For many years YouTubers have done sponsored videos for brands. I’ve done dozens of brand sponsored videos (see playlist) since my first Mentos-sponsored video in Jan. 2007. I did a bunch via Hitviews (now closed), such as the Fox campaign for Fringe and Glee, and they were seen more than 5 million times (see these videos). Most of my sponsored videos, however, were direct with advertiser or via YouTube and its relationship with advertisers.
Now YouTube, which originally contractually forbid sponsored videos, appears to be encouraging brand/creator relationships through a YouTube Marketplace — and presumably these will be more interesting than strict prerolls and display ads. The details are sketchy, but you can read more at AdAge what was announced at VidCon. The idea, I believe, is to scale and even automate the process of connecting brands and even smaller stars that wouldn’t otherwise have these opportunities. But that’s no small feat, and I imagine this will be labor intensive for YouTube or another party. It’s also got to profit YouTube somehow.
Here’s what AdAge reported:
At a keynote presentation at VidCon today, YouTube vice president of product management, Shishir Mehrotra announced Video Creation Marketplace, a platform that will connect content creators on YouTube with marketers or agencies looking for viral buzz.
Here are my initial reactions:
- May Help the Little Guy: Hopefully this permits smaller brands to more easily connect with small and mid-sized creators. Most brands and agencies don’t know where to start in finding and coaching a sponsored videos. In some cases the creators reach out to brands and companies directly (although I’ve not personally found this productive).
- May “Level Set” the Prices: Eventually a marketplace should mature so that people can be paid less arbitrarily. There’s a wild inconsistency with the cost of these programs. As a product director, I’d want to pay based on expected views (objective) and the caliber/reputation of the creator (subjective). I know some creators that have demanded $50-$160K for sponsored videos, and frankly that’s too much.
- Will Still Require Peoples & Peoples: Ultimately this is not an easy thing to “Google-ize” as a self-serve marketplace (like how advertisers buy paid search or creators sign up for YouTube Partnerships). The very nature of sponsored videos requires a fair degree of discussion, compromises, and multiple edits. Larger campaigns will continue to require a human intermediary — like YouTube’s “Zoo” or one of the Online Video Studios (which unfortunately only represent their respective channels). There’s a difficult and important balancing act to ensure there’s a win/win/win for the brand/creator/audience. If anyone loses, they all lose. For instance, if the video is overly commercial it will tank. If the brand isn’t mentioned until the end of the video, there’s little value for the sponsor. If the audience is bored or feels like the creator “sold out,” everyone’s in trouble.
Let’s get specific with a real example. I’m currently working on a campaign from a well-known consumer-product brand. The brand found me when I spoke at an association meeting. The brand team and its agency spent an hour this week sharing its creative brief and launch plan, and I adapted it to create a video brief that I sent this morning. Now we’re reviewing a variety of concepts, and there’s a give-and-take. I liked the clown idea. They didn’t. It needs to be entertaining, but also within parameters based on the organization’s culture and legal groups.
In a project earlier this year, the digital agency ended up treating YouTube creators like production shops — making very specific frame-by-frame edits (see image for examples). That’s common since they’re used to dealing with hired creators or production shops — not “web stars.” The initiative fizzled, and I’d estimate that happens 15% of the time.
I guess my point is this: for YouTube, a marketplace is generally self-service. Google doesn’t like to deal with people individually since it’s hard to scale like that– it’s a big reason YouTube is empowering OVCs to handle individual creators. But custom sponsored videos are complex initiatives. Fox marketers, via Hitviews, were “hands off,” so the creators had to do very few “reshoots.” The GE/Howcast campaign was similar… with the client giving creators plenty of creative room. But I’ve seen fellow creators alienate brands because they stubbornly reject client input. And I’ve seen brands alienate creators because they get a bit “hands on” as if they’re directing a commercial (and that’s generally not the idea on these).
Are these issues any different from what I’m sure 30 Rock and other TV shows face with sponsors? Perhaps not. But someone needs to intermediate, and hopefully not more than 1-2 people. Someone has to protect the brand’s interest, and someone has to ensure the creator has freedom. It doesn’t work well when it’s by committee — including brands, agencies, communication leads, agents, studios and creators. Too complex.
Mentos was seamless because it was me and the product manager, and he didn’t want to direct the video… he gave me free reign. My sponsored videos through YouTube have mostly been smooth because someone at YouTube set expectations for brands and creators. But some projects are a mess with brands/agencies pushing messages; while creators stubbornly defend the audience-merit of their ideas.
Ultimately, “paring YouTube Partners with Advertisers and Agencies” (AdAge subtitle) can’t be done via a website or auto-process. It’s a balancing act that can’t easily be scaled or replicated via a digital marketplace. One exception- helping brands get product samples to webstars. That’d be very easy and valuable for the brands and stars. Let’s do that.