Brand Spotlight

YouTube is where culture for brands is being born. It’s also where culture is archived for later generations to rediscover and make their own. In the realm of brand competitions, the Coke vs. Pepsi rivalry, dubbed the Cola Wars, has left a mark on the consumer public psyche unlike most marketing campaigns. So, we decided to run the numbers and see how the two soft-drink giants stack up on the biggest social video platform and what it means for any brand marketer trying to measure up to their competitors.

The Original Pepsi Challenge

In 1975, Pepsi began its “Pepsi Challenge” marketing campaign, conducting blind taste tests. The results? A majority chose Pepsi over Coke, and the world soon became familiar with TV ads proclaiming Pepsi victorious in the taste-test challenge. Thanks to the fans on YouTube, these ads live on, preserving the culture that existed during the height of the Cola Wars. Here is an early ad from 1979, uploaded by user MrClassicAds1970s:

And here’s one from 1981 showing the test in action:

As the campaign spread, Pepsi steadily made gains on Coke’s market share. By 1983, Pepsi was outselling Coke, and Coke was left scrambling to respond. Of course, as we all know by now, after a failed “New Coke” experience, Coca-Cola eventually returned their focus to their classic brand taste and image and came out on top despite the Pepsi Challenge results, a paradox that many authors have explored.

Using ZEFR’s BrandID tech, we ran a search for videos specific to the Pepsi Challenge campaign, and here’s what we found:

pepsi challenge data on youtube


Social Video: How the Fans Keep the Fight Alive

While the official “Pepsi Challenge” campaign has been retired, the fans on YouTube have always been, and will continue to be, fighting it out amongst themselves. You can see this happening in various ways, whether its fans conducting their own taste tests, or fans hashing it out under the videos in the comments section.

Here is a particularly nuanced analysis from one fan, who ends his video by asking his audience to tell him which soft drink they prefer:

“…But that’s just me. What’s your drink of choice? Is it Coke? Is it Pepsi? Root Beer? Mountain Dew? Sprite?…. let me know in the comments section below, because I actually respond.”

And here are some of the comments he received:

pepsi vs coke youtube comments

pepsi vs coke youtube comments

We ran another search, this time focusing on fan videos conducting their own taste tests, outside the context of the official “Pepsi Challenge.”

coke vs pepsi taste test youtube


Why The Fans Are the Ultimate Winners

As hinted at above, Coke has not surprisingly led the way in terms of overall presence on YouTube, both in terms of official content and fan content. The numbers only support this assertion.

coke vs pepsi data on youtube


A Matter of Taste

The most important takeaway here is the realization that the culture around both Coke and Pepsi is continually being shaped by the fans. Fan videos dominate the conversation, taking up 84 percent of the total views, creating an honest, highly authentic world of content where opinions are welcomed and encouraged. When it comes to choosing a favorite brand, people are asked to decide for themselves. No official brand campaign can control the message, it can only hope to help shape it, or at least point it in a preferable direction. But with YouTube, the audience has evolved in a manner that requires brands to be authentic, lest the brand be called out for dishonesty. Anything less than “the real thing” is just another marketing ploy to a shrewd YouTube audience. Listen to the fans, and they will drive your success on YouTube.


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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).

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Holidays are all about celebrating traditions, and when it comes to Halloween, that means celebrating candy, costumes, and scaring the crap out of people. So, here are a just a handful of videos featuring brands, from this year and from beyond the grave, to add to your trick or treat bag for today.

First off, three favorites from 2013 posted to brand channels:

Try to find which one of these brilliantly uses fan submitted content.


(FYI, the original video on Crest’s official channel has been removed. So, you can thank the fans for being able to watch this re-upload.)

Chupa Chups


Next, three awesome fan creations:

Can you spot the brand partnership?

Disney Parks



Finally, a couple from beyond the grave:

And, one of these has been kept alive thanks to a reupload on a fan channel.



Oh, and just because it’s awesome:

DED Talk


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