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December 07, 2015

Product placement in the age of YouTube celebrities

Written by Investis Digital

ZOG Digital’s Michael Pasco discusses how brands can leverage video marketing and YouTube product placement to enhance social reach and ROI.

This article was originally published by SEM Rush.


YouTube has the king’s share of content marketing. I­t has over a billion users who generate billions of views and watch hundreds of millions of hours of video content every day. By connecting a highly engaging content medium with an active audience, YouTube has spawned a new type of content creator, unique to their system of digital discovery.

Superfans make up 20 percent of total users, but drive 80 percent of all commerce, engagement and conversation – content creators fall into this category, and, more importantly, reach people in this category on a regular basis.

YouTubes’ inherently shareable content is reaching its apex as we transition into 2016, so now is the time to identify the right influencers that can help improve content visibility for your brand.


Earned media are stealing the show because your campaign shifts from the large audience to one influential target. Not only does this allow for strategic flexibility, but YouTube influencers are also one of the best segments to organically reach an audience that already trusts a channel and expects interesting, accessible, and relatable content from it.

The fact is, these people have already found YouTube audiences for you. According to a Cisco Systems study, consumer video will generate 80 percent of all Internet traffic by 2019. The content creators making videos know how to connect with the users you care about, traversing information and building social relationships that drive users to take action. When planning for 2016, brands should connect with successful YouTube channels to increase reach, brand awareness and credibility.

What Defines An Effective YouTube Influencer?

YouTube influencers are more than public figures to their fans. They build relationships that affect decision-making and set the standard for audience engagement. Michelle Phan didn’t need BuzzFeed to pick up her Poker Face makeup tutorial in order to be topical and relatable. PewDiePie already reached 5 million dedicated gaming fans and by February before, the New York Times reported his 6 million subscribers in April. These creators know how develop content that speaks to their interests of specific audiences and grows awareness organically.

For your brand to leverage influence from social content on a massive scale, you will need someone who is widely perceived as an expert in your industry. They must truly embody your brand before they are introduced to it. Whether they are a candle vlogger or a movie reviewer, you need to be able to easily discern what their specialty is so you can ascertain their relevance to an audience. And most importantly, videos need to be created for their fans, not for themselves.

Using the Heartbeat chrome extension, you can assess how much money an influencer has earned and for whom. For the Poker Face video that made Michelle Phan famous, there was an estimated $33,180.26 earned from that smart, targeted and topical content. While it was only the start of her journey as a YouTube influencer, this video still streams pre-roll ads to anyone who views it.


You need to identify a content creator who knows that video creation is not enough – to be successful, creators must learn from their viewers. You need to find someone who will grow their channel on pace with your business and is responsive to their viewers. Their content must be positioned to truly resonate with your audience segment and drive valuable forms of engagement.

How To Identify A True YouTube Star

It’s difficult to predict the value of a content creator by looking at just one number, but we know they know how to connect brands to audiences. In May 2015, eMarketer discovered that 81 percent of marketers who had previously executed influencer marketing campaigns agreed that influencer engagement is effective.

Like any other shopper, when identifying potential YouTube influencers, the journey starts with search. To make sure you find the right person for the job, focus on what industry they can influence and how authentic their content is.

Search by Industry

If you are actively trying to use YouTube as a part of your video marketing strategy, then you have most likely already done research to see who else is creating content for your vertical.

Use this as a starting point and check back in to see who is actively creating relevant content. This frequency check is an important note to discovering which influencers are worth connecting with for long-term content relationships.

PewDiePie’s channel shows that he posts at least two new videos a day of varied styles, breaking 1 million views after a full day has passed and almost half a million views in the same day.


Take note of how their content has grown since then. Though PewDiePie has roots in gaming, all of the content listed above is clearly meant to be more humorous to the gaming community than simply displaying gaming content. See how they have previously endorsed a product to get a taste for how they would endorse yours.

Search for Authenticity

Last year, teens identify much more so with top YouTubers than traditional celebrities, according to Variety. Eight YouTubers ranked ahead of both Taylor Swift and Bruno Mars. The reason behind this is because YouTubers create relatable, authentic content that this age group eats up.

Though it can be hard to evaluate authenticity, especially considering it’s so subjective, what you can do is take into account 3 factors:

  1. Engagement
  2. Consistency
  3. Growth

Engagement is the most qualifying metric for separating the good from the bad. There’s a lot of value in what people have to say in the YouTube comments. Consistent video production that continues to grow subscribers means that these influencers are treating their channels seriously – they are listening to their audience.

Thus, they know their segment of subscribers best and can reliably produce content that people keep coming back for. This measurement of relevance is invaluable to your product placement, especially when these content creators often are the key to making products accessible for the mobile generation.

What YouTubers Can Do For Your Products

Think like a YouTube influencer

They’re celebrities, but not in the way the way actors are. They gain their social klout from being approachable, inspirational, and relatable. They think authentic passion is critical to their success, even more important than production value. They know that community is king and that engagement drives YouTube’s entire platform, not just views.

YouTube is an evolving landscape of content where accessibility is paramount to developing a connection with audiences raised on positive reinforcement. Influencers are eager to create unique content that people can only find on their channel. With so many videos being created every day, your product should be positioned to influencers as an opportunity to differentiate their content to your shared audience segments.

Be engagement-driven

YouTubers develop more personalized relationships with their fans than many other content distribution channels. Their goals are almost always to be involved with a community, whether that’s an audience or the creator community. They nurture their connections with fans by calling them friends, family members, or in some cases, a “#BroArmy.” Content creators love to be recognized by their peers and to drive continued content creation.

Digital engagement begins with trust and commitment, which have already been earned by these influencers. In new media, traditional marketing techniques must be thrown out to reach the same goals of improved reach and performance.

You can clearly see that Rosanna Pansino’s “Nerdy Nummies” content is aimed at people interested in baking gaming treats. They know what to expect when they click. Nintendo gets an initial boost in the video content, but Verizon displayed a pre-roll ad before “Mario Piranha Cookie Pops” began playing, and printable Butterball Turkey coupons displayed at a time when people interested in cooking are starting to think about Thanksgiving. Though content creator used its video as a smart vehicle to show related ads to consumers with food on the brain.


As a brand, provide YouTube influencers an opportunity to create unique content that can enable their fans and to stand out to other content creators. Finding a savvy YouTuber can open the doors to future content opportunities, so choose wisely.

More importantly, think about what your brand can gain from the investment

Assuming all else is the same, with a brand like Sphero BB-8, which content creator would be more valuable: a mom blogger with a million subscribers, or a toy reviewer with 100k subscribers? The toy reviewer has a smaller subscriber base, but it has an opportunity to gain from reviewing BB-8 while still being relevant to the right audience for Sphero.

Remember that many of the stars you find immediately will be protected by their management team, Michelle Phan and PewDiePie may be hard to attain. You cannot simply look at subscriptions or views to identify a potential influencer because those same numbers do not even guarantee high engagement or purchase intent.

Know that while a subscribed audience may be smaller, the reason people watch is because the content is somehow valuable to them. As the channel grows, your content grows with it for no extra charge. This is why the metric you should use is not subscribers – you need to find brand relevance. Instead, longtail YouTubers may bring more bang for your buck than the big stars.

Trust YouTubers To Make Fantastic Content

By having products included in their authentic content, brands have an opportunity for unique product placements that will always be accepted by consumers. Using YouTube influencers has a great return on investment because once you get them to work with you, the job is done – you’ll know it’s working if the project feels low maintenance on your end for how much they can benefit you.

It’s easy to forget that they’re not actors – they’re entrepreneurs. They seek to protect their creative freedom and the fans they have accumulated, but are always open to opportunities. Think about it – YouTube reaches more US adults in the 18-34 demographic than any cable network. They recognize that their fanbase will grow as they get to know their audience.

In order to find a solution that meets both the brand’s and the creator’s needs, you both must have the same goals and target audiences in order to find a plan that’s mutually beneficial. They require an approach that enables them to use their influence for you that aligns with their terms. This ensures that deploying a YouTube influencer strategy will always be a win/win situation.

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