Jerome Jarre is sitting in the front row of this year’s MTV Video Music Awards, catching all the action and instantly turning it into content via the video sharing app Vine. For the big night, he labels himself “the VMA creeper,” recording the stars as they perform, his alternately grinning, grimacing face right there in the shot.
In one selfie-styled, six-second video, he seems bewildered, maybe a little afraid of a grinding Ariana Grande and her backup dancers. Another Vine features a towering Beyoncé onstage overhead, reacting to Jarre’s goofy expression. Fittingly, he titles this one “How to make Beyoncé giggle.”
Jarre gets paid to do all this, something that would, naturally, be a dream job for any kid with a smartphone. MTV enlisted him for its marquee event to share these videos on his Vine account, which boasts an impressive 7.2 million followers. The going rate for one of his Vines is $25,000. He pulls down $35,000 for sending a single Snapchat message.
Jarre has helped to transform the six-second looping video into an art form and a marketing vehicle. It all may look really easy, but it isn’t. Jarre has to measure every second, carefully inspect each frame, shoot and often reshoot what appear to be spontaneous moments. Six seconds can take as much as six hours of work. The result is Jarre’s unique blend of comedy, pranks and absurd vignettes—all in his distinctive French accent.
Jarre’s Vine account is somewhat like a sketch comedy show, with recurring characters and jokes. You’ll find him interacting with strangers on the streets of New York, shouting randomly in crowded subways or on airplanes, talking to squirrels and homeless people, asking strangers for a kiss, joking with the police—and in all his videos, he’s sporting that signature smile.
To say that Jarre has mastered the short-form medium doesn’t quite do his mass influence justice—and marketers have taken notice. In one Vine, Jarre recruits a group of people in a park to swarm a sunbather and lather him in Coppertone. On Gravity Day last year, General Electric put Jarre on a plane to film the first zero-gravity Vine.
Jarre doesn’t work alone. His marketing firm, GrapeStory, has amassed dozens of similarly standout stars. Some create animated Vines, others are musicians, and still others are mommy Viners—all of them capitalizing on our social media obsession.
Jarre, 23, was born in France and has had a transient existence ever since, living in China and Canada before moving to the U.S. in 2012. To learn English while in China, he would listen to the social media self-help guides of Gary Vaynerchuk, the well-known social media marketer and head of VaynerMedia, who would become Jarre’s mentor and eventually his business partner. (Vaynerchuk basically taught Jarre how to speak English.)
Jarre sought out Vaynerchuk when he first arrived in New York. At the time, Jarre had no place to live, couch surfing thanks to the support of a circle of friends. He soon figured out a longer term solution.
“When I arrived in New York, I was homeless with 400 bucks in my pocket,” he says. “For the first two weeks, I convinced one guy to let me sleep on the floor in his apartment, then I convinced Gary to create a company with me, 50-50 … and I didn’t tell him I was using the floor of his office to sleep for six months.” Now, Jarre hangs out with celebrities like Robert De Niro, Pharrell Williams and Aaron Paul, all of whom have appeared in his Vines—as if anyone needed convincing that this is a platform whose time has arrived.
“You’re seeing this space heat up right now,” says Jordan Bitterman, chief strategy officer of the agency Mindshare. “The content is shorter form, snackable, shareable, fun, informative … and brands want to get involved in that because creating a six-second Vine, in almost every single case, is far less expensive than a premium spot for television but just as on brand.”
General Electric is a prime example of how Vines have grown up. One might not immediately think of the global industrial giant as a force in social media, but the corporation has, in fact, become an early adopter, testing ad products like sponsored posts on Instagram and experimenting with Snapchat.
“The audience of a lot of social platforms are the future business decision makers, those who might have a stake in the company some day,” says Sydney Lestrud, GE’s manager of global digital marketing. “We want to position ourselves as a brand that’s multifaceted and innovative in these areas. That’s an important goal for us.”
When GE collaborated with Jarre on Gravity Day, the idea was to spark a user-generated Vine campaign that had the public submitting videos of themselves dropping an apple to recreate Sir Isaac Newton’s historic moment. “We looked for folks who already understood the platform,” says Lestrud. “Jerome has a great personality and presence.”
More marketers like GE are seeking out voices that will lend instant credibility to their brands—and there’s no shortage of voices. Izea has even developed an automated platform through which social media users can pitch their influence to brands. Through this sort of matchmaker service, a marketer can find an Instagram user with a sizeable following and pay him or her to share content.
“There’s a hyper-fragmentation of media creation and media consumption,” says Izea CEO Ted Murphy. “That is driving brands to find different ways to connect with audiences.”
Izea has inserted itself into deals with social media superstars like Kim Kardashian. “Whether it’s Vine video, Instagram or YouTube video, the question is, what works best for advertisers?” Murphy says. “Getting $25,000 for someone big on any one of those channels is definitely within the realm of possibility—you see those types of deals all the time with bigger celebrities. You’re talking six-figures for a single tweet. So there’s absolutely money to be made.”
In the second quarter of this year, Izea brokered a total of $2.5 million in deals, a 40 percent year-over-year increase. Recently, the company launched a vertical focused on indie music acts with a social media following.
In the fast-moving social space, there is, of course, always the next hot platform where marketers will need early influencers like Jarre to help them get a toehold. Jarre is already making the transition from Vine to the messaging app Snapchat—“not that I don’t like Vine anymore,” he is quick to explain. “I just see a huge growth happening.”
At this point, Snapchat is certainly a less predictable platform for marketers. Snapchat doesn’t provide the same support of Pinterest or Instagram, which offer basic feedback and analysis about audience and performance. But while metrics remain more of a guessing game on Snapchat, anecdotal evidence suggest that users are hooked. According to several marketers that use Snapchat, as many as 85 percent of a brand’s followers open their messages on the platform.
Taco Bell, for one, says that most of its followers watch its messages in their entirety—even those that are minutes long via Snapchat Stories, which allow users to build long-form messages with photos and video.
It is the longer form of Snapchat that has attracted social players like Jarre. His Snapchat messages run for 100 seconds, compared to just six seconds on Vine. Jarre recently launched a YouTube channel where he features only Snapchat Stories.
Jarre joined Snapchat in his typical brash style. Two months ago, he showed up at the company’s headquarters in Venice Beach, Calif., in an attempt to get an audience with CEO Evan Spiegel. After tweeting from outside the Snapchat offices with the hashtag #jeromeinsnapchat, it became a trending topic—and, perhaps unsurprisingly, he was ushered right in for a meeting with Spiegel.>
Jarre is now among the most popular Snapchatters, with 2 million followers. “It’s the craziest engagement I’ve ever seen on social media,” Jarre says.
Some 1 million people see Jarre’s Snapchat messages within hours, he reports, while on Vine it can take days to build that kind of engagement. With that in mind, his company has landed social media personalities—among them, Shaun McBride (aka Shonduras)—who specialize in Snapchat.
The big question: Can Jarre maintain his creative edge despite his success? When he was living on his friends’ couches, Jarre cranked out three Vines every day. Now, having become a businessman as well as a personality, he produces barely one per week. “When you wake up on a hard floor and take a cold shower,” he notes, “you are super hungry.”
To remind him where he came from and to keep that hunger alive, he reveals, he still sleeps on the floor and takes cold showers sometimes.