YouTube’s Ashley Chang on five things marketers should know about culture in 2024
In an exclusive interview with Campaign, YouTube's culture and trends lead for APAC, Ashley Chang, highlights five trends emerging across the platform, and shares tips on how marketers can tap into them for a successful content strategy in 2024.
YouTube remains one of the most popular social media platforms globally. In APAC alone, over 160,000 channels now have over 100,000 subscribers, an increase of more than 35% since last year, while over 14,000 channels now have more than one million subscribers.
YouTube's ever-popular Shorts section, also continues to grow with over 70 billion daily views worldwide. In short: The platform is vast.
Overseeing this vastness in APAC is Ashley Chang, whose job it is to try and understand and articulate the cultural value of YouTube. He's often introduced as "the person with the coolest job" at the platform, namely because he literally gets to watch videos for a living.
While no one person can have an exhaustive view of all the content on offer, Chang is the closest thing to that person, and has insider knowledge on how YouTube can be most effective as a brand building tool.
Here, he shares with us some of the macro content trends he's seeing through the prism of YouTube, his predictions for 2024, and how brands can utilise these insights to get ahead and the most out of the platform.
1) Cultural pillars are colliding in new and interesting ways
What: Cultural pillars used to be siloed but now they’re fluid, collaborative and interconnected. In the era of Swiftie fandoms and NFL fandoms colliding, we’re seeing cultural pillars like music, sport, gaming and entertainment coalesce to create new flashpoints of passion that are bigger than the sum of their parts.
Who: Music x Gaming: KD/A - “Pop Stars”
KD/A is a virtual girl group made up of characters from League of Legends to promote the game. They are voiced by real singers, which include artists from famous K-pop band (G)I-dle.
"This track and music video is the greatest piece of content marketing that I have ever seen," says Chang. It has over 500 million views on YouTube. It's beyond marketing, because they've actually created culture, which is, I think, the ultimate form of content marketing. Where you can create something new that resonates with people that they love."
"For me, the creative innovation of turning video game characters into a pop group is super interesting and it creates culture."
Fashion x Entertainment: Simpsons x Balenciaga: Balenciaga teamed up with The Simpsons, Matt Groaning and his team to create an animated short in the style of the Simpsons.
"Even if you know nothing about Balenciaga, this piece of content would still be appealing to you as a Simpsons fan or as a fan of animated comedy," says Chang. "But there's that extra layer if you are a Balenciaga fan, where there are these kind of callbacks where the designer himself features in it. And it actually does feature clothes from the new collection through this kind of Trojan horse of a Simpsons episode. And I think it has close to 20 million views on YouTube. Balenciaga proved it is a luxury fashion house that is able to laugh at itself, and not take itself too seriously, which is why I think people liked it so much."
The 'so what' for brands: Don’t think of culture as discreet worlds with established gatekeepers. Brands are playing in worlds beyond their traditional fanbases and cultural history. Culture is an open sandbox that rewards brands that are brave, creative and innovative. Think about audience less in terms of demographics and personas, but rather what they love and engage with in order to meaningfully engage with them.
2) Fans are the new power brokers
What: Fans are no longer a passive witness to culture. Today, they engage with the object of their fandom, they engage with each other, they create discourse, they create content and they express their fandom by participating in collective cultural activities. We see this in everything from K-Pop to sports to gaming. Fans aren’t just bystanders, they are shaping the conversation and influencing culture in a more significant way than ever before. We are also seeing the emergence of professional fans, many who are YouTube creators, who can make a living wage through their passion.
Who: Marques Brownley (MKBHD) is one of most influential figures in global phone sales.
"He started as some guy in his bedroom on a webcam just talking about tech because he loved it," says Chang. "He doesn't design hardware, he doesn't have a PhD in computer science, but his influence is attached to his fandom, his love for tech, which I think is a really beautiful thing."
The 'so what' for brands: To engage authentically with culture you have to be a fan yourself and be a fan of the platforms where fandom takes place. Be generous, give to the fandom, don't co-opt it.
"You don't want to co-opt or piggyback on culture. You actually want to be generative," says Chang. "You need to give to the fandom—and that can be through access or it can be a perspective, or it can even be the platform through which other fans can express their fandom or connect to each other. But it can't be exploitative, it has to be generative, and it has to be from the place a fan.
"I think in a decade's time, we might see chief fandom officers, that's how important fandoms are. They'll have a legitimate seat at the table when it comes to how the object of their fandom operates."
3) Multi-language and language-agnostic content brings APAC to the world
What: The dominance of English-language content in global pop culture is being challenged by the growing influence of APAC cultural behemoths such as Korean K-Pop, Japanese anime and Punjabi hip hop. We are seeing idol groups now composed of multi-lingual and multicultural members to reach wider audiences and genres such as silent vlogging have negated the need to understand specific languages at all. Elsewhere, multitrack audio allows everyone from small creators to Indian film studios to make their content understandable to as many people as possible. And technology is helping erode linguistic barriers too.
Who: In his hit song ‘Masquerade’, Korean singer Midnatt sings in 6 languages, reaching new audiences by enabling listeners to choose which language they’d like via the audio track picker tool. He also used AI to make his pronunciation sound more fluent in each language.
YouTube has been testing Aloud with healthcare partners in India, supporting them to achieve scale efficiently. Aloud transcribes, translates and dubs original content, so that partners can just review and publish their video with multiple audios. A small group of hospitals in India, as part of an early access program, are currently using Aloud to easily generate local language dubs on important health related videos, and make that information more easily accessible.
"What if your captive audience is no longer just people who speak English," says Chang. "How does that change the way you think about your creative strategy or your media strategy? What if it is cost effective to do so or will be increasingly cost effective to do so? And beyond advertising, I think there's a lot of great altruistic use cases for this as well."
The 'so what' for brands: Don't limit your worldview of content by the language your talents or teams can and cannot speak. Leverage technology and the era of multi-format content from ASMR to vlogs to animation and more, to diversify your strategies and reach new audiences.
4) Virtual creators
What: What happens when you combine YouTube formats with cutting edge technology? Meet the VTuber. In 2019, Japanese agencies Hololive and Nijisanji started debuting VTubers by mixing animation and motion capture technology with the existing idol and fandom culture of the region. VTubers today focus on well-trodden YouTube formats such as vlogs, reaction videos, let’s plays and livestreams where they engage with fans. We have since seen virtual K-Pop groups, virtual mascots and virtual dance troupes.
The 'so what' for brands: In 2024 brands needs to keep abreast of AI advancements, especially with regard to how it might unlock new global audiences or the potential of brand marketing storytelling. However, content is still king, as audiences are evaluating that instead of the video production techniques.
5) There will be an increased interplay between multiple formats, screens and contexts
What: Video is not just one screen, format or genre. On YouTube alone, audiences watch shortform video on mobile, livestreams on desktop or 16x9 VOD on connected TV. As these types of video become more mainstream, we will see creators and brands move audiences between screens, formats and consumptions contexts in more creative ways.
Who: US creator Ludwig creates livestreams, shorts, VOD and podcasts and has different channels where his audience can interact with the type of content they love most.
Nissan x Lo-Fi campaign is designed specifically with a screen, format and consumption context in mind. Who would think to make a four hour video where nothing much happens but yet is a powerful example of brand marketing.
"So the beauty of this is that they weren't just able to understand content—people watch lo-fi hip hop videos on YouTube to help them study—but this isn't designed for mobile phones, this is for desktops or indeed televisions," says Chang. "Who would think to put out a four hour piece of branded content... it's unthinkable. That's silly, right? But 18 million views and 4,000 odd comments says it's not so silly."
"I think this particular campaign is very clever because engaging with the fandom is generative in the sense that they're giving something to people who like this type of content, but it's also promoting the interior of the car at the same time. So I think it's super clever. And then also, as you scrub through, you're gonna see billboards for the car."
The 'so what' for brands: YouTube presents brands with a unique opportunity to play across every screen, format and consumption context that video offers so think deeply not just about what your “YouTube” strategy is. Go one step further. What is your YouTube shorts, livestream, VOD and podcast strategy? Be clear on what those different levers are for and which part of your brand storytelling is most apt for each format.
"The top tip I would give to all brands in 2024 is: Don't think like a brand, think like a media company," says Chang. "You see, media companies don't create campaigns. They create formats... formats, formats, formats. Brands need to think about what is the replicable, repeatable, sticky thing that you can do that people will come back for.
"As brands go into 2024 planning be super clear on what the story you’re trying to tell is and how you’re going to tell it in video specifically. Nothing will be more effective."
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