Last week, Cannes Lions brought the global advertising industry together in the French Riviera. Conversations that had been taking place around the world came to a head as the most important minds in media and marketing joined together to discuss the convergence of technology and creativity to create and distribute the world’s best work. Here, we share our key takeaways from the event, rounding up what mattered most on and off the Croisette.
Communication and innovative thinking are key when it comes to maintaining relationships and seeing results in brand marketing, and both clients and agencies benefit when a commitment to both is applied. Our co-CEO Rich Raddon shared his thoughts alongside executives from FourSquare, OMD and more in a discussion onsite.
Brand Authenticity Matters
Brands now, more than ever, are seeking ways to relate to their fans and involve themselves in the conversations happening around them on all platforms. Social video allows them to so that in a way that feels honest and involved. Zefr’s Trygve Jensen joined client Kingsford Charcoal and top Snapchatter Shonduras to discuss how to integrate influencers into brand campaigns while maintaining authenticity in message, for both the influencer, and the brand. Read a recap in the Lions Daily News on pg. 16.
The content an ad runs against impacts the way it is perceived. As advertising investments shift from TV to digital, brands are looking for ways to maintain the traditional content alignment they’re used to via contextual targeting, like that offered by Zefr and its BrandID technology. For more on the way TV viewing behavior is changing,what brands need to know, and why context matters, download our original research on TV 3.0.
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.
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.
“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.
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 levi.com, 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.
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.
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.
The debate is officially over: YouTube is mainstream. With the allure of video and over a billion monthly users, the platform is where culture is born today. In 2014, YouTube officially became the second-largest search engine, with over 300 hours of content uploaded every minute, and those billion unique visitors watch more than six billion hours of video every month.
With the new year upon us, now is the time to reflect on personal and professional achievements. If you’re a marketer that has not yet embraced YouTube — it’s not too late. With a billion people watching, the necessity of a YouTube strategy for brands is clear. You can no longer afford (literally) to carry over yesterday’s media thinking into yet another new year. What are you waiting for?
Here are three resolutions to unlock the potential for your brand on YouTube in 2015:
1. Become familiar with the “new celebrities.”
There are a variety of ways to react to the fact that today’s average 18 year old considers PewDiePie a bigger star than today’s Hollywood A-listers. YouTube personalities are the new celebrities. They have personal relationships with their audiences on a scale the world has never seen, and are more open to aligning with your brand in both tried-and-true and never-been-done-before ways.
In 2015, get to know and partner with this new generation of celebrities. They are entrepreneurial, collaborative and they reach your audiences at the speed of culture.
2. Reimagine your digital content (it’s not just repurposing TV).
Now is the time to think about creating content made for YouTube first. Television is amazing, but it’s a shotgun approach to connecting with your audiences. Repurposing TV spots and putting them on YouTube is a start, but it leaves tremendous value on the table that your brand should be claiming.
ZEFR data shows that custom content produced exclusively for the platform results in more than double the daily views and channel subscriptions compared to repurposed content. More than double — there’s some inspiration.
3. Make YouTube a priority spend, not an afterthought.
Hope is not a strategy. YouTube drives brand performance, but like all media platforms, the key is to take it on its own terms and plan early — not afterwards.
Recognized media innovator Bonin Bough, vice president of Mondelez, said it best on a panel discussion at Advertising Week with me last year. During the discussion of “Video Today: Where Culture for Brands is Born,” Bonin argued for fully engaged commitment to the platform, even comparing it to the historic transition from radio to television:
“If I came in your office in the ‘50s and asked you to advertise on TV, you’d be like, ‘Get out of my office because radio is really amazing.’”
For most brands, Bonin would be right. However, the brands and innovators that saw the power of TV first grabbed a huge competitive advantage, and some of those early movers are reaping the benefits of those decisions to this day. As marketers in a connected, global, social world, we are faced with an opportunity of the same scale.
The biggest shopping season of the year is in full swing. Although brands and consumers are used to the traditional direct mailers and TV spots, holiday shopping – and shopping in general – has gained a significant presence on YouTube.
Whether it’s a Beauty Guru doing a haul video about the amazing makeup deals she found, or a consumer-electronics influencer unboxing the latest must-have tech, YouTube is changing the way consumers understand and evaluate the year’s biggest day for holiday sales.
For retailers and brands that haven’t already considered the impact YouTube could have on their holiday sales, here are five reasons to start now:
1. YouTube Dominance
According to Nielsen, YouTube reaches more 18-34 year old adults than any cable network, and it is now the second largest online search engine. For brands, that means free access to a platform that reaches some of the top shoppers – millennials – better than any TV channel or mailer.
2. The Power of Fans
Even if you are not on YouTube yet, your fans are, and they are creating content on behalf of your brand in droves. At ZEFR, we discovered that an incredible 90% of a brand’s activity on YouTube is coming from fan-uploaded videos. This phenomenon is so important, we actually released an ebook called the “Anatomy of a Fan” because it is imperative that a brand finds, understands, and leverages the “earned media” it gains from these communities. A fan video can be anything from a haul video where a YouTuber reveals their favorite products from shopping at your store that day to a Sneakerhead (a massive YouTube fan community) posting about the shoes they are collecting. Because customers often trust consumer opinion more than branded content, these videos are pure gold for brands.
3. Custom Content Delivers Value
While fans are off creating content about their favorite brands, retailers should simultaneously create premium, valuable content for their customers. ZEFR helps a number of brands do this correctly by helping them build, manage, and monetize their YouTube channel. For instance, ZEFR helped Hasbro Studios, the production company behind My Little Pony and Transformers media, hit 83 million lifetime views and increase its channel subscribers by 135,000 in one year from inception. That’s 135,000 potential buyers who are not only aware of Hasbro’s toy products, but are engaged with them on an entirely new level.
4. A Content-Hungry Audience
More than 6 billion hours of video are watched on YouTube each month, which equates to least an hour for every person on Earth, every month. Consumers demand visually rich and valuable content from brands they love and about the brands they love. Online video is becoming shoppers’ go-to source for quick, consumable information. Video plays an especially large role in high-dollar purchases such as buying a car. Shoppers often taken weeks to research options and find the best car for their needs. According to a study conducted by Tremor Video, 66% of car shoppers use online video for research. For brands looking to leverage online video, it is also important to note that video increases customers’ understanding of a product by 74% (Mayer and Anderson).
5. Don’t Be Left Behind, Act Now
According to our research, 53% of shoppers are influenced by YouTube. If you have yet to take advantage of the offer, the holidays are the perfect time to start building your YouTube following and ultimately, drive additional sales.
Additionally, it’s likely that your competitor already has a YouTube presence and is benefitting from the increased exposure and consumer engagement opportunities. Enormous communities have been built around some of today’s most influential brands, including Lego, Go Pro, and Playstation. At ZEFR we help brands understand not only their fans, but also how their competitors are participating on YouTube through our Brand ID platform.
Ready or not, Black Friday is upon us. The day after Thanksgiving (and increasingly the day of), shoppers across the country will officially begin their frantic search for that elusive “perfect” gift for their loved ones. And, every year, more and more shoppers are turning to YouTube to strategize their mad pursuit. The video platform has quickly become the most trusted resource for smart shoppers. A recent study from Google found the following:
“YouTube is a stand out for shoppers: 64% referenced the video site as the most influential channel for making shopping decisions.”
Add the fact that YouTube is the second largest search engine in the world, the result is a holiday shopping guide that you just can’t find anywhere else. For brands, this presents an enormous opportunity to be “front of mind” for shoppers looking for an excuse to seal the deal and cross someone off their holiday gift list.
Using ZEFR’s Brand ID technology, we pulled some numbers to help illustrate the different characteristics that make YouTube the ultimate gift guide and why brands should care.
Note: stay tuned for our “post-holiday” recap to see how this season took shape.
Gift Guides for any industry or any product, for any person on your list
For virtually any industry or product you can think of, there are fans on YouTube creating videos about them. While Amazon and other ecommerce sites are limited to the inventory they stock and sell, YouTube has it all. Fans review and discuss their favorite items of the season, regardless of brand or category, with billions of viewers paying close attention and adding products to their own “favorites” lists.
If that limitless sense of choice seems overwhelming, thankfully shoppers can begin their gift search by simply typing in “gift guide for ___” into the search bar.
We gathered statistical data for searches containing the phrases “gift guide for him” and “gift guide for her” on YouTube that reveal how this resource for shoppers has become larger than a trend and more like a seasonal event attracting swarms of shoppers to rival the crowds on Black Friday itself.
“Gift Guide for Her” Videos: 591
“Gift Guide for Her” Views: 3,803,619
“Gift Guide for Him” Videos: 400
“Gift Guide for Him” Views: 3,024,039
And that’s just the tip of the iceberg. Again, YouTube has it all. It’s simply a matter of knowing what you’re looking for and where to find it.
How brands are getting involved
As a brand, if you can recognize and understand these video trends, you’ll notice an opportunity to be front and center for anyone watching. Moreover, being able to pair the right message at the right time to the right person is what we at ZEFR strive to achieve, and the holiday season in particular serves as the perfect reminder for why this strategy is so important.
Looking at specific video examples, one the best “gift guide” video creators is Fleur DeForce. The YouTuber’s 2014 edition of “Christmas Gift Guide for Her!” already has well over 300K views:
And, here are all the products that made it on to Fleur’s list, which also includes off-site links for shoppers to click through and easily buy everything online:
The Body Shop Glazed Apple Set
Bobbi Brown Mini Eyeshadow Palette
Too Faced Eyeshadow Palette
Laura Mercier Petit Patisserie Body Souffle Set
Clarisonic Aria Winter Lace Edition
Victoria’s Secret Fragrance Cracker
Elemis Spa Light Candle
Alex Monroe Necklace
Philip Lim Mini Pashli Handbag
Interestingly, Fleur includes the following disclaimer at the end of her video description, which serves to highlight the opportunity for brands to partner with YouTube’s top creators:
“My Christmas Gift Guide series this year is sponsored by The Body Shop. All of the gifts were chosen and paid for by me with the exception of the Too Faced, Elemis and The Body Shop products, which were sent to me for review consideration.”
As another example of how brands might align with this trend, Ryobi has created a gift-guide video of their own, collaborating with sister creators Shanty-2-Chic:
Cabella’s took it a step further and created an interactive guide using YouTube annotations:
Authentic, first-hand reviews that shoppers trust
Because 86% of branded content comes from fans instead of official brand channels, the most important aspect to keep in mind here is the level of authenticity that YouTube presents. For example, instead of relying on a traditional TV spokesperson to recommend the latest must-have gift, you can watch your peers actually use and review products in their own living rooms, with no other agenda other than to share useful information.
This “authenticity” is the driving force behind purchase decisions, creating an environment of trust, with shoppers seeking out the best information they can find. Are you more likely to buy a Roomba because of a flashy advertisement you see on television, or because a fellow fan on YouTube shows you that it works and he/she personally loves it?
Or, to illustrate the amazing creativity and unpredictability of these fan videos, maybe an even better question is whether you’re more likely to buy a Roomba because of a video of a cat wearing a shark costume riding around on a Roomba:
Happening at a massive scale that demands a brand’s attention
It can be difficult at times to comprehend the true size of the opportunity that brands have to align with content creators on YouTube. At ZEFR, we use our technology to help brands find and target content that matters most to them. And, what’s surprising is just how massive the view counts can get, even after targeting specific products.
To illustrate this scale, we did a search for three different gifts – one for tech, one for beauty, and one for the kid in all of us:
Below is one great example of how potential tablet buyers are faced with “vs.” videos when trying to decide on the best gift. “Vs.” videos are very common in the tech community on YouTube, with products of every shape and size facing off against each other for top-dog status:
Tutorials on YouTube represent a unique value add for any gift. Instead of having to rely on paper instruction manuals that no one reads any more, imagine being able to send your Secret Santa some helpful “how-to” videos as a gift.
For anyone on your list that is new to the world of makeup, beauty tutorials are probably the most widespread example of seeing products in action thanks to the enormous and active“Beauty Guru” community. Here is one video using the Naked 3 palette to help put together a look for those holiday parties coming up:
Trying to decide on that perfect Play-Doh set for your picky 4 year old? From Disney princesses to making ice cream cones or Spongebob, YouTube can point you down the right path to find a Play-Doh set that caters to any child’s interests.
As the above info hopefully illustrates, shoppers can approach and engage with YouTube in a variety of ways, and the amount of influence the platform holds over purchasing decisions is only growing. This holiday season is poised to offer more opportunities for brands than any year previous. Whether that means aligning with targeted content through advertising, or creating custom content that aligns with a fan trend, the choice to get involved and develop a strategy should be an easy one. The sooner brands recognize this opportunity, the better positioned they will be as social video continues to grow into next year and beyond. If you’ve missed the boat already this season, just store these tips in your stockings for next year as YouTube and its purchasing influence will only continue to grow at a pace almost no one (not even YouTube itself) could have predicted.
With the holiday season rapidly approaching, it’s about that time of year when people begin to eat a bit more than usual, gaining some weight along the way, until eventually they make a New Year’s resolution to finally get fit, once and for all. Thanks to YouTube, such resolutions have become much easier to maintain.
More and more people are discovering the incredible resource that YouTube provides when it comes to hacking their health. Anyone looking for tips on what to eat, how to properly lift weights, or how to pull off that challenging yoga pose are no longer confined to the world of DVDs and TV specials. Their living room is their gym, and YouTube is their personal trainer.
To shed a light on this shift and see what is driving fitness culture on YouTube, we dug into some classic aerobic trends from the past, some of the top influencers/trainers of today, along with some insights into how fans engage and push each other to reach their fitness goals.
When we talk about culture on YouTube, it’s important to remember the archival nature of fan behavior. For fitness, YouTube serves to remind us of all the hot trends that swept the nation at various times. Remember those Tae Bo VHS tapes with Billy Blanks? If not, here is what you would have seen back in the ’90s when you fired up your VCR:
That’s almost an hour’s worth of the classic, sweaty, total body fitness system, and there’s plenty more where that came from. And, although the video content might be decades old, when you look at the comments under these videos, you see fans continuing to discuss the routines and offer each other advice:
While some of these videos may leave you wondering, “What in the world were they thinking?”, they show that the world of social video on YouTube is never dull. It’s a rich experience that transcends time and brings together ideas in ways unlike anywhere else.
The Rise of the Social Media Fitness Personality
If you haven’t yet heard of any of the fitness personalities below, pay attention to the viewcounts and subscriber numbers next to their names, and then ask yourself why you keep ignoring YouTube.
First, there is Cassie Ho, whose channel Blogilates has nearly 150 million views and close to 2 million subscribers. This year, she launched her first fitness DVD for Target, has been written up in The Wall Street Journal and Seventeen, and even started a new clothing line. By comparing Cassie’s oldest videos from 2009 to her most recent videos, it’s fascinating to see how five years of dedicated video making has grown into a loyal audience of millions.
As you’ll see from her earliest video below, YouTube isn’t always about creating highly produced, expensive content. Oftentimes, the simple act of turning on a camera in your living room is what connects with people in an authentic way:
Then, there is the FitnessBlender channel, with a whopping 180 million views and 1.6 million subscribers. Here is what it says on their “about” page:
“Everything you see on this YouTube Channel is created by two people, a husband and wife team; Daniel & Kelli. Thank you for watching!”
This married duo has mastered a style that seems to fit perfectly for the YouTube audience working out at home. Their clean, simple approach to fitness is yet another example of why more people are turning to YouTube when they want to learn something valuable for their lives. Here is a video for a routine that requires zero equipment:
Next, for anyone that needs to take a rest and laugh at their fellow gym rats, the comedy channel BroScienceLife is for you. Again, YouTube is a rich environment with videos of every shape, size, and color, including parodies galore. The man behind BroScienceLife targets the “bros” that tend to take weight lifting a little too seriously, and the result is a hilarious window into fitness culture on YouTube.
Did you know there are actually way more bicep machines in the gym than advertised?:
Zumba + Music + Fans = Domination
Of course, music on YouTube is massive. As Rolling Stone reported, “A recent Nielsen survey found 64 percent of teen listeners discovered music via YouTube.” So, what happens when you add a fitness dance craze to that equation? You end up with Zumba.
Zumba was started in Colombia during the ’90s, and has since swept the globe. How do we know? Just try searching “Zumba” plus any hit single from the past decade, in practically any language, and you are bound to uncover videos of fans dancing out their favorite Zumba routines. We ran some numbers on the Zumba fan videos, and this is what we found:
Though Zumba’s official channel is nothing to scoff at, with its 78 million viewcount, the fans once again reveal just how powerful they can be. As with any cultural trend, the fans run with it, and the result is billions of earned views for Zumba.
How-to videos represent some of the best examples of why YouTube is so valuable, and fitness culture is no exception. When someone decides to share their knowledge on the platform, YouTube audiences respond to the authenticity and come back demanding more. Moreover, YouTube is where culture is born, and in some cases it’s also where culture is reborn and given new life, all thanks to the fans. Where TV fitness stars simply shouted out instructions, the fans on YouTube get to talk back.
ZEFR recently attended the screening of two works by filmmakers Jon Goldman and Satsuki Okawa, 2014’s selections for the Lexus Short Films second annual “Life is Amazing” series. In collaboration with the Weinstein Company, Lexus Short Films seeks to discover and foster promising young filmmakers by financing the production of new, original short films without any mandate for product placement. In its second year, Lexus Short Films showcased Market Hours (written and directed by Jon Goldman) and Operation Barn Owl (directed by Satsuki Okawa) before releasing them to YouTube for wider distribution.
Lexus sees the value of high-production short-form content as a clear path to captivate an audience that is flocking in droves to online video, especially YouTube. The Weinstein Company, of course, is in the business of unearthing talent anywhere they can find it. Thus a partnership that began in 2013 has blossomed into an annual event, replete with New York City premieres, involving the requisite red carpets and flashbulbs.
High Production, Short Form
After a recent press screening of Lexus Short Films Market Hours and Operation Barn Owl, the producer of both films Joey Horvitz, posed a question that sounded strangely like a riddle: “What is the difference between a James Bond movie and a Lexus short film?” The room went quiet and Horvitz delivered his punchline: “The Lexus Short Film has less product placement.”
He’s absolutely right, in a way. Of course, despite both the Weinstein Company and Lexus enforcing no mandate to include any mention or scene involving a Lexus automobile, there they are, both in Market Hours and Operation Barn Owl, unmistakable, clean, white, and new. Yet the scenes are brief, incidental, and gone before you can blink twice. The scenes called for a car, and well, Lexus was footing the bill, so why not use the freebie?
“Other car companies that have done similar short-film things,” says Horvitz. “A lot of them use established directors that are making massive summer tentpole movies. What we wanted to do is to find up-and-coming directors. We wanted to give them an opportunity, to help them take their careers to the next level and give them the tools necessary to do that.”
Which brings up another question: What’s in it for Lexus and the Weinstein Company? Why finance two short films directed by virtual unknowns to be seen primarily on YouTube that do not explicitly advertise anything? Why recruit actress Katie Holmes to mentor young directors about how actors respond to stories?
Why ask director Antoine Fuqua to mentor these fledgling filmmakers if the goal isn’t to, well, just sell cars?
“You’re right to wonder, ‘Why is Lexus doing this? I don’t understand it,’” says Horvitz, bluntly addressing head-on the question of motive. “It’s not like the BMW movies, or something, where it’s all about the cars. It’s because there is a certain brand essence to film and cinema. There’s a sophistication, there’s glamour. I think you’re going to be seeing a lot more of them. You’re going to see a lot more short films coming into their own. You see what’s happening with all of these YouTube personalities and influencers, like PewDiePie. There’s a big difference between content like that, which brands will probably be investing in, and high-quality movie-quality content.”
Authenticity and the Rise of Online Video
Lexus, along with the Weinstein Company, are fully committed to breaking into digital video platforms such as YouTube and using its astronomical resurgence to usher in a new era of appreciation and broader audience for the short film. And the filmmakers themselves couldn’t be happier with the support, not just monetarily, but for the exposure as well.
“I got really lucky to work with someone like the Weinstein Company and Lexus, the big guns, right?” says Operation Barn Owl director Satsuki Okawa, laughing. “When the opportunity came, I tried to be honest to my ideas, to what I wanted to do. Before the internet, all of us were influenced by what the media said. It was so limited. But now, we can see what other people think, regular people like us. You can’t really lie anymore. You have to be true. You have to be honest. If you stink, they can smell it.”
“It was so cool getting to meet all these people and share the film with them,” says the writer and director of Market Hours Jon Goldman. “I tried to make a good film that came from a purely creative, private place. I felt like I was able to do that. And it’s really exciting and I’m grateful for the exposure that’s going to happen because of Lexus and Weinstein Company. I’ve made what I felt was a good film before and then struggled to get people to see it, so this opportunity is great. A lot of people have an interest in getting this seen, so that’s fantastic. As a filmmaker, I’m just trying to hold on to my experience of making this and the experience of how things feel moving forward, with what I do next.”
When the first Dunkin’ Donuts opened its doors in Quincy, Massachusetts, they did not have a YouTube marketing strategy. They didn’t need one because that single store did not expand to a full-fledged franchise for another five years. Also, it was 1950. Television itself was still a novelty for most, much like YouTube might be perceived now to some in 2014, nearly 64 years later.
Now, Dunkin’ Donuts is an international franchise with over 10 thousand shops (more than seven thousand in the United States alone), serving nearly three million customers per day, in 32 countries. Until recently, Dunkin’ Donuts boasted an impressive 36-state presence in America (enough to win a Presidential election in a landslide), yet California continued to prove elusive to the East Coast-based operation. (According to The Los Angeles Times, they closed nearly all of their West Coast branches by the end of the 1990s, with one last foray into the state’s capital, Sacramento, shuttering in 2002.)
The Frosting (aka Earned Media)
But, as of this past September, Dunkin’ Donuts is back in California. This time, the company is determined to expand to nearly 150 locations in Southern California with a possible expansion statewide if the early forays prove fruitful. By all indications, the launch has gone seamlessly, with the notoriously hard-to-please SoCal donut-eating connoisseurs embracing the first new opening in Santa Monica, as if it were the premiere of another Twilight film.
In fact, popular YouTuber iJustine (she has over 2 million subscribers) camped out overnight to be one of the first to cross the threshold at the grand opening of the Dunkin’ Donuts in Santa Monica.
Things got a bit crowded for the YouTuber, when lesser known, but still established personality Jenna Ezarik got much of the same footage (albeit from her own camera and angle) because she was next in line at the same store.
Both YouTubers are upfront about their lack of official sponsorship, proud to admit they camped out entirely of their own volition. Abundantly clear from both clips is the enthusiasm not just from the video hosts, but the surrounding campers and doughnut hounds, alert and cheering along with a healthy-sized crowd, with traditional media crews also afoot and barrelling through the swinging glass doors at five in the morning.
The Dough (aka Paid Media)
If Dunkin’ Donuts didn’t have enough of a foothold out West until now, the brand has certainly found success in virtually every corner of the continental United States since that single store turned on its lights in 1950. In fact, their marketing and media has often proven influential, with some television spots from the 1980s now considered classics. (If you don’t remember the “Time to make the donuts” refrain, you probably didn’t grow up in the Northeast.)
So, it comes as no surprise that as we enter the second half of the second decade of the 21st Century, Dunkin’ Donuts has happily (and smartly) embraced YouTube to spread the gospel of its good donuts and especially its coffee. With competition always brewing with Starbucks, and the Seattle coffee giant’s own recent YouTube launch of the “Meet Me At Starbucks” campaign, the official Dunkin’ Donuts YouTube channel is constantly uploading new content.
Yet even what appears to be “paid” media on YouTube to promote the rollout of Dunkin’ Donuts’ second California bid, feels organic. In fact, no official content concerning the franchise’s big move back toward the Pacific can be found on the company’s YouTube channel. It would seem the company is banking on word-of-mouth, but utilizing the platform to both encourage traditional earned media and what would appear to be brand-bought content garnering millions of views on BuzzFeed.
Even a segment on The Ellen Show devoted to the Santa Monica opening (the show’s clips uploaded to YouTube take on another life of their own, well after the episode has aired) has grabbed the attention of the comedienne’s nearly 10 million subscribers.
The Last Drop
With so many independent donut shops, especially in Southern California, and a Starbucks or a Coffee Bean & Tea Leaf battling for every last available inch of retail sidewalk, one would think Dunkin’ Donuts would be bolder than their darkest roast in terms of their California franchise rollout. Early indications, on YouTube especially, point toward a modern word-of-mouth strategy. Without social media at their disposal in the mid-1990s, perhaps the 64-year-old donut and coffee empire is playing it old school but with new media tools. It’s letting its fanbase build organically, one sip and one bite at a time as it makes its way up the Pacific coastline, determined this time to stay for good.
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