Carl’s Jr. Makes New Kind of Network Buy

NEW YORK Justine Ezarik might not be a household name, but the 25-year-old has a cable TV-size audience. The only difference: Ezarik’s audience is on YouTube, Facebook and Twitter.

Thanks to Google, she’s also now part of Carl’s Jr.’s effort rolling out this week to sell the Portobello Mushroom Six-Dollar Burger to young men. The search-engine giant drafted Ezarik and eight other popular YouTube creators to participate in an ad campaign for the fast-food chain on the video-sharing site. They were commissioned to put their own spin on the CKE Restaurants brand’s infamous Paris Hilton-eating-a-burger commercial by showing how they would eat theirs.

The YouTube stars were chosen not only for their creative flair, but for the networks of followers they can mobilize. Ezarik, for instance, not only has 94,000 subscribers to the iJustine YouTube channel — the nine YouTube celebs combined total 3.8 million subscribers on the site — but also boasts 590,000 followers on Twitter and 25,000 Facebook fans. These networks, in essence, comprise a new kind of media buy.

By promoting Carl’s Jr. with their own videos, the content creators are giving the brand the crucial personal endorsement so important in social media, said Ezra Cooperstein, vp and director of innovations at Initiative, the Interpublic Group shop that put together the campaign. “They’ve spent the time building community around themselves,” he said.

Google is adding such deals to its advertising arsenal as it attempts to turn the video site into a moneymaker. YouTube, while far and away the most popular video service, has struggled to find its footing with advertisers leery of associating with user-generated content. Other new tools include tying advertiser videos to search results and matching high-profile creators like Seth MacFarland with brands.

Google is also clamping down on unauthorized product-placement deals. It sent letters to popular creators who have inked such deals, reminding them that using the service for commercial purposes without permission is against its terms of service. YouTube is now spearheading these types of deals itself.

“If this is something brands continually do, there will be fatigue,” Cooperstein said. But when “it feels organic to the creator’s voice, it’s hard for the audience to push back.”

The Carl’s Jr. videos will live on a dedicated YouTube channel, the creators’ pages and in ad units across sites in the Google ad network. They won’t be marked as ads on the YouTube pages, but will carry a notice they were paid for by Carl’s Jr. Each video also invites users to upload their own videos of how they eat a burger.

Carl’s Jr. gave a simple creative brief to the stars: tell how you eat a burger and mention the product by name. The marketer is paying a flat fee for production and promotion. All told, the campaign can expect upwards to 10 million video views, said Cooperstein.

This is an approach a few advertisers have taken. Sanyo in March ran a campaign with some of the same YouTube stars in which they tried to drum up interest in videos they made about a new Sanyo camera. Sanyo paid them based on the number of views the videos got. IJustine’s Sanyo video has received 428,000 views.

“There have been some brands that didn’t fit with my audience or the things I talk about,” said Ezarik, who has already made a popular video about her love of cheeseburgers. “This is a video I would have made anyway.”
 
The bonus for CKE: it’s cheap compared to traditional advertising. “This whole program will be a fraction of the cost of producing a TV ad,” said Brad Haley, evp of marketing for CKE.

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