalyzdTv is a YouTuber known for his pranks. He has almost 10 million subscribers.  In the beginning of 2018, he went to Miami for New Year’s Eve and booked his stay at a five-star hotel with his girlfriend. Shortly after checking into their room, police knocked on their door with hotel security in order to escort Vitaly out of the premises.


Why? Because he is super well-known for his pranks, and the hotel was more than likely afraid of him doing something crazy. He wasn’t going to. He was just there to celebrate the New Year. He obliged by the hotel’s order but not without vlogging and making his anger known.


In a matter of few days, his followers destroyed this five-star hotel’s online reputation. Indeed, the linked article says, perfectly: “You'd think that five-star hotels would be used to catering to the famous.” You would think.


But YouTubers aren’t the typical kind of famous. It’s clear that the hotel did not realize how fast the situation would escalate and how fast things would go downhill.





Tana Mongeau is another YouTuber. She has 3.7 million subscribers. Less than Vitaly—but she’s huge among teens and those in their early 20s. She’s been on YouTube for a mere 3 years or so. She is known for her outrageously blunt rant videos and vlogs. She is vulgar, honest, and pretty. She’s had a hard life, which people relate to. Her fans love her. She, along with their help, had plans to destroy VidCon last June.


VidCon is a convention that is held every year for YouTubers and their fans. Tana has an entire rant about her experience with the company on her channel, but I will sum it up for you and will omit all of her expletives (which she is also known for).


The video was published on April 2nd, 2018, and has 3.4 million views. Because she blew up in less than a year in 2016, with 1-and-a-half million of subscribers, it seemed that VidCon didn’t know whether to have her in its 2016 lineup or not. Granted, her brand might’ve been still convoluted at that point, but hundreds of people still showed up at the convention to see her.


So, in 2016, she wasn't granted a creator’s pass but still went as a regular convention attendee. VidCon was not happy when crowds amassed to see her, had told her that she made the situation dangerous and life-threatening. But VidCon didn't amend their decision of not allowing her a creator’s pass. VidCon and her manager had not come to a compromise. Meanwhile, fans did not abandon Tana. They, too, were outraged. The 2016 convention ended with VidCon’s people telling Tana that maybe the following year, she could finally be in the lineup. Her following grew greater from then on.


2017 rolled around and VidCon reps spoke with her manager and reiterated their promise. Until the convention, Tana naturally promoted the event, telling her fans that she’d see them there. She was not required to do this. Social media was how she communicated with her fans, after all. When the lineup was announced, she ended up not on it, again. The 2017 convention was vastly different that year because of the fact that a YouTube Red show called “Escape the Night” was premiering its second season. Tana Mongeau was one of the influencers on the show.


Her face had been plastered along with nine other faces, nine other cast members, across the whole Anaheim Convention Center’s facade. Yet, she was still not given a creator’s pass. Because of this, she was not allowed the same protocol and precautions as her cast mates, and yes, Tana’s crowds got wildly out of hand once more. However, VidCon security had done nothing but threaten to kick her out like the year before. She could not leave because of her fans, the premiere, and yet VidCon could not accept her as the celebrity that she had in fact become.


Long story short, after much aggression from VidCon and many threats, with Tana sobbing, the Guest Manager simply pulled a creator pass out of a whole box of them and wrote her name on it with a Sharpie.


At the end of the convention, VidCon had told Tana and her manager that in 2018, they would definitely make her a creator in their lineup. But leading up to the 2018 convention, Tana tweeted that, instead, VidCon had banned her for life from the convention, which had subsequently prompted her rant video. She vowed to make her own convention, which would be free and tolerant of even the smallest creator: TanaCon.


When the time had come to retaliate, TanaCon was shut down. It turned out to be a complete failure. VidCon had a successful weekend despite TanaCon being planned to take place during the same weekend, just a few minutes away. Tana was not able to take anyone down with the help of her followers—despite the serious fight they had put up.


Could all of the drama have been avoided in the first place? VidCon's ridiculous indecisiveness—the mess of a situation they had created with the girl attending their convention. VidCon could've made wiser choices. Both parties could've been smarter. Tana could've been less dramatic. But what had happened happened.



Suicide Forest Video


I'm certain that a decent amount of people have heard of Logan Paul (or his brother Jake Paul). Many people have heard of him because of his trip to the "Suicide Forest." In December of 2017, he took a trip to Japan, uploaded a disturbing video from Aokigahara, a sacred forest near Mount Fuji, and, in short, had overnight become one of YouTube's most infamous personas. The video, which had been posted New Years' Day 2018, featured a dead body.


It had been up for a full day until Logan finally retracted it, and by then it already had racked up more than 24 million views. Shortly after, he uploaded a tearful apology, which many other YouTubers strongly condemned. This isn't, however, an examination of Logan's mental state or the sincerity of his words. Here is how YouTube itself and advertisers reacted to the disaster.


Logan's participation in the cult classic remake of Valley Girl was put on hold, including YouTube's own Thinning sequel (both films were released later this year). His partnership with Axe body spray was also stalled. On January 10, YouTube removed Paul from Google's preferred partner program, an ad revenue program exclusive to the platform’s most popular channels (top 5%).


During the following months, in 2018, Logan's sanity has been questioned by many, many people, including his own self. But his followers haven't left him, and by now YouTube has lifted the ad suspension on his channel. So, clearly, after what seemed like an irredeemable, inexcusable mistake, Logan hasn't gone away, hasn't disappeared from the YouTube world. To this day, he still attracts a large audience, "maintaining his clout among specific demographics that brands are clamoring to reach."


How are companies supposed to approach him? Is it even worth it for them? Approach him carefully, like you're walking on glass. With a PR crisis plan in your back pockets. Maybe also, be wise enough to add "contract contingencies that provide for an easy dissolution should a controversy arise that has significant and lasting adverse effects on the influencer's popularity. Lastly [you] should include legal protections in the event an influencer's controversial actions result in civil or criminal litigation."


Lunatic or not, Logan is sitting on a marketing pot of gold.



Accidental Racism?


When it comes to YouTubers who need to wash their mouths out with soap the most, it might very well be PewDiePie. He has 77 million subscribers. He is probably the most popular YouTuber on the planet. He also has a past of including anti-Semitic remarks and imagery in his videos. Despite apologizing, he's lost his sponsorship with Disney’s Maker Studios, and he's also ended his very own YouTube show Scare PewDiePie.


Later, PewDiePie put out another offensive video in which he used the n-word during a gameplay. The pattern is pretty predictable. He issued an apology video, as is protocol of all YouTubers. Nevertheless, his fame hasn't ended. Only time will tell if he messes up again.

In 2018, the beauty community on YouTube has had its share of the spotlight due to their own drama. Beauty gurus haven't been safe from scandals that started from old tweets; in particular, a one Laura Lee. She is a make-up artist and YouTuber. Her old tweets caused a storm of outrage despite her—yes, you guessed it—apology video. While many ex-fans and others in the beauty community called her apology fake, brands have dropped her the way a person drops an apple if they find a worm in it. Ulta had said they would no longer be stocking her makeup line, and other beauty brands like Morphe, Boxycharm and Colourpop all cut sponsorship ties with her!


Before the Tweets were discovered, Laura had over 5 million subscribers, and now she has lost over half a million of those. A poll on Cosmopolitan asks readers if they'll continue watching Lee's videos after the scandal, and 88% of readers say they won't. Nevertheless, Laura is still continuing on YouTube.


What does that say? She's got at least some attention from those make-up-obsessed ladies out there.



New Frontier


YouTube is just that. A new frontier. The new frontier for marketing and communications. I remember watching the platform when it was still mostly about tutorials and music videos (back in 2011)—not self-made celebrities who talk into a camera alone. I have witnessed YouTube's growth first hand as a viewer, and it has been astounding. My only regret is not jumping onto the bandwagon back then, when I was in college, and making that "True Blood make up tutorial," which I had wanted to create. Maybe I would've been an influencer by now. Then again, no one knew the future.


I recently graduated from DePaul's PR & Advertising program and got my MA. As much as I loved the two years, a part of me was disappointed that I hadn't gotten a chance to explore the YouTube phenomenon with my peers. But then again, perhaps it's still new. Perhaps communications professionals still aren't certain as to how to deal with these influencers, how to work with them. I’ve heard of apps that try to help connect brands with YouTubers for sponsorship, but I'm not sure that I like the sound of them. These kinds of relationships have to be fostered in person—with a little more humanity.


There is much to be said about the nature of these creatures—YouTubers; how to befriend them and create mutually beneficial partnerships, which go beyond the importance of money. YouTubers don’t do what they do because of the money. Well, everyone has to eat, but only a fool says, “It’s ‘cause of the money.”


No, it’s more than that once you really realize who these kids are. They love their jobs, the way they can affect and connect with their audiences, and they love creating content most of all.


It seems to me that brands right now assume that all you got to do is throw a few wads of cash at these people, and they’ll willingly go along with whatever sponsorship proposition is offered to them. No. That is just not how it works. This is one of the reasons that YouTubers are different from regular run-of-the-mill celebrities.


YouTubers are people who are authentic and refuse to be controlled. Sure, some succumb to the spotlight and the green, and go along with brand deals, but a lot also don’t. Their fans, followers, whatever you want to call them, demand sincerity. Many YouTubers refuse to work for disingenuous companies that just want them to sell their stuff—instead of really getting to know who it is that will be selling whatever product.


That five-star hotel, which didn’t have anything to do with YouTubers like Vitaly (whom they'd simply "bumped into"), couldn't fathom the domino effect they'd created by kicking him out until fans had wreaked havoc; let alone knew how to handle such a situation. I think many companies don't realize the scope of influence that someone like Vitaly has. The hotel staff, whoever had made the decision, should've at least thought twice before being so rash.


I believe that VidCon’s issue was that it wanted the exposure, the promotion that Tana gave it, but they didn’t actually want to be associated with her. It doesn’t work like that. The way the non-existing relationship was handled was the way kindergarteners settle problems on a playground. It was a sloppy mess!


And then there are those wild cards like Logan Paul, and many more that you don't see coming—like Laura Lee, a seemingly sweet and innocent girl from the south. It might not appear like a jungle at first, but you've got to traverse the YouTube territory like it is one. Just be smart if you're a brand. There is no rule book on this subject matter—yet.


Choosing the right influencer is a no-brainer, however. They need to really be vetted, to make sure they're the right fit with your brand or company. I know that the one of the greatest advantages of YouTubers is the fact that they can really reach their specific audiences. But most of these influencers don't just want a business relationship—I'm pretty sure they want a friendship, too.


And because they want genuine relationships with brands, they want their trust as well. YouTubers value their creative freedom. Perhaps this is what makes them seem so wild. Sure some of them abuse it—they go too far while following their whims, which causes them to make grave mistakes. But not all influencers are, well, crazy.


With trust, Brands should release some of their control in order to really collaborate with YouTubers. If the trust is mutual, influencers can comfortably create highly authentic sponsored content, which ends up being viewed and shared by many of their followers.

At the end of the day, I think it's exciting to be a part of something that is still being discovered. Don't you think?


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