Filmmaker and social media star Casey Neistat spills the secret behind successful branded content

Through eschewing the rules and taking an untraditional approach to creating branded films for industry giants including Nike and 20th Century Fox , self-taught filmmaker and YouTuber Casey Neistat’s online videos rack up views into the millions. Here he speaks to The Drum about embracing an alternative style, selling ideas not products and offers tips to would-be YouTubers.

When approached by 20th Century Fox to create a video to promote the 2013 film The Secret Life of Walter Mitty, Neistat decided to spend the entire promotional video budget of $25,000 on delivering relief to typhoon victims in the Philippines with no reference made to the movie. The YouTube video he created documenting the experience garnered more media impressions than the actual film, (4.2 million), an approach he explained to The Drum comes from his ability to “share ideas” and not sell products.

“I don’t think anyone ever wants to be sold a product it’s just not interesting, but people like to be sold ideas,” he said. “If you look at the really great companies – the Nikes and the Apple computers – they’re always selling ideas, and when people buy the idea, they subscribe to the idea, and they will always buy the product.

“The movie that I made for Nike [13.4million views] and the movie that I made for 20th Century Fox were just about an idea. They weren’t about a product but in sharing the idea and getting people to subscribe to the idea, hopefully their relationship with that company will improve and increase and that might lead to the client’s ambition to begin with”.

While Neistat has created successful films via more traditional distribution channels such as his HBO autobiographical series, which followed him and his brother Van, he prefers to share content on YouTube and increasingly by Snapchat - a tool Neistat said “changes the broadcast medium” as it removes the need for an intermediary.

“I think this idea of [sharing content from] one-to-many is where we’re going to see most of social head. Twitter started it years ago where I can share my one idea with as many people as choose to follow me and I think Snapchat is an evolution of that and I think we’ll see further evolutions of that.

“But it really changes the broadcast medium from something that requires an intermediary to something that’s purely from one [person] directly to that audience of many. I think that idea is an idea we’re going to see only grow as we move into the future.”

Speaking about becoming a success on YouTube Neistat shared three top tips for would-be YouTubers: “Do the work, take chances and be brave, and do more work because the only way you’ll ever find your voice, the only way you’ll ever be good is by doing it over and over and over.”

Neistat spoke with The Drum following his talk at the Design Indaba Conference in Cape Town.

Natalie Mortimer

I look after all things creative.

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