The power of YouTubers: how Sainsbury's, Radio 1 and Jamie Oliver are getting in on the act

Most brands can only dream of reaching the vast YouTube audiences commanded by a new breed of celebrity video bloggers. As the publishing landscape is democratised and old media turned on its head, Natalie Mortimer explores how brands can get in on the act, without alienating viewers.

Which YouTube channel would you guess has the most subscribers globally? Rihanna’s, perhaps? Or maybe power brands like Coca-Cola or Nike, right? Wrong. With a whopping 28 million subscribers, PewDiePie is the most subscribed to channel across the globe – and chances are you haven’t a clue who he is.

But this 24 year-old Swedish gaming blogger – real name Felix Kjellberg – is one of a new breed of celebrities influencing how millions of us spend, feel and think. It’s no wonder, then, that brands are clambering over each other to partner up with video bloggers like PewDiePie, and hang on the coattails of their earned trust and colossal audience.

The advent of social channels like YouTube, Facebook and Twitter has democratised the publishing landscape, turning old media on its head and shaking it up for good measure. A recent report by Neilsen found that in the US, YouTube reaches more 18-34 year-olds than any TV network, including MTV and FX, so it’s no wonder these

bloggers are commanding more reach and influence than most brands can dream of.

“What vlogging has done for Radio 1 is not wildly dissimilar to what pirate radio did in the 60s,” says Joe Harland, head of visual radio at BBC Radio 1, who recentlybrought in a gamut of prolific vloggers (including the UK’s biggest star Zoella) to reach an audience it might not otherwise have engaged with.

“The vlogging community helps us reach an audience that might not listen to the radio as much as we might want them to. Though I can’t say for certain that we can turn a viewer into a listener, I can say that if a Radio 1 subscriber thinks of radio they will think of Radio 1 primarily. That’s the best chance we’ve got.”

From delivering make-up tutorials, fashion and beauty advice to video game reviews, these vloggers have found the ultimate sweet spot, letting their audience view them as best friends while showcasing a lifestyle they can aspire to.

In May this year Sainsbury’s spotted the trend and launched a new channel on YouTube, teaming up with popular fashion blogger Fleur De Force and her husband Mike to create a weekly show which sees the pair try out a recipe for the first time.

“We felt that Fleur and Mike, as a couple with an interest in food but learning as they go, was something many would relate to – particularly those entering a similar stage in their life,” says Sainsbury’s senior social media manager Simon Preece.

“It gave us the opportunity to work with established YouTube creators who have a tried and tested style that we were confident would work.”

Since launch in May the platform has garnered over 40,000 subscribers and was built around Fleur De Force’s 1.7 million subscribers across three fashion, beauty and lifestyle channels.

Videos featuring the pair on Sainsbury’s channel enjoy a completion rate of around 76 per cent compared to an average of around five per cent. The essence of the channel, says Mark Eaves, the co-founder of Gravity Road who created it, is to build a community following, pulling in a dedicated stream of subscribers as it builds momentum.

“You need to create content that people genuinely want, and want to a degree that they subscribe to it and receive it every week,” he remarks. “Brands generally think of YouTube in terms of views but a more involved way is to think of it as the subscriber base you can cultivate, because that’s the real measure of engagement – that people are wanting more of things you are doing.”

Indeed, audience engagement is key to brand marketing success on YouTube, and taking advantage of passion-based communities can lead to a greater click-through rate.

Speaking at The Drum Live in July, Dominic Smales of social talent agency Gleam Futures, which looks after YouTube talent including Zoella (5.8 million

subscribers) and Jim Chapman (1.76 million), said that while the average click-through rate on a banner campaign will be 0.2 to 0.4 per cent, when Chapman makes a call to action the click-through is anywhere from 10 to 40 per cent.

Meanwhile, a report by Pixability earlier this year found that YouTube’s top 25 beauty vloggers possess 115 more subscribers and receive 2600 per cent more comments on average than beauty brand channels. When you consider the potential ROI for brands, about which most are currently remaining tight-lipped, it seems a no brainer.

The danger of pairing with bloggers, then, comes when un-savvy marketers simply try to piggy-back on to their success and treat YouTube like a traditional broadcasting platform – a lesson learnt the hard way by Jamie Oliver’s online venture, Food Tube, which initially failed take in to account the viewer behaviour of the YouTube audience.

“In our early days we were losing 40 per cent of our audience in the first 15 seconds because we treated them like a TV audience,” admits network manager Richard Herd.

“We’ve had to re-educate ourselves and our teams to understand that the audience are different and they require a different way of being presented to.”

The channel launched in January 2013 and hit the 1million subscriber mark on 1 September this year. A sister site, Drinks Tube, has since followed and is solely sponsored by drinks brand Bacardi – an opportunity that Herd says allows the team at Jamie Oliver to “push audiences back and forth” between the two channels.

The speed with which these YouTube celebrities are gaining momentum seems to be unstoppable. 26 year-old Jim Chapman, who recently teamed with his beauty blogger fiancé Tanya Burr to vlog for Mulberry, pulls in more views per month from UK women aged 18-34 than the combined readership of Grazia, Vogue and Red.

So are traditional broadcasters shaking in their proverbial boots? Not necessarily, says Herd, but a shift in balance is on the horizon. “I think it’s time for a little bit of a change and I’ve seen it coming over the last year,” he muses.

“There is a shift happening with traditional media and linear TV, but Jamie Oliver will be on TV for the next 10 years. It’s not going to change overnight but certainly we’ve seen a shift in audience.

“It doesn’t mean we’re going to stop doing anything for TV – that’s always going to be where Jamie’s core audience exists – but this Food Tube is a really nice, fun place to be and we are constantly learning what it gives us. It’s starting to have an effect on how we structure the company and move the business around,” he adds.

Harland agrees and says that YouTube celebrities aren’t a danger if traditional media learns to adapt its behaviour.

“I think it is a threat if you cannot evolve. If you can figure a way to take what you do and ensure it is still relevant to young audiences, that is a brilliant opportunity.”

To put the vlogger phenomenon into perspective you need only list a handful of brands currently funding videos in exchange for exposure. Mulberry, Simple, Nike, Asda, Garnier, Ford and Mountain Dew have all teamed with the likes of Chapman,

Zoella, Fleur et al.

But with the exponential growth of the trend is there a danger that audiences will tire of branded content? “They would do if you were in their face and you were holding up a bottle of sauce to the camera and saying ‘this is the best sauce in the world’,” argues Herd.

“The audience seems to understand that in order to get great content there needs to be a three second bumper or a product placement somewhere in there. As long as it is treated sensitively and it’s not rammed down their throats, that’s the clever way

to get brand integration into content, and there’s an understanding there.”

Eaves, who was also involved in the creation of Jamie Oliver’s Drinks Tube, admonishes the term branded content, instead advising that viewers will enjoy all content if it is engaging enough.

“There’s only two types of content – good and bad. Some of it is branded and some of it isn’t. What we find is that, as long as the brand is doing it authentically with a real respect for the audience and a real openness, then if it’s good and an audience likes it, they won’t like it any less because a brand is involved.”

This feature was first published in the 15 October issue of The Drum. You can purchase a copy via the The Drum Store here.