It’s hard to go a day on the internet without encountering some form of YouTube ‘drama’. Creators with a large following are frequently involved in scandals regarding anything from racism to fraud, or in the most recent case – filming a suicide victim in Japan’s suicide forest, and laughing. Logan Paul, the YouTuber who uploaded the video, created waves all over the internet because of his cultural insensitivity during his trip to Japan, and his general disrespect towards Japanese culture and the serious issue of Japan’s high suicide rates.* Despite this, Logan Paul remains one of the biggest vlog channels on YouTube with over 16 million subscribers and rising. It is obvious that something about Paul is attractive enough to gather such an immense number of followers, and many would hastily point to the unique draw of YouTube vloggers. From the unexplained joy of watching room tours, to the emotional investment in creators’ relationships, YouTube seems to be revolutionising the way we entertain ourselves. But is it?
Logan Paul and his vlogging brethren are no more than re-incarnations of reality television stars, using the same tricks and strategies to grab attention. The ‘drama’ is undoubtedly all scripted, the scandals carefully calculated, and all the apology videos and redemption donations do precisely what they have done in the past: give people something to talk about. The videos showing insights into the lives of vloggers allow people an unprecedented depth of perception into the lives of the rich and famous, or at the very least, of other people. And yet, the basis of the content remains the same as typical traditional television. It’s reality tv, but more personal and doing its best to appear unscripted.
But when YouTube’s growing young viewership is factored into the equation, things really get interesting. Traditional teen and tween tv programs are being gradually replaced by YouTube content, and perhaps this is to be expected as greater numbers of younger people possess their own devices and seek their own brand of entertainment. However, it appears that young people, particularly between the ages of 13 and 17, are much more trusting of and influenced by YouTubers than television stars. In each fraction of the studied age category, young people are 20% more likely to purchase a product recommended by a YouTuber than one recommended by a television star.
This trend has not gone unnoticed by content creators. Using their popularity on the platform as a spring board, they promote sponsored content, put out their own merchandise, and collaborate with brands on products. YouTube facilitates advertising in a way that no platform has done before. YouTube’s commercial potential is so huge because the reason that most people enjoy the content is because the people in it seem so genuine and relatable. Most of the creators, filming from their bedrooms in their headphones or on iPhone cameras at the grocery store, seem to be ordinary people. They speak directly to the camera as if it were another person, and interact with the audience in a way that television simply cannot rival. It feels like a personal connection. Like a friendship. And wouldn’t a friend recommending you a product feel more trustworthy than a television star, who whilst influential, is still very distant from the everyday person?
Putting together the appeal of YouTube vloggers, the growing number of impressionable young viewers, and YouTube’s massive commercial potential, the emerging picture looks very much like a promotion for influencer advertising. But how feasible is it to pull off a successful influencer ad campaign, especially if every business has the same idea? Influencer advertising will gradually become very expensive as brands catch on to the change of direction in entertainment. Getting a Logan Paul advert, for example, is already immensely difficult. The money he makes from his merchandise and other projects will most likely outshine any offer from a company selling products which do not fit his personal brand.
However, the possibility of high returns will almost certainly pressure companies to take big risks. One such risk is the creation of an influencer. Brands can take a chance by hiring a promising young person to create and maintain a channel with the sole purpose of promoting their content once the channel reaches a high subscriber count. Although it sounds implausible, it is not an impossibility. This would eliminate the unpredictability of certain influencers, and ensure that the brand is never in an awkward situation if one of their influencer promoters is outed as a racist, or laughs at a victim of suicide. As seen from Logan Paul’s example, unpredictable influencers mean money wasted for businesses.
As YouTube’s viewership soars, and its previously untapped commercial potential is explored, more and more unorthodox advertising methods will come into existence, and brands will have access to more diverse advertising methods than ever before. But with every new advertising method comes risk, and while the returns may be tempting, the risks cannot be ignored.