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'No amount of money can make me create an advert' - YouTube's king of content Jim Chapman advises brands on working with social talent

Jim Chapman is one of a new breed of YouTube celebrities, and in addition to his popularity with teenagers he’s a powerhouse for engagement, with more views per month from UK women aged 18-34 than the combined readership of Grazia, Vogue and Red. So what can brands learn from his approach?

Jim Chapman has 1.58 million YouTube channel subscribers, 742,000 Twitter followers, 696,000 Instagram followers and 495,000 Facebook fans, but do you know who he is?

If the answer is ‘no’ then you’re already behind the curve on a burgeoning trend – the rise of the professional YouTuber.

The most successful YouTubers – like Chapman – saw an opportunity on the platform about three years ago. Filming from their living rooms, bedrooms or garden sheds, they create content on everything from make-up tutorials, fashion and beauty advice, or just simply a snapshot of what they do day-to-day.

But, from those garden sheds, they’re commanding as much reach as some mainstream broadcasters, and an increasing number of savvy marketers are realising just how influentual they are.

At The Drum Live, Chapman reveals that he courts offers from brands on a near daily basis, and employs social talent agency Gleam Futures to help him fend off the more often than not “awful” propositions. At the core, and key to Chapman’s success, is the focus on quality content which retains authenticity and audience.

“The difference between myself and a traditional celebrity is that I am me. I’m not paid to do something in a certain way. The people who are watching me online appreciate that, whatever I say, it is my voice in my way,” explains Chapman, highlighting the crucial issue many brands are grappling with when it comes to working with YouTubers – relinquishing control.

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Unlike working with a traditional celebrity, YouTubers have built a committed audience who they engage with directly. The bulk of Chapman’s twice weekly videos are based on what fans ask for – they are encouraged to tweet or comment on what they want and, as he manages his own social channels, when he replies they feel like they have a personal relationship with him.

“People will follow a traditional celebrity because they are voyeuristic, they want to know what they are doing. But the people Jim talks to are his ‘best friends’. It’s a proper relationship, which makes it very powerful,” explains Dominic Smales, MD at Gleam Futures.

For brands to harness this powerful relationship they mustn’t be under any illusions that they can simply hand over a script and prep a set. They must be prepared to work in tandem with the YouTuber – and that means loosening the reins.

Chapman confesses that he turns down 90 per cent of the branded work he is offered (and he is offered a lot) because brands want to “come in and takeover”.

“I know it’s your brand and you want to control it, but if you do it is going to be like an advert and no one wants to see that. I know my audience and I know what they want to hear,” he asserts.

“No matter how much money they throw at me, I can’t make it into an advert. For me, the integrity is much more important.”

Asda is one such brand to have understood this dynamic, but the supermarket’s head of social media, Dominic Burch, admits that he was initially a stranger to the YouTuber world.

“You bump into someone who is 15 and mention Jim and it’s like Beatlemania,” he jokes, so it wasn’t difficult to make the decision to strike up a relationship with Gleam. 

The social talent agency’s roster includes Zoella (aka Zoe Sugg, a beauty blogger with 4.2 million subscribers), Tanya Burr (Jim Chapman’s fiancé and a beauty blogger with 1.9 million subscribers) and Pixiwoo (Chapman’s make-up artist sisters who have 1.5 million subscribers).

For Halloween, Asda invited a raft of YouTubers including Zoella, Pixiwoo, Jim Chapman and Tanya Burr to pick an outfit from one of its stores and wear it to a party it hosted. They weren’t under any obligation to tweet, vlog (video-blog) or mention the party to their fans but, being vloggers, they obviously did, and Burch says the effect this had on engagement was enough to convince him that a greater investment would pay off.

Four months ago Asda’s Mums Eye View channel launched and it is now regularly populated with content from YouTubers. To date it has amassed 42,000 subscribers, with some of the latest videos including ‘Baking Cupcakes with Zoella’ (460,000 views since April), ‘Post Pregnancy Workout with Hannah Miggs’ (23,000 views in two weeks) and ‘Pedicures with Pixiwoo’ (15,000 views in three days). And in many instances, the only way to recognise these are videos promoting Asda is to click on the product links in the description box. “Subtle is the key word,” Chapman says.

But, ultimately, Asda is looking to see a return on its investment, which Burch reveals is just “half a per cent of our media spend a year”. To date it hasn’t “spent a single pound” on media. 

When it comes to ROI, Smales and Burch cite figures that suggest the click-through rates are equally as impressive as the reach YouTubers can achieve. While the average click-through rate on a banner campaign will be 0.2 to 0.4 per cent, Smales claims that when Chapman makes a call to action the click-through is anywhere from 10 to 40 per cent. 

“The people who have subscribed to Mum’s Eye View thus far have done so because they’ve seen us on talents’ channels,” says Burch, “not because we’ve bribed them, given them money off vouchers, advertised heavily or thrown a lot of clicks at it”. So does he know the ROI? “Not yet – but it’ll come.”

Burch admits that working long-term with “top tier” talent like Chapman, Tanya Burr and Pixiwoo will eventually become too costly, but he shares his hope that, with time, Mum’s Eye View will become a platform for grassroots YouTube talent to establish themselves.

The advice Chapman, Burch and Smales all urge marketers to heed is to stop thinking that the people watching content on YouTube care about the brand. 

“Brand owners need to get their heads around the fact that if you want engagement driven by people like Jim Chapman, the people he talks to don’t give a shit about your brand. They give a shit about what Jim’s saying. It’s got to be organic and credible,” Smales stresses.

Exemplifying the point, Burch reiterates that the whole point of this venture wasn’t to drive awareness, “Asda’s famous enough,” he said. It was simply about engaging with the audience Chapman et al have gathered. Ultimately, they know that audience better than anyone.

This feature was first published in the 23 July issue of The Drum.