In the wake of the recent business shakeups in the multi-channel network, MCN, space, with Disney acquiring Maker Studios, Dreamworks Animation’s acquisition of AwesomenessTV and more recently, AwesomenessTV acquiring Big Frame, and Warner Brothers investing $18 million in Machinima, a lot of people are asking… why? What do YouTube MCN’s, and digital video in general, have that traditional distribution channels are losing? The answer is what brands and advertisers want: the attention of young people.

YouTube has increasingly garnered the attention of young people, as fewer and fewer of them are turning to TV, and brands are experimenting in how best to get in front of those young eye balls.

One of the ways that brands are experimenting is through YouTuber partnerships in the form of brand integration deals. These deals resemble traditional media’s product placements or influencer marketing efforts, but differ in significant aspects when applied to YouTube’s social video platform. On YouTube, personalities have built their own personal brands and production arms practically by themselves, bringing in young audiences and fans that are entirely their own. As a result, a new set of rules are being made around successful brand integrations.

YouTube: Authentic Content is King

In order to succeed on YouTube, where authentic content is king, brands need to relinquish their total control of the 30 second TV spots and open up to strategies of flexibility and careful relationship building. Most importantly, brands need to find the right YouTubers to work with, then trust the talent to make a brand’s talking points fit with his or her own style, to connect with his or her own audience.

Thus, when looking at all the recent MCN investments and acquisitions with an understanding of the new brand integration precedent on YouTube, the deals as a whole make much more sense. Traditional media companies are investing in and acquiring the companies that aggregate YouTubers to reach and build relationships with audiences, meanwhile brands are advertising on the platform and doing brand integration deals with YouTubers in order to reach the same audience. With Brand integration deals, brands can build close relationships with trusted personalities. Audiences on YouTube have invested their time in those same YouTubers, building close relationships with them as well. The YouTuber is the conduit and gatekeeper to young audiences.

Successful Brand Integration

So, for brands looking to understand and access this new audience, but are unlikely to acquire an entire MCN, ZEFR has a guide to help navigate the space. The following is an excerpt from from ZEFR’s forthcoming eBook about brand integration deals. This bit showcases a model relationship between a brand and a YouTuber: Tyler Oakley and Taco Bell:

Authenticity is also maintained when Brands call back to YouTubers. Tyler Oakley and Taco Bell have that kind of relationship. Tyler Oakley in his video titled, “Proof That I’m Actually God” from April 6, 2012, tells his audience about a tweet he sent, saying, “I’m protesting @TacoBell until they address the absence of a Cool Ranch Doritos Taco. RT to join me – together we can demand justice.” Oakley goes on to describe his contact with Taco Bell, addressing his audience, saying:

Within 43 minutes of starting a revolution Taco Bell responded with, ‘@tyleroakley We’re coming out with a cool, new taco this summer. #HintHint’ which in turn spawned a media frenzy and then Business Insider did an article about the tweets, and the BuzzFeed did an article about the tweets, then Huffington Post did an article about the tweets. Now, I do not take credit for much, but girl, I will take credit for this.

On February 23, 2013, Oakley posts the exclusive first bite of a Cool Ranch Doritos Locos Taco from Taco Bell while on location for a Taco Bell shoot in Venice Beach, for his second channel.

The video he had been on location shooting was this one:

Tyler had been tweeting @TacoBell for a while before this tweet launched a relationship between Oakley and Taco Bell. Since that relationship formed, Oakley has been in videos promoting the new taco, and has gone on to do more work as a correspondent for Taco Bell. Oakley has even impacted hiring decisions. In a social media coordinator job posting from September 2013, one of the questions for prospective applicants was “Do you know who Tyler Oakley is?

Pairing a brand with a YouTuber the way that Tyler Oakley works with Taco Bell is a great tactic to maintain authenticity. The relationship between the brand and the talent can grow, and that growth becomes part of Tyler’s life story, what his audience tunes into YouTube to see. Tyler also becomes part of Taco Bell’s story.

Putting some of that call and response between YouTubers and brands out in public, on YouTube and other platforms, like Instagram, twitter and Tumblr grow the narrative of the relationship.

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