Cultural Trends

Any music fan who flocks to YouTube to watch videos of their favorite artists has likely discovered the vast universe that exists on the platform devoted to cover songs. Before we delve any further into what this universe looks like and what it might mean for fans, artists, and music publishers, let’s ask the simplest question first: What is a cover song?

A cover song is any music performed or recorded by someone other than the artist who originally recorded, performed, or composed it. (There are legal nuances too complex to explore here, but quite simply, if you didn’t write the song, and you are performing the song, you are covering the song.)

For example, Taylor Swift’s most recent album, 1989, is a multi-platinum phenomenon that has remained pinned atop the Billboard album sales chart for nearly a year. Ryan Adams, a singer and songwriter—also popular, but not nearly in the same stratosphere as Swift—made news recently by releasing a song-for-song cover of Swift’s 1989. In other words, Adams’ version of 1989 is classified as an album comprised entirely of cover songs.

ZEFR Insights has often written about how fans drive the most-viewed content on the platform. Normally, we highlight this essential fact as a roadmap for brands to maximize the potential of earned media to help shape and disseminate their message. But early on in the first decade of YouTube’s existence, the platform was initially known as a place where recent major pop stars first got their start. Fast forward to the 2.4 billion-view (and still growing) sensation that is Psy’s “Gangnam Style,” and you can now find countless examples of music icons using YouTube to their advantage. (See also: Katy Perry, Lana Del Rey, Gotye, etc.) Justin Bieber, in particular, launched into the mainstream on the power of a cover song he uploaded back in 2007 that caught the attention of label executives and landed him a recording contract.

YouTube as a Jukebox

It is not an overstatement to credit YouTube with the resurgence of music videos in the past decade. With the creation of networks such as Vevo, YouTube has turned into a go-to destination for young music fans to discover new artists, while creating a much-desired new revenue stream for music labels and artists. YouTube has become a preferred method for listening to music for millions of millennials, resulting in huge view counts as fans return again and again to hear a favorite song.

YouTube is, of course, also known for its user-generated content. A lot has been written about the rise of the YouTube star—the personalities that make original content and the lucky few whose homemade clips propel them into a new kind of celebrity—but the cover-song culture is thriving more than ever, years after it gifted us with Beliebers. Record executives, managers, and music publishers take heed: YouTube is perhaps the most unique music platform, where unknowns and Taylor Swift mingle as equals until some surprising cover by a stranger begins to pile up the views and another new star is born (while also amplifying the presence of the artist being covered).

To illustrate the power of cover songs on YouTube, ZEFR explored popular subsections of the cover-song universe on the platform, defining genres that grab the most views, while unearthing some surprising data about five of the top Billboard-charting “summer songs.”


Acoustic Covers

This genre of covers is fairly self-explanatory. The song is recorded with acoustic instruments (i.e., acoustic guitar, ukulele, drums, flute, violin, etc). Many of these songs feature the creators singing as well, as the covers usually provide a perfect combination of familiarity along with a way to showcase the vocal talents of a possibly emerging talent.

Ryan Adams isn’t the only one giving his spin on Taylor Swift’s “Bad Blood.” Covers uploaded by virtual unknowns drive most of the cover-song traffic on YouTube. If you look at the chart below, ZEFR found that the covers uploaded by “famous” (or, established) musicians, such as Ryan Adams, are not driving the view traffic as much as “unknowns.” The cover-song community on YouTube, in fact, accounts for 15 times more views than those performed by well-known artists.


This is good news for music publishers, and young artists such as Tiffany Alvord, who has attracted over 2.5 million subscribers to her channel along with nearly half-a-billion views across all of her videos. The success of her channel is a result of the insatiable appetite of Swift’s fans, even for virtual unknowns covering her songs. This is a perfect example of how one artist can draw attention to her own talents while amplifying the popularity of a celebrity such as Swift. Alvord, via the music of Swift, has managed to boost her own profile as she extends the shelf-life of an already bona fide hit.

Again, looking at the same chart above, Alvord’s cover would be classified as a “fan/influencer” upload, while the Adams version (below) of the same Swift song would be considered a cover performed by a “famous musician.”

Kids Covers

This genre of cover music is distinct from content originally composed for kids, in that it normally features “clean” versions of popular songs, covered by children. For example, if Wiz Khalifa’s “See You Again” isn’t exactly explicit, its themes might be more suited to adults. This is what makes MattyB’s cover version so endearing. With 28 million views so far, it’s not just a cover, it’s a hit too.

Vocal Covers

As distinct from a cappella covers, a vocal cover features a creator singing over the original track (or a nearly indistinguishable version of it). No instruments are played by the creator, but this covers subset isn’t to be confused with conventional karaoke, since the level of performance goes well beyond what you might expect to see in your local dive bar. Take this version of Jason Derulo’s hit “Want to Want Me” as interpreted by the group Cimorelli.

Genre-Bending Covers

This sub-section of covers on YouTube is exactly as its name suggests: A creator covers a song but changes the style (genre) of music. Why? Well, let’s say you’re don’t actively dislike the Mark Ronson and Bruno Mars smash “Uptown Funk,” but you love heavy metal. Norwegian musician Leo Moracchioli might have a solution.


A Cappella Covers

If you’ve seen either Pitch Perfect or Pitch Perfect 2, you’re already an a cappella expert (of sorts). An a cappella cover is a song performed by an individual or a group using only voice. A cappella derives its signature sound from the the layering of vocal harmonies. Even “individual” a cappella videos often feature multiple tracks of the same singer blended together to achieve harmony.

Walk the Moon’s runaway hit, “Shut Up and Dance,” has racked up over 100 million views on YouTube, thus fueling the million-plus tally for this rendition uploaded by a cappella producer Mike Tompkins.


As we move boldly into fall, ZEFR shares the results of our summer cover-song battle below. This, of course, is subject to change especially if musicians continue to keep covering Ms. Swift’s “Bad Blood.”


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Cultural Trends

When David Letterman relinquished his chair as host of The Late Show back on May 20th, 2015, he did more than just retire. Letterman’s farewell to late-night television represented a cultural shift, from the old guard to the new. The landscape of late night is a brand new playing field where the bevvy of new (and not-as-new) hosts not only do battle nightly for TV ratings, but also all day long as reuploads of clips, sketches, and online extras to YouTube are fast becoming the new barometer by which to determine the ultimate leader of late night.

With the debut of The Late Show with Stephen Colbert this week, the wee-hours talk show circuit appears to be set, for the time being, and the battle for ratings primacy is officially a younger person’s game. As he told Rolling Stone on the eve of his retirement, Letterman conceded it was a “weakness of our show” to not be able to figure out YouTube as well as some of his competitors. He added, “I hear about things going viral, and I think, ‘How do you do that?’ I think I’m the blockage in the plumbing.”

With the fall television season still galloping out of the starting gate, ZEFR Insights decided to look at the success of late-night television shows using YouTube popularity as a metric. What exactly is the role of “late night” television when the viewing public has become empowered by the sophistication of social media platforms and can view clips (and full episodes) at any time of day? What does the success of, say, Jimmy Fallon’s YouTube channel say about the health of his broadcast show and vice versa?

One thing is clear: TV ratings now have a complex relationship with how well a show can also attract viewers through all of the available social media platforms that are not TV. Once upon a time, the show was the show, an hour per weeknight that you stayed up for or missed. Now, the phrase “late night” itself is a relic of the past.

Thanks to YouTube, “late night” is a 24-hour social media cycle that is global and no longer tethered by a determined broadcast hour. Competition is multi-platform and fever-pitched. Who are the winners so far?


The Late Show with Stephen Colbert

A full three months before the first episode of The Late Show with Stephen Colbert even aired, the show was already up and running on YouTube. If there had been any doubt as to the fevered anticipation of the beloved Comedy Central star moving over to CBS to occupy the Ed Sullivan Theater and the chair once reserved for David Letterman, these fears were put to rest by the Colbeard.

Yes, with the late-night wars being fiercely fought on multiple media battlegrounds, Stephen Colbert saw the importance of getting new content out to his adoring public as soon as humanly possible. If the growing of a beard in the off-season can garner over 2 million views, this bodes well for Letterman’s legacy property and the future of Stephen Colbert, who has already learned that his YouTube fanbase deserves a studio tour just as much as those who dutifully tuned in to the official 11:35pm broadcast debut.

Soon after the show aired, he posted his first YouTube “bonus clip” featuring GOP presidential hopeful Jeb Bush, and Colbert’s fans were already begging for more.

Screen Shot 2015-09-10 at 12.58.09 PM

The Late Late Show with James Corden

What do you do when you’re the least-known amidst a small, elite crowd of well-known funnymen? You go to where your target audience lives. Trying to get a step ahead of the competition, The Late Late Show with James Corden recently filmed the first-ever late night television broadcast from YouTube Space LA. Featuring interviews with beloved YouTube personalities and opening the broadcast with a popular YouTube staple (a musical number, including artists who got their big break on the platform), Corden takes the idea of a well-run late-night YouTube channel one step further, by being YouTube.

The episode was clearly an attempt to pull some of the enormous viewership from these YouTube stars back to broadcast television while giving Corden credibility among the millennial audience necessary to make his own show a success. As some YouTube stars struggle to make the transition to television, some television stars have struggled to find a way to attract viewers from YouTube. Will booking YouTube stars such as Jenna Marbles and Tyler Oakley and interviewing them on their home turf do the trick? Only time will tell, but Corden appears to be invested in the strategy for now.

The Tonight Show with Jimmy Fallon

If there is a pioneer in this still-evolving relationship between YouTube and late night television, it is Jimmy Fallon. Perhaps owing to his background in sketch comedy on Saturday Night Live, a format perfectly suited for the bite-sized entertainment that thrives on YouTube, Fallon towers over the competition in terms of online footprint. His sketches are practically reverse-engineered, with the broadcast being only a preview of what will be uploaded the following day. Take this game-show sketch featuring Kevin Spacey that aired recently and immediately surpassed the million-view threshold soon after its upload.

Some have argued that his content is a little bit more than just influenced by YouTube creators, but straight-up lifted and without giving due credit. Hence this trial by jury of YouTubers reacting to some of Fallon’s most popular clips.

Whatever the case may be, Fallon and his writing staff have smartly courted his target audience by watching YouTube trends closely and speaking in their language, sometimes literally.

Whether it’s views, engagement, or fan uploads, Fallon has the competition playing catch up. If anyone has the late-night/YouTube relationship figured out, at this point, it appears Fallon has stumbled upon the right balance, with each broadcast outlet feeding the success of the other.


Late Night with Seth Meyers

Another former Saturday Night Live alumn, Seth Meyers has learned a few tricks from Fallon, his nightly lead-in. With his part-time band leader and “curator” Fred Armisen (another SNL alum and current Portlandia star) on the road, Meyers’ popular “FredEx” segment is perfect fodder for the YouTube crowd.

While Meyers struggles to keep pace with the rest of the late night hosts on the platform (he ranks second-to-last overall in most categories) and with Colbert already hot on his heels with only a handful of shows under his belt, Meyers might want to revisit the recipe that made his Jon Snow Dinner Party a viral hit. It is just this type of content that thrives on YouTube, further proof that sketch comedy enjoys a seamless transition to the platform, better than interview segments or even monologues.

Jimmy Kimmel Live!

Fallon’s toughest competitor in terms of YouTube audience is Jimmy Kimmel. With 3 million subscribers and just over 2 billion views, Kimmel has struck a chord with the younger crowd that flocks to YouTube, but doesn’t necessarily tune in to network television on weeknights. Kimmel has been extra aggressive in courting an audience to view his official channel. From online-only segments and extra songs from musical guests, to actual YouTube challenges and social-media inspired skits, Kimmel knows his audience well.

In particular, his “Mean Tweets” segment has become a YouTube staple. A sort of mashup of Twitter and YouTube-ready sketch comedy, the first of (so far) 10 editions is still attracting views (42 million and counting) because who doesn’t want to watch overly celebrated celebrities brought down a peg by a single, short, and not-so-sweet tweet?

The normally astute Kimmel found out the hard way that what YouTube giveth it can also taketh, especially when you poke fun at a passionate online community, such as gaming. By poking fun at the YouTube trend of video games as a spectator sport, social media can roar right back like a lion.

But if Kimmel doesn’t understand exactly why certain trends appear on YouTube (unboxings, for example) he’s happy to indulge his viewers by subjecting Mike Tyson to the trend.

Where Kimmel really shines is in engagement. His YouTube fans are not only legion, they are participatory, heeding the host’s challenge in unexpected ways, such as in this viral hit where Kimmel asked his fans to tell their kids that all the Halloween candy had been eaten. Over 34 million views later, it’s apparent that the two Jimmys (Fallon and Kimmel) are currently kings of the “late night” YouTube-sphere.



By nearly every metric (views, videos, and engagements), Conan O’Brien’s eponymous late-night program on TNT finishes third behind the Fallon and Kimmel. This is no small feat, considering Jay Leno ducked back into The Tonight Show chair a mere seven months after Conan’s debut, leaving O’Brien essentially adrift without a show or a network. Social media came to the affable redhead’s rescue and the grassroots #TeamCoco Twitter meme was born. This morphed into a brand, eventually landing O’Brien a slot on cable channel TNT where he has flourished for the past five years. TeamCoco, the show’s official YouTube channel, boasts 3 million subscribers and over 1.5 billion views.

The host has recently introduced a new segment where guests reveal what’s in their YouTube watch history, appealing directly to his online fans, including interactive features that bring you directly to the videos being discussed.

Unlike Kimmel, O’Brien was ahead of the video game curve, uploading his own reviews as the “Clueless Gamer,” a perfect recurring bit, undoubtedly aimed right at his online audience.

Sometimes it’s pure luck, as in this viral hit featuring Louis C.K. ranting about cell phones.

Or, it’s O’Brien’s ability to tap into the digital media onslaught we all try to navigate, sometimes literally, as the host takes Dave Franco on a Tinder-fueled hunt for dates.

Conan O’Brien, along with his late night peers, are tirelessly in pursuit of engaging and keeping that important demographic that is increasingly choosing social, bite-sized media over traditional broadcast television. As O’Brien’s impressive YouTube numbers can attest, he’s not necessarily found the super-secret ingredient, but he’s close.

Tune in Tomorrow

It wasn’t long ago when the ratings wars for late night primacy included the staid ABC News program Nightline, hosted by Ted Koppel. When any of the reigning comedians of the era were surpassed by the stoic newsman in viewership, that story itself made news as evidence that the popularity of late-night talk programs was in decline. Broadcast ratings are no longer the most important metric as the fractured media landscape requires a multi-tiered strategy, gathering viewers anywhere they can be found. Of course, getting the most people to tune in during showtime is still the ultimate goal, but as this new generation of late-night hosts is proving, success on YouTube directly translates to success on network television (and vice versa).

The science is murky, the numbers are not. Maybe it’s because sketch comedy is perfectly sized for uploading to YouTube, or maybe it’s just 9 to 5 office workers catching up the day after instead of waiting up and avoiding the risk of sleeping on the job. But whatever the exact recipe is, to judge a late-night host’s success based on ratings alone is to miss the bigger picture: The late-night war is happening during the day on YouTube.

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Cultural Trends

This is a series that spotlights culturally significant and popular uploads to YouTube, curated monthly by ZEFR Insights.

1. Josh Groban Sings Donald Trump Tweets

The man with the self-described “voice of an angel” (aka Josh Groban) sang the most ridiculous tweets of Donald Trump on Jimmy Kimmel Live! This is his follow-up to his 2011 “album,” The Best Tweets of Kanye West. Groban, who is best known for his Grammy-nominated single, “You Raise Me Up,” reveals his great sense of humor in this hilarious segment. As it turns out, Groban’s angelic voice can turn any crazy tweet into a beautiful ballad. Be sure to order yours now to get the exclusive bonus track “Losers and Haters,” inspired by an actual tweet from Trump: “Sorry losers and haters, but my IQ is one of the highest—and you all know it. Please don’t feel so stupid or insecure; it’s not your fault.”

2. Little Boy Trying to Break Board in Taekwondo

An adorable 3-year-old boy was tasked with breaking a board with his foot while trying for his white belt in Taekwondo. He was so determined to break the board that he tried everything from kicking to stomping on it. Even giggles from his classmates couldn’t deter him. Finally, after a few attempts, he manages to break the board, earning him his white belt.

3. Colorblind Guy Tries on Enchroma Color for the Colorblind Glasses at Sunset

Over the years, reaction videos have become a huge trend on YouTube. From Game of Thrones to Super Bowl reactions, people love the authenticity of watching people react. In this video, Aaron Williams-Mele shares the emotional experience of using his Enchroma glasses for the first time. As he watches the sun set, he is overwhelmed by the vibrant colors, especially the color green. Mele concludes by saying, “I like this. I like this a lot.”

4. A Bad Lip Reading of the Republican Debate

Bad Lip Reading (BLR), a popular series of dubbed-over YouTube videos, put out a hilarious reading of the first Republican debate. The video shows Dr. Ben Carson trying to complete a puzzle on his podium, while Donald Trump suffers from indigestion after eating a tuna melt. Each candidate’s closing remarks were even turned into a song. According to the video, Carson’s song even went on to become “the best-selling single in the history of Presidential debates.” (Warning: After watching this video of hilarious nonsense, it may be difficult to take these presidential candidates seriously ever again).

5. Guy Annoys Girlfriend with Puns at Ikea

A trip to Ikea is often the true test of any relationship. Simon, who recently moved in with his girlfriend Dana, had to make the inevitable Ikea trip with his (very patient) mate. To help him get through the trip, Simon entertained himself by making endless puns using Ikea labels and product names. As they move through the store, his puns only seem to get bedder. His mildly annoyed girlfriend was not amused, but eventually gives in and even shares a laugh in the end.

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Cultural Trends

This is a series that spotlights culturally significant and popular uploads to YouTube, curated monthly by ZEFR Insights.

1. This is Beme

Just last week, filmmaker Casey Neistat (whose content often goes viral) shared his new video-sharing app, Beme. The app was created by Neistat, along with Matt Hackett, the former VP of Engineering at Tumblr. The idea behind the app is to promote “social media authenticity.” Beme works by sending out four-second videos you can’t review or edit. To record a video, users place their phone against a surface, which triggers the camera to start filming. Video shared on social media is often carefully edited and shot with filters, infringing on the authenticity that Neistat is hoping to encourage with his new app. Beme is designed to strip away the filters, creating the most authentic way to share your experience on video. Beme is currently available for download from the iTunes App Store.

2. Canary Caught the Cat

It’s not always easy living with pets. While in the kitchen, Jeremy Husted’s chicken dinner was ruined by his cat. The feline’s felonious behavior was captured by Husted’s Canary security camera. Canary, an all-in-one home security device, sends intelligent notifications with HD video directly to your smartphone. The best part might be the look of despair on Husted’s face as he rethinks his life. The footage even caught Canary’s attention, who commented on the video, kindly offering to buy him dinner.

3. Six-Foot Man, Six-Foot Water Balloon

The SloMo Guys, Gav and Dan, test the limits of a six-foot water balloon in this crazy stunt. Dan starts off by climbing into a seemingly tiny, pink balloon as it is being filled with water. As the balloon fills, Dan manages to squeeze more of his body into the expanding mass. While the video progresses, Dan transforms into a funny-looking, pink blob. Waiting for the water balloon to finally explode provides this clip with all the suspense you can handle. When the balloon finally bursts, in slow-motion, the video captures the water briefly staying in the shape of the balloon before spilling into the yard. In a little over a week, this backyard stunt has been watched over 17 million times.

4. Lip Sync Battle with Tom Cruise

In another segment of the ever-popular Lip Sync Battle on The Tonight Show with Jimmy Fallon, Tom Cruise made an appearance and surprised the audience with his swoon-worthy rockstar persona. Cruise starts by lip syncing to The Weeknd’s “Can’t Feel My Face.” In the finale, Fallon and Cruise deliver “You’ve Lost That Loving Feeling” by the Righteous Brothers. In their joint performance, they even serenade a member of the audience. Apparently, Tom Cruise can still take our breath away.

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As YouTube enters its second decade, the platform has established itself as the foremost destination for fan communities and especially consumers. It is no longer a question of whether or not a brand marketer should develop a strategy specifically tailored for the platform, but rather, what that strategy should look like.

While the opportunities available for brands on YouTube are limitless, even keen marketers can get lost, or even intimidated. The sheer variety of different niche communities—and the subtle nuances that distinguish one from the other—can make reaching your consumer at the right place at the right time seem impossible. Luckily, here at ZEFR, we’ve developed technology to sift through YouTube, video by video, to help our experts develop deep understanding and insight into many of the platform’s consumer eco-systems.

With this in mind, ZEFR Insights is pleased to announce the release of Parenting on YouTube: The Top Child Rearing Video Trends. Within the pages of this Report, readers are guided through specific video trends, featuring viewable content from the community’s top influencers, as well as exclusive access to ZEFR data gathered from top brands (Baby Gap, Pampers, Gerber, Gymboree, and more). Plus, an interview full of useful advice from YouTube creators who have attracted millions of views to their successful channels.

Even if you are a brand that does not work within this particular demographic, the marketing strategies and partnerships discussed throughout this Report can be adapted to nearly every consumer category imaginable. In short, there is something here for anyone interested in learning how to navigate the vastness of YouTube and join the community conversation.


Click here to download the ZEFR Insights Report!


Cultural Trends

This is a series that spotlights culturally significant and popular uploads to YouTube, curated monthly by ZEFR Insights.

1. Chile’s Calbuco Volcano

For the first time in four decades and without warning, the Calbuco volcano erupted on April 22, 2015. The eruption lasted 90 minutes and sent a plume of volcanic ash six miles into the sky. While there have been no recorded injuries, according to news reports, thousands have been evacuated from nearby town Ensenada. The most disruptive hazard from this eruption has been the resulting falling ash, which has covered regions as far as 165 miles north of the volcano under a thin layer of dust. Considering there have been no reported injuries or casualties, YouTube viewers can happily bask in the glorious colors captured by this clip expressing nature’s boundless unpredictability.

2. Seth Meyers Brings Jon Snow to a Dinner Party

Jon Snow is a terrible dinner guest. This was proven when Seth Meyers invited the Game of Thrones character, played by Kit Harington, to a dinner party on Late Night. While other guests politely chit-chatted about the arrival of spring, Jon warned them, “You won’t be laughing when the White Walkers rip you from limb to limb.” Jon Snow is great at a lot of things (being on Game of Thrones, for instance), but keep him away from the dinner table.

3. Star Wars: Battlefront

The day after the much-talked about Star Wars: Episode VII trailer was released, the video-game trailer, Star Wars: Battlefront, was also revealed. The video game stays true to the films and was shot in the original movie locations, “Not to just capture the environment, but the emotions they evoke as well.” The Battlefront trailer has been out for over a week and already has more than sixteen million views. The game is available for sale starting November 17th for PS4, PC, and Xbox One.

4. Stephen Curry

Stephen Curry has been lighting up the basketball court since his March Madness days at Davidson College, and he continues to amaze year after year as a pro as a member of the Golden State Warriors. With the 2015 NBA Playoffs tipping off this April, Curry has once again emerged as a highlight-reel goldmine on YouTube. Recently, Curry led the Warriors to a 20-point fourth-quarter comeback against the Pelicans, capped off with a game-tying, three-point shot that people can’t stop watching.

5. David Hasselhoff

Have you ever wondered what David Hasselhoff looks like riding a dinosaur? Well, your lucky day has arrived. The ‘80s icon performs the theme song, “True Survivor,” for the Kickstarter campaign to fund the film, Kung Fury. The music video has since gone viral with over 8 million views. This epic music clip is a veritable collision course of mashups, featuring time travel, dinosaurs, ‘80s cop movies, and kung-fu.

The Kickstarter-funded film had a modest starting goal of raising $200,000. By the end of the month, the campaign inspired 17,713 backers to pledge $630,019 to help bring the project to life. Kung Fury will be released on YouTube on May 28th.

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Cultural Trends

In part one of our three-part series, “Parenting on YouTube,” ZEFR Insights explored pregnancy trends on the platform. Here, in part two, we delve deeply into the daunting days of early parenting to find the best of the endless video trends from baby showers to rocker reviews.

parenting on youtube trends zefr data

Baby Shower Decorations and Hauls

Some brands are catching on to the enormous potential of getting in front of new parents who are using YouTube, the second-largest search engine in the world, to find reassuring advice to quell the anxiety that often comes with approaching parenthood. Pampers has smartly started creating advice videos, including helpful tips about how to liven up a baby shower.

The platform also boasts of thousands of YouTube creators that brands would be wise to align with, such as The Mom’s View, which boasts over 350 thousand subscribers who have powered the channel to 57 million views. Here are hosts Sharzad and Kayli celebrating “Baby Shower Week” with an episode devoted to the popular “haul” trend.

Ellie and Jared are a couple who have attracted quite a following of their own, utilizing a more personalized approach. Less like a television show and more like the intimate vlog style content that thrives best on YouTube, it’s the authenticity of this Baby Shower video that is driving views and channel subscriptions.

Nursery Tours

Another thing ZEFR Insights discovered while exploring “Parenting on YouTube” is the nursery tour trend. On its surface, these would appear to be nothing more than an extension of house tours, with an expecting couple, or new parents, showing off their design skills. But imagine the reassurance these videos provide other couples looking to YouTube for some generous tips and simply an idea of where to begin. Again, YouTube delivers.

If your budget allows for more, you will find plenty of “celebrity” interior designers to help you create a space for your newborn that will wow your friends and in-laws and new grandparents (if not your new baby, who is unable to recognize the colors you’ve so carefully selected).

If the notion of hiring an interior designer only adds to your anxiety, well, YouTube is here to help once again. The Project Nursery channel promises you can have that “trendy” nursery you’ve dreamed up and achieve it on a dime.

“What’s In My Diaper Bag?”

Again, smart brands know that YouTube is a search engine. When people use YouTube, they are looking for specific things: from a favorite musician’s newest release, to how-to videos, to any bit of advice they can find to solve a particular problem. New parents are some of the most active viewers on the platform and Johnson’s Baby has created a channel to help. Here, Johnson’s has not only recognized that “What’s In My Diaper Bag?” is a popular trend on YouTube, but enters into that space with a helpful video dispelling myths about what needs to go into that bag parents lug around everywhere.

Similar to nursery tours, there is also a wide range of styles and budgets that can appeal to new or expecting parents of all kinds. For example, you might learn that in addition to its famous line of designer luggage, Prada also makes diaper bags.

If you are a brand looking for authenticity and want to align with YouTube creators who happily disclose how they found and why they picked the items they love, here are Cullen and Katie talking about their new diaper bag made by Jeep.

Baby Tech

If you haven’t noticed, we live in an age of continuously emerging technology. This fact, of course, includes innovative new ways to comfort, monitor, and get your newborn to finally fall asleep. First, there is this rocker made by Mamaroo that can be set to mimic a car ride or even a tree swing, as well as provide ambient sounds to soothe a restless newborn and give tired moms a well-deserved rest.

There is also Sproutling, who, from the looks of this video, is seeking to catch the attention of tech-minded hip parents whose appetite for gadgets extends all the way to monitoring the newest member of their family with this amazing device.

Technology does not always have to involve electricity. Nearly universal among new parents is the complaint, “Will I ever sleep again?” Merlin’s Magic Sleep Suit thinks it has a solution, even if it transforms your newborn into a tiny marshmallow person.

parenting on youtube data chart

The final edition of ZEFR Insights’ three-part series investigating “Parenting on YouTube” concludes next week with toddlers, strollers, car seats, first birthday parties, and more. In the meantime, you can revisit Part One here.

Click here to download the ZEFR Insights Report!


Pregnancy on YouTube featured
Cultural Trends

In the first of a three-part series, ZEFR Insights explores the unique world of “Parenting on YouTube.” Here we start, quite literally, at the beginning.

In this digital age, it is no surprise that every moment of a person’s life can be and often is recorded and uploaded to the internet, starting as early as the moment they are born. In fact, thanks to a trend known as “announcement videos,” this process begins not long after conception, creating unique opportunities for brands looking to reach the “baby shower gift-buying” audience. What better time to engage potential consumers than right after they’ve learned that their sibling, friend, son, daughter, and so on, is having a baby boy or baby girl?

To help brands uncover more targeting opportunities like this, we’ve identified nine different video trends around parenting, leading up to that precious first day of school. As we head toward Mother’s Day, join ZEFR Insights and follow along as we explore this ever-expanding and useful universe on YouTube.

pregnancy on youtube

Pregnancy Announcements

In a world where everyone has a camera attached to their phone, the tradition of revealing the news of a pregnancy to the family is often captured through video with some interesting results.

These videos can be about revealing the news to a partner, perhaps in a style that recalls a tradition of their own, like this couple celebrating their love of photo booths:

A popular announcement video features the response from the new grandparents, which resembles another trend on YouTube, known as the “reaction video”:

Plenty of couples also like to film the reaction their kids have to the news that they’re going to be have a new sibling with which to share the home:

Gender Reveal

After discovering that they are pregnant, many couples can’t wait to learn the sex of the baby. While most people would simply go to the doctor and have an ultrasound performed, some expectant parents go a step further. The purpose of a “Gender Reveal” video is, obviously, to share the news on whether the baby is a boy or girl.

These clips can be high-quality content with thoughtful production, like this video from the collective channel, WhatsUpMoms:

Or, they can be shot more candidly, in a familiar home-video style:

Sometimes the pregnant party knows the gender already and is revealing it to friends and family. (Again, similar to the ubiquitous “reaction video” genre):

Sometimes, it’s the parents themselves who are on the receiving end of the big reveal:

Pregnancy Tips

As the pregnancy progresses, so does the quality of the YouTube content available to expectant parents. Instead of the sometimes entertaining “reveals” described above, as with almost any topic imaginable, YouTube becomes a resource full of information. (This might be why YouTube is currently the world’s second-largest search engine.) Often, moms-to-be will turn to YouTube as a resource, a place to learn about, well, what to expect when they’re expecting. It can be a treasure trove of tricks and tidbits, especially considering that many YouTuber moms are quite generous with sharing their own experience.

What to do when the morning sickness kicks in?:

How do you deal with out-of-control food cravings?:

There are even videos on maternity styling tips for expectant moms:

What Does This Mean for Brands?

People often turn to YouTube to experience and share moments of genuine human happiness. What happier event is there in a person’s life than the birth of a child? Thanks to the social nature of video, and the world of digital media, people can share their joy with others beyond their direct family and friends. These eager YouTube creators might even impart some wisdom to an expecting mother in need of a little knowledge. This enormous amount of content is an invitation to brands to not just reach consumers who might make a purchase, but consumers who would welcome an “advertisement” that is not just an ad, but an extension of the kind of information expectant parents are seeking.

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Brand SpotlightInterviews

Over 150 years ago, Levi Strauss & Co. was founded in San Francisco. Historic and time-tested, anyone who appreciates a good piece of denim likely owns at least a pair of Levi’s jeans (or corduroys, or jackets, or shirts, etc.). Millions of people across the globe are quite literally living their lives, at least in part, while wearing something made by the legendary brand.

It is in this spirit that Levi’s Global CMO Jennifer Sey (promoted to her current position after being with the company for 15 years) immediately embarked on upgrading the brand’s approach to storytelling and marketing for the 21st Century. Recruiting creative agency AKQA to help build an all-inclusive media campaign that is platform-agnostic, forward-thinking, and most importantly, listening to its fans while reacting to their feedback, the Live in Levi’s campaign has been an enviable success since its launch in August 2014.

The campaign first caught the attention of ZEFR this past summer and we’ve been following its development ever since. ZEFR recently spoke with Jennifer Sey to learn more about how the campaign was developed, where it is headed, and how to best utilize user-generated content.

ZEFR Insights: You’ve spoken often about the brand’s “passionate fanbase” and the “personal stories” the company gets from the actual people who wear and love the clothing. How important are “fans” of Levi’s in terms of creating content for the Live in Levi’s Project?

Jennifer Sey: Our fans and their stories are central to the Live In Levi’s Project. Their stories are in part what led to our platform and we wanted to celebrate them by creating the Live In Levi’s Project. We have highlighted their user-generated content (UGC) on the website and on our social channels around the world, so that their unique stories can be seen, heard and celebrated.

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ZEFR: In what ways has social media “opened the boardroom doors,” so to speak, forcing creatives to listen to their brand’s fans when developing an advertising strategy?

JS: User generated content (UGC) has become an integral part of our digital marketing strategy. The same way we gain insights from research to guide our strategies, we’re now using content from our fans. Live in Levi’s is all about authentic storytelling, so we definitely plan to continue highlighting our fans’ photo submissions on both our website and social channels and also continue to engage with our fans on a daily basis. For the “Live In Levi’s” campaign, we also made sure to feature real people in our advertising as fan engagement is very important to us.

January blues. #regram via @kxbelle #LiveInLevis

A photo posted by Levi’s® (@levis) on

“User generated content has become an integral part of our digital marketing strategy. The same way we gain insights from research to guide our strategies, we’re now using content from our fans.”

ZEFR: How much time does Levi’s devote to “listening” to their consumers? Where do you look for the conversations that are happening about Levi’s on social media? JS: Levi’s has an always-on approach when it comes to listening and responding to our consumers on social media platforms. Our social media team is monitoring and responding to conversations on Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, Google+, Pinterest and YouTube – in addition to channels like Weibo and WeChat in China. Even if every single message isn’t responded to personally, we are listening to what our customers are saying online and passing that feedback along to appropriate teams within the organization to constantly keep our finger on our consumer pulse.

ZEFR: In what other ways has the Live in Levi’s campaign utilized the YouTube platform for disseminating its message?

JS: We leveraged the Levi’s YouTube channel as the social video hub for our Live In Levi’s Project film and influencer story videos, and use paid media to garner additional reach.

“This campaign has definitely highlighted our belief that we cannot simply advertise on social, we need to create engaging content that spotlights our loyal fans and encourages fans to share their photos and stories.”

ZEFR: You recruited a unique group of creative individuals for some of the early Live In Levi’s campaign spots. (From Alexis Krauss of the band Sleigh Bells, Alexandra Spencer of 4thAndBleeker, Himm Wonn of Urban Magazine, to the artist Masahiro Akutagawa.) What was the selection process for the people featured in these films; “who” exactly were you looking for and how much did they have to love their jeans?

JS: We wanted to showcase that people all around the world, from all walks of life, live in Levi’s so that we could engage our global audience. As the original jeans brand, we sought to align with Original voices – truly authentic people, who express themselves through music and other creative outlets. We mainly worked with influencers around the world where we had existing relationships – people that were already living in their Levi’s – as it was important to tell authentic stories from our existing fans that truly wear and love Levi’s.

ZEFR: How has YouTube helped in terms of widening the global presence of the current campaign? You have been using the tag line “This is how the world lives in Levi’s.” So, for example, how does YouTube help you reach that global audience, by showing someone in Brooklyn how people are wearing Levi’s in Hong Kong, or vice versa?

JS: Since YouTube is a global platform, and our campaign is global, it was really a win for us to showcase our Live In Levi’s videos on this channel, as we were able to engage such a wide audience of Levi’s fans across the globe.

ZEFR: Not a lot of brands understand how social the YouTube platform has become, with conversations that develop around the videos in the comments. Does Levi’s consider YouTube a vital part of its social strategy and how might you be using the platform in the future, either directly for the Live in Levi’s Project, or to introduce new ideas, products?

JS: We envision that any video content that we create for the Live In Levi’s Project or other Levi’s campaigns will always live on our global YouTube channel. It is a critical component of our social as well as content messaging strategy.

Levi's Comments

ZEFR: What has surprised you most since the launch of the Live In Levi’s Project? In what ways has it lived up to, exceeded, or transformed your expectations of future projects? Have you learned anything about how best to utilize and design social media campaigns, not just for YouTube, but across all available platforms?

JS: We are very excited that we have seen so many amazing #LiveInLevis stories from our fans, and the Live In Levi’s campaign has confirmed that our communities love seeing photos of each other living in Levi’s. What’s been most surprising is the tangible impact on sales. For those that visit, we see markedly higher conversion if they’ve visited the Live in Levi’s project prior. This campaign has definitely highlighted our belief that we cannot simply advertise on social, we need to create engaging content that spotlights our loyal fans and encourages fans to share their photos and stories.

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The digital and social agency (and more) BTC Revolutions first caught the attention of ZEFR after we began looking into the overwhelmingly effective social media strategy for the casual-dining franchise Applebee’s. We became intrigued by how the restaurant had managed to erase social media borders, creating an all-inclusive campaign with unusually high brand-to-customer (and vice versa) engagement.

As the digital universe continues to exponentially expand even as we type this, especially in video, agencies such as BTC Revolutions are discovering new, useful, and creative ways to navigate emerging platforms (sometimes as they emerge) and helping brands new and old to recalibrate their message for the 21st century.

BTC Revolutions (the BTC stands for “Be the Change”) was founded in May 2012 by Amanda Hite and Brandon Hill. In the first of an ongoing series that spotlights innovative digital agencies, ZEFR spoke with Amanda Hite, BTC’s Co-Founder and Chief Change Agent, about the Applebee’s campaign, what rookie mistakes brands make most often, and how an agency itself stays relevant in an ever-shifting landscape that demands quick decisions, made smartly.

ZEFR Insights: It says on your agency’s website: “We recognize that platforms are simply tools and people are the medium.” Could you speak to this idea a bit more and talk about how it informs your digital and social strategy?

Amanda Hite: The true power and effectiveness of social media is in its ability to build or become part of communities and ignite word-of-mouth movements. How impactful that becomes is mostly dependent upon how engaged and passionate the people in those communities are—not how sexy the platforms are. We believe word of mouth is (and always has been) one of the most powerful and trusted forms of so-called marketing. As marketing platforms come and go, that truth will never change. People choose what to share, what to engage their friends in, and what to take action on. Without question, people are the medium.

BTC Revolutions

ZEFR: What is a “typical digital agency” and what sorts of mistakes do they make that you’ve learned to avoid?

AH: A typical agency is very focused on things like baited content, buying eyeballs, coming up with the next clever “campaign” that’s going to make headlines for a week and be the talk of their agency peers. If we want to be, we can be good at that stuff. But, we understand that most of those things are not sustainable or impactful. We know our audience isn’t other marketing people or agency peers—it’s the people in the communities we want to be part of or win over. We know that the only way we create meaningful impact that continues to grow is by earning it. We earn it by giving first to the communities, “being the biggest fan of our fans,” showing that we genuinely care, building meaningful relationships, and becoming part of the community. We don’t focus on creating clever marketing campaigns. We focus on creating social “activations” that ignite these communities. Ultimately, it’s not about what we say or do—it’s what the community is saying and doing on the brand’s behalf that drives the most significant results.

ZEFR: Talk about your ideas behind the campaign for Applebee’s. How did that strategy develop and how did you decide that certain ideas (such as the Instagram “fantography” idea and the #SpiritedChef YouTube and Twitter campaigns) would work for Applebee’s, but not necessarily a different client?

AH: From the beginning, the Applebee’s community has co-owned and driven the success of Applebee’s in social. They coined the community managers as the “Applebee’s Reply Squad,” they rallied their friends to bring the brand past huge follower/fan milestones, they’ve made the brand “trend” countless times, and they’ve campaigned for awards the brand was nominated for. Our most successful social activations have been the ones we’ve co-created with fans, and we’ve empowered them to play a huge role. Giving Instagram to our fans for 365 days was a no-brainer—their content consistently outperforms brand-created content on the platform. Their wild and crazy ideas on Spirited Chef is exactly what made that whole idea work. Co-creation works with all of our clients, but the product of what you create together will always turn out different because each community has different traits and personalities, a unique brand of awesomeness all their own. The key is figuring out how to tap into that and bring it to life.

“Our most successful social activations have been the ones we’ve co-created with fans, and we’ve empowered them to play a huge role.”

ZEFR: When clients approach you about formulating a digital strategy, how much do they know about what is going on in the world of social media, or do you deal mostly with novices? In other words, do you get a sense that the “old” ideas of marketing are so deeply entrenched that some brands don’t even know what language you’re speaking?

AH: We have a variety of clients with different levels of social media chops. Our clients consider us part of their internal teams, and we work closely together to amplify the strengths of the brand online. What’s far more important to me than their knowledge of the technical aspects of social media is their passion for the brand, its consumers, and that we share the same principles. Social media is the new kid on the marketing block, and while there is a huge learning curve in many organizations in regard to understanding its potential and power, it’s proven over the years to be something that can’t be ignored. If you embrace it, social can be an extraordinary vehicle for powering a brand’s business objectives.

“Social media is the new kid on the marketing block, and while there is a huge learning curve in many organizations in regard to understanding its potential and power, it’s proven over the years to be something that can’t be ignored.”

ZEFR: How does an agency such as BTC Revolutions stay informed and relevant in an atmosphere that thrives on continual change? Is the balance between consistency and adaptability a primary concern for an agency working in the digital/social media space?

AH: We’re “Be the Change” Revolutions—change is part of our DNA. But each of us lives the experience, the evolution and revolution, ourselves. Every day, we are executing on the same platforms we use in our personal lives. We are part of the innovative communities that we’re talking about, living in and shaping the future of this space. We pay close attention to what other brands and people are doing. We’re not afraid to try new things, and to learn what works and what doesn’t.

ZEFR: Using language from your own site: How do you “use the internet like a human and not like a robot” and is this a difficult idea to get across to brands or clients?

AH: Most brands are naturally going to feel more comfortable with things that make them feel in control. It’s scary for them to think of putting any control of the brand in the hands of the communities they serve. There are many so-called “social technologies” out there that claim to automate, save time, and make social media easier. Sometimes, things like automation appeal to brands because it gives them a false sense of control that they never really had in the first place. In a space where people are the medium, not the platforms, automation doesn’t work. They don’t want to engage with a robot and they don’t want to be spammed, but they do want authenticity and to feel valued. We work hard to teach brands that truth and, when they struggle or fight it, we simply pull out the countless horror stories of automation gone wrong in social media. That usually gets us moving quickly in the right direction.

“Sometimes, things like automation appeal to brands because it gives them a false sense of control that they never really had in the first place.”

ZEFR: What is the first mistake most brands make when they finally decide to develop a social media strategy?

AH: The biggest mistake I see brands making right now is not taking the time to train their leadership and employees on the principles of these platforms. This space is only going to get bigger, and its impact—good or bad—on businesses and brands is only going to grow. Delaying desperately needed training and reacting out of fear of the unknown is only going to 1) put a business at greater risk of something really going wrong and 2) put the brand increasingly behind its competitors in its share of voice online.

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