The advertising industry prides itself on its ability to tap into popular culture. Smart agencies, brands and advertisers do everything they can to research, participate and lean into cultural moments; it’s what enables us to find fresh cultural insights to produce the kind of work that transcends advertising and drives culture forward.
Because of this, it’s safe to say that we are at our best when we, as an industry, are looking outward for our inspiration, not inward.
That, in a nutshell, is why I’m arguing that you can safely skip Cannes this year and go to VidCon instead. You’re more likely to find the freshest talent and the future of storytelling on a stage in Anaheim than a beach in the south of France.
For the uninitiated, VidCon is the world’s largest online video conference, and kicks off June 21 (right in the middle of Cannes). It is a celebration of content and culture, with 26,000 fans and the YouTube creators they adore. It’s the bellwether of not only the future of online video, but the future of storytelling.
So if you want to create the next award-winning creative and develop innovative messaging that will resonate, you’re better off spending time with the next generation of storytellers, and getting close to creators instead of just creatives.
I saw VidCon for the first time myself last summer. It left such an impression that I even joined the advisory board. This year, I’m inviting along IPG Mediabrands’ clients to experience VidCon for themselves.
Turn data points and percentages into people
It’s easy to look at huge growth numbers on platforms like YouTube and get a little numb to what those views and subscriber counts really mean. But if you get up close and see fans mobbing a creator, you can’t mistake it: The 26,000 fans at VidCon are famously passionate about their favorite creators. For most of them, VidCon is their best shot at meeting these stars in real life, after years of watching their videos online.
Even if fans don’t get to meet their favorite stars, the relationship is real. Many millennials see themselves as friends of their favorite creators, not just fans. This creates not only a stronger connection, but a mutual admiration between creators and their audience; one that is not to be underestimated.
Consider a traditional celebrity who might appear in an upcoming motion picture. You get exposure to that celebrity with out-of-home ads, trailers, licensing partnerships and appearances on talk shows. Now look at these YouTube creators. Many have zero marketing budget and tend to be underrepresented in traditional media, and yet most millennials think these creators are bigger trendsetters than traditional celebrities.
That’s a big cultural shift in the nature of celebrity, authenticity and community—three topics that are closely aligned to our interests as advertisers.
Learn from creators shaping what matters in culture
Speaking of community, our industry has been talking about the need for brands to be more authentic and transparent for years.
YouTube creators do this better than anyone.
VidCon is a chance to spend time with them, talk to them about their priorities and see how they can work with brands. From ads to integrations, talking to a few and getting a feel for why being authentic is important, how to connect with your audience and what they consider appropriate and rewarding can go a long way.
Discover tomorrow’s top creator, today
Last year at VidCon I met Jackie Aina. Her YouTube channel has 1.3 million subscribers and 82 million views. After serving in the army, she started producing informative beauty videos for women of color. In her words, she’s “changing the standard of beauty, one video at a time.”
I also met Kurt Hugo Schneider, whose channel boasts 8.6 million subscribers and 2.5 million views per video. Kurt is a multi-talented composer, musician, and videographer with a long history of brand partnerships.
If advertisers want to think of ourselves as culturally relevant in a changing landscape, we need to be familiar with these names, and get to know the many, many others who have influence and audience reach.
Why we’re betting big on YouTube creators at IPG Mediabrands
Here’s a tip: The easiest way for brands to tap into great YouTube content and reach passionate fans isn’t necessarily by partnering with the creators on an integration. YouTube content is media, just like TV.
Advertisers have always wanted to align their brands with high-quality, popular content because we know that kind of content moves the brand needle. YouTube ads can appear before and after a creator’s content, and those ads work.
Last year, we bet big, and pledged to invest $250M for the 2017-2018 upfronts season on Google Preferred. And that’s paid off for our clients: research shows that 94 percent of our campaigns showed an awareness lift, and 80 percent of studies showed a lift in purchase intent.
That’s why this year I’m bringing my clients along to VidCon, where they’ll find the future of entertainment, storytelling and creativity.
See you in Anaheim.
Joshua Lowcock is evp, head of digital US, UM.