YouTubers working with brands

photo by Craig Garner

YouTubers want to work with brands. Brands want to be on YouTube. YouTubers don’t always have the resources to initiate brand integration deals. Brands don’t always know what to do with YouTubers. In an effort to remedy this situation, YouTubers have been increasingly open as of late when talking about their experiences working with brands.

At VidCon 2013, YouTubers spoke on panels about working with brands. A couple of months ago, YouTuber Nikki Phillippi did a video titled, “What is a YouTuber?!” in which she took about 45 minutes, sponsored by Netflix, to answer questions about the business of being a full time YouTuber. Tyler Oakley was on PBS’s Frontline talking about what he has come to expect from good brand deals.

The through lines with every YouTuber are the same: they only work with brands they like, and they expect brands to be very flexible and receptive to the style in which the YouTubers work.

Brand Integration and Nikki Phillippi

With 500,000+ subscribers, Nikki Phillippi and her husband run a full time YouTube business. Brand integrations with Beauty Gurus, especially for her size and larger, seem like a no brainer.

Nikki, in her video, answers questions from Twitter and gives surprisingly thorough answers. She disclaims that what she talks about is true to her, but not all YouTubers are on the same monetization roadmap doing the same things.

NikkiPhillippi How do You Make Money?

From the above Twitter question, Nikki answers with both, mentioning that she was once given advice on how to make a living on the internet, with the key being diversity. There is almost no way a YouTuber can be full time on AdSense alone. Similarly, being part of Amazon Affiliates, or any other single revenue stream is not enough, but participating in all of them adds up to a full time job, making a living wage.

On the subject of product integration, Nikki says that it works well for her because, “I naturally create content that often, like, I often mention like products or clothes.” Because she already makes content about brands, she is a good fit for brand integration, but not all brand integrations are a good fit for her.

As she explains in her video about how branded content works, she talks about click through rates, implying that most of the brand integration she does include links in the description box to a brand, product or service.

The order of operations in terms of doing a brand integration with Nikki is as follows:

  • Step 1: Brand reaches out. This can be to her personally, or to her MCN, or management.
  • Step 2: Offer to pay her to mention a product in a video.
  • Step 3: Nikki decides if the brand is a good fit for her. If she already knows the brand and the product and thinks favorably about them and the price/rate is good, then move forward.
  • Step 3b: If she hasn’t heard of the product, but thinks she would like it, she asks to try it to see if she likes it. If the rate is good and she ends up liking the product, then move forward with negotiating a rate for cost-per-click, or other payment method.
  • Step 4: Figure out what kind of video will get made. Nikki, up until this point has only done videos where a product gets mentioned as part of a video.

Nikki, when thinking about why she doesn’t like doing videos about a single product, notes that it is a whole lot of attention to one product, when her normal videos feature multiple products. She would have to LOVE a product to devote a whole video to it. It isn’t that she says she is opposed to a single brand focused video, but the right match hasn’t come along.

In order for a deal to work, the price has to be right as well. On this subject, Nikki says, “This is something that is kinda like this awkward little teetering line that I think a lot of YouTubers are walking because I think everybody who was in to YouTube knows, or anything on the Internet realizes, that entertainment is going more towards the digital sides of things.” She goes on to detail that in comparison to traditional media and the cost of making a commercial then buying airtime, YouTube is inexpensive. She continues to say,

“And what is happening with YouTube is there is this weird line where I won’t rep a product I do not like, but, that being said, I don’t work with brands that don’t understand the value of YouTube either. I would rather not make as much and do stuff by myself, for free, with stuff I have picked up from the drugstore, than work with a company who either doesn’t understand the value of it, or does understand the value of it, but they think that we don’t, and are like here is $100, and I realize that that sounds really strange to people […] but it’s really what is going on in the industry and a matter of trying to elevate and help the entertainment industry kind of segue and understand the value of digital marketing.”

Nikki goes on to make the claim that most YouTubers turn down 90% of the things they are offered because everyone is really careful about the things they accept. Sometimes YouTubers get some hate for the brands that they work with, but it probably turns out that the YouTuber really does like the brand and that they turned down a bunch of other offers from brands that he or she feels less passionately about.

This tends to be true across the board. YouTubers, especially at the more professional levels, have a strong sense of their personal brands and what it means to be authentic to themselves and their channels. If brands are not a good fit, culturally, YouTubers are significantly less inclined to work with them.

Brand Integration and Tyler Oakley

Tyler Oakley is kind of a big deal. He is rapidly approaching 4 million subscribers. He is his MCN’s largest YouTuber. He has worked with brands like Pepsi, MTV, Taco Bell, E!, NBC, Warby Parker, Virgin Mobile, and Audible.

Once one brand got involved with him, others followed suit, but for Oakley, he won’t work with just any brand. He spent years building up his personal channel to what it is today and knows that the whole YouTube community has done the same.

On PBS’s Frontline, Oakley says:

“If you want to get involved, then you have to play by our rules. This is our platform. We have built this up in our own capacity, in our own way without you. So if you want to come on and if you want to get involved, you can’t just come in like a bully and kind of get your way. You may have to like, play by our rules a little bit. Which is FUN!”

The through line between the brands that Oakley chooses to work with are their understanding of his personal brand and message. The brands understand that Oakley is a direct line to fan interaction and not just a channel on which one distributes content. For him, in his own words, “it takes the creative teams that get what we are doing, for me to want to work with them.”

Some Best Practices

The keys that both Nikki Phillippi and Tyler Oakley mentioned in spades is that brands who want to work with YouTubers need to be receptive to working the way YouTubers work, rather than the way traditional media does. YouTubers make money off of their personal brands, so if they aren’t a fan of your brand, it is better to find a YouTuber that is, so that the brand and YouTuber mesh well together.

From a stylistic perspective it is important to not try and force a storyboard. Since YouTubers are involved in every step of the process from ideation to production to social engagement, they want to have a say in the creative process of crafting brand deal videos as well.

From the brand perspective, that means:

  1. Find YouTubers who already like your products.

  2. If you are a new brand/product, give YouTubers a chance to get to know your brand/product before trying to make content.

  3. Be receptive towards a collaborative development process.

  4. Open up the opportunity for YouTubers to be as involved as they want in production (which could be a lot or a little).

Get future posts delivered to your inbox

Brand Spotlight

The Brands on YouTube series takes an in depth look at some of the best video marketing stories from brands and their fans. What brand would you like to see profiled next? Let us know in the comments below.

So, before you all run away because of the high levels of fangirl squee associated with Teen Wolf, hear me out. The folks running social media for Teen Wolf are hands down, no contest, the best at playing with and engaging fans in their native habitats. They use Facebook, Twitter, Tumblr, YouTube, and YouTubers (large and small) in a seamless conversation, elevating the conversation around the show to “trending topics” status.

Moreover, it isn’t just the official MTV Teen Wolf owned media accounts leading the way, but also the cast and crew of the show and its fans. They all make the ecosystem work symbiotically. The way the Teen Wolf team engages their emerging fans, partners with their famous fans, and handles social media across platforms, makes Teen Wolf the leader of the the pack when it comes to cultivating a fandom through both earned media and owned media.

Emerging Fans: The story of Quinn Wentz

On January 5th 2014, Teen Wolf fan Quinn Wentz uploaded a song to YouTube called “War”, based on the trailer for Teen Wolf’s Season 3B:

To see where he drew his inspiration, here is the official trailer promo:

As a musician, Quinn Wentz goes by the name “Former Vandal”, and his music video seen above is amazing.  When the video first went up, he had 53 subscribers and his channel mostly consisted of vlogs.

On January 5th, 2014, Quinn tweeted the release of the video to share with some other Teen Wolf fans:

Then, on January 9th, Quinn tweets directly at the official Twitter for Teen Wolf, rather than just mentioning @MTVteenwolf in a tweet:

This catches MTV’s attention, as he succeeds in getting a response, which opens up the floodgates:

Ian Bohen, the actor who plays the character Peter Hale on the show, also tweets at Quinn:

Chrystal Reed, an actress who plays Allison Argent, weighs in as well:

The video garnered an initial 17,000 views, which then jumped to 48,000 views after MTV used his fan created video as official promo for the show on January 27th. And of course, the promo came with its own social media push by MTV on YouTube, Twitter, Facebook and Tumblr. Here is the video on MTV’s official channel: MTV also took to Twitter and Facebook to share in the excitement with the fans:



Between then and now, Quinn has done more vlogging on his channel, Teen Wolf reviews on Tuesdays, as well as more original music. While none of his content has hit quite as big on YouTube as “War”, Teen Wolf launched major growth for his channel.

As a result of the season finale of the show, Wentz made a tribute song, which got picked up again by official Teen Wolf channels and garnered close to 20,000 views in 6 days, which is impressive for a channel of his size. [SPOILERS AHEAD]:

Once again, MTV shared the love on Twitter, Facebook, and Tumblr:


Brands on YouTube MTV Teen Wolf

Quinn Wentz is the every-fan. A socially ‘plugged in on every platform,’ ‘squeeing in public’ young person with talent and perseverance. His story is one other fans can aspire to, through being touched by the objects/subjects of their fandom.

Quinn Wentz, by being a fan, has fans of his own. A playlist on his channel features fan videos using his song “War.” He includes the MTV official promo as a fan video of his fan video.

Teen Wolf’s relationship with YouTubers extends beyond just Quinn, or course. Yet, in a world where following is the new autograph, Quinn Wentz’s social media existence has been validated in a way that could be the springboard for his future, if leveraged the right way. And, let’s face it, after Tyler Oakley professed himself as a “professional fangirl,” who wouldn’t want to do that for a living? This brings us to…

Famous Fans: The FANtastic Show, The Teen Wolf After After Show, Pack Reacts, and Wolf Watch

MTV also works with big YouTubers. Tyler Oakley hosted a show for MTV in season 3A called The FANtastic Show, where he chatted with some of the cast after every episode for  Oakley was a fan of Teen Wolf before getting pulled by MTV to do some of their productions. Sometimes other fans would be on as well.

For Season 3B, MTV chose a younger YouTuber, Lohanthony, to do The Teen Wolf After, After Show for chatting and reacting with the cast to that night’s episode. This show also includes behind the scenes clips and reels.

Pack Reacts is a show for done in the style of Lohanthony’s vlogs, where he gets to be a fan of fans. He gives his commentary on reactions from each week’s episodes. Fan reactions come in video form via Instagram with #packreacts.

Wolf Watch is all of the cast doing a talk show type show that Skypes each week with a different fan, known as the Alpha of the Week. They pick fans that make some of the best fan art, music, fanvids etc. In Season 3, Episode 21 of Wolf Watch, fan Julia Jones video chats about making another Teen Wolf song that got featured in an official MTV promo for the show.

All four of these shows are available on to help fans digest what they just saw, see more from the cast, and learn all about the fans of the show. These shows are plugged into the fans and influencers who reach the audience MTV wants, which keeps audiences within the MTV ecosystem.

Teen Wolf and Everyone Involved are Genuinely Fans of Fans

This supreme level of geekery, attention to detail and interaction with fans fosters genuine community. Being platform agnostic helps. Fans express themselves across all platforms, especially young fans, so it should seem apparent that going where they are and speaking the languages they speak are vital to the show’s success.

There are so many after-shows in video form because that is the medium that penetrates audiences most deeply. Fan videos do this too. Teen Wolf makes expert GIFs and the cast is well aware of doing GIF-bate things (where they move around weirdly, knowing fans will make GIFs of that motion).

It is important to note that this fandom is one that makes fanvids and ships characters hardcore. The fans are so involved in Teen Wolf that the writers have even thrown the fans some lines, referencing what fans latch on to, like Isaac’s scarf (a character spotted wearing scarves in multiple episodes).

The reason why Teen Wolf is such a great example for brands is because it is a great example of letting social media managers do their jobs well, and viewing all social media platforms, official paratextual elements of the show, and the show itself, as a giant conversation. The official channels engage genuinely and create relationships with the fans of the show and for that the fans have built a fiercely loyal fandom, generating earned media across the internet and preaching the gospel of the show.

Yes, it is on MTV. No, it is nothing like the 1980s film. Yes, the show is genuinely good, but the best part just might be the breadth and depth of the audience. And yes, they are a case study worth noting for their exceptional understanding of the fans across platforms, and their willingness to promote their earned media and empower the fans every chance they can.


Get future posts delivered to your inbox