YouTube stars and commercial transparency – what advertisers need to know about vlogging
Members of ISBA’s Digital Action Group, comprising 40 senior digital practitioners, had been waiting a year for Dominic Smales, MD of social talent management company Gleam Futures, to make a presentation to them. He’s obviously a busy man. It was well worth the wait.
Vlogging star Marcus Butler
Dominic was accompanied by ‘talent’ Marcus Butler at May’s Digital Action Group meeting. Marcus currently has 3.6 million subscribers.
Gleam Futures has 24 ‘talent’ on its books – vloggers who generate approximately 125 million monthly views.
Vlogging provides advertisers with a new platform from which to engage with that exclusive 18 to 34 audience, and Gleam is one of the major players. However, Gleam certainly isn’t an overnight success – it has been running for six years.
There are now a number of vloggers out there, although very few are able to ‘turn the dial’ by being able to offer the reach and critical mass that will interest big advertisers. Within the Gleam stable is the UK’s foremost vlogger Zoella (7.7 million YouTube subscribers). Even if we challenge these figures – are they recent subscribers? – they dwarf traditional celebrities such as Madonna (508,000).
But are these vloggers cutting it IRL (In Real Life)? Apparently they are. In this virtual world viewers are actually handing over real money to buy the leading vloggers’ books. Zoella’s recent appearance on the BBC’s ‘Great British Bake Off’ provided an uplift in viewing figures from 16 to 34 year olds who allegedly don’t watch TV any more!
Zoella’s fans have invested heavily in her makeup brush, and has achieved remarkable sales without any above-the-line budget.
Not that vloggers have to appear exclusively on YouTube – with Facebook and Vessel both looking to exploit our growing addiction with video. Enlightened advertisers such as Unilever were quick to spot the vlogging trend and have established their own YouTube channels to gain first mover advantage.
And there’s no reason why vloggers can’t be channel agnostic. Hollywood studios have allegedly been pitching programme ideas to terrestrial broadcasters as they begin to take notice of the ‘YouTube talent revolution’.
Good news for advertisers. Dominic and Marcus confirmed that viewers tend to prefer clarity and transparency – being told upfront (via ‘spon’ or ‘#Ad’ adjacent to the title of the vlog) about any commercial relationships the vlogger has with brands which are featured during the vlog. Viewers can then sit back, relax and enjoy the performance.
Despite the world of vlogging being described as resembling the ‘wild west’, there are rules and regulations set up by the Advertising Standards Authority (ASA). In November, the ASA adjudicated against Outbrain (a ‘content discovery platform’), an advertiser and YouTube vloggers who were deemed to be less than transparent about their commercial agreement.
The ASA published initial guidelines after the ruling, stating that ‘paid-for videos’ must be confirmed ‘upfront’. Guy Parker, the ASA’s Chief Executive, told the ISBA Conference in March that further clarity around the issue is required.
Bob Wootton, ISBA’s director of media and advertising, stated: "Comprehension of the guidelines remains too low. Advertisers are responsible for providing disclosure to consumers when they are trying to sell to them. If they don’t, they run the risk of losing the trust of their audience." Those two words – ‘trust’ and ‘transparency’ – keep cropping up.
In April, Zoella and other high-profile YouTubers were criticised over the fact that certain “junk food/sugary sweets and drinks pre-roll video ads, that were served alongside their content, are being seen by a young audience”. To be fair, YouTube vloggers might not have much control over which ads display alongside their content. So who has the control? The advertiser, the social talent agency, the multi-channel networks, YouTube channel owners or YouTube itself?
Google ensures that only YouTube subscribers who are aged over 18 will be able to view the gambling adverts.
Of course not every sector is suitable for advertising. Fashion, cookery and tech are the most popular sectors that lend themselves to vlogging.
But not everything in the vlogging garden is rosy. Questions on engagement, transparency and control over advertising have surfaced. Stats aren’t everything, as we eventually worked out with Facebook likes. But how engaged are viewers? According to Gleam’s metrics fairly engaged!
So how does the future look for vlogging? Pretty good right now, as long as vloggers and their management agencies are sensible and take a long-term view, establishing relatively few commercial relationships with appropriate brands.
But as always it’s the long tail that might muddy the waters and spoil things, ignoring the rules to make a fast buck. Responsible advertisers will aim to partner with responsible vloggers, although as we have found with certain brand ambassadors, a safe bet can quickly end up as a liability for the brand.
David Ellison is marketing services manager at ISBA