The day’s final session saw a group of high-powered industry leaders upstaged by 24-year-old YouTube star Ryan Higa, whose comedic-video channel boasts more than 2 billion total views.
Joining Higa for a discussion about strategies surrounding content marketing were Dominic Good, global sales director at the FT; Geoff Seeley, global communications and planning director for Unilever; and Karim Temsamani, Google’s regional MD. In addition, Bonin Bough, VP of global media and consumer engagement at Mondelez, crashed the panel. Bloomberg anchor Angie Lau moderated.
Temsamani set the stage by observing that consumers in Asia watch more YouTube videos that are 10 minutes or longer than they do videos that are two minutes or shorter — the opposite of their Western counterparts. Bough underlined the challenge this presents for brands. “If we look at where the market is heading, the 30-second spot that we rely on is not going to have an audience anymore.”
Increasingly, that audience is going to creators like Higa, Temsamani noted, citing research in which teens asked to list their favourite celebrities gave the first five spots to YouTube stars (with Higa himself fifth). The good news? “When there’s a strong connection and engagement with the audience, they are able to drive product consumption in a different way that is very authentic and true to themselves,” Temsamani said.
In fact, Seeley said, YouTube videos can generate purchase intent four times higher than the best TV ad. By virtue of Unilever’s extensive use of YouTube influencers, Seeley offered solid advice throughout the session — and it wasn’t about throwing money at someone like Higa and expecting sales to follow.
For example, Seeley described how for its All Things Hair channel, the FMCG company analyses search trends and briefs influencers on its findings. “The importance there is that we are creating something of value for the audience,” he said.
Unilever’s other key for success: it doesn’t micromanage. “We’re never going to impose, because talent is not going to work with us if we say, ‘Hey, would you mind using this kind of toothpaste or pouring this particular gravy’,” he said. Instead, Unilever educates creators about its brands and leaves them free to interpret and create. That said, the company maintains veto power by contract. “If it’s not appropriate, it doesn’t go out,” Seeley said.
Higa endorsed this approach. “The brands I work with are the ones that give you creative freedom,” he said. He cited the difference between being asked to repeat a cheesy tagline for a burger brand versus finding a way take a bite as a natural part of a skit.
Asked to elaborate on maintaining authenticity despite being a multimillion-dollar media owner, Higa answered simply: “It has really always been as simple as, what do I find entertaining, what do I find funny?” Fan feedback also plays a crucial role. “For me it was just me being myself,” he concluded. “And it’s not hard to just continue being myself.”
Although Good comes from a very different universe, he agreed about content being sacrosanct. The FT’s policies regarding church and state wouldn’t have been out of place 40 years ago, but Good noted that the publication has found success with its native advertising offerings. FT is doing at least 10 times more partnerships than it did a few years ago, he said, proving that advertisers are getting value. “As content marketing grows, advertisers are having to understand that you can’t mess with content,” he said.