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Google Links Brands With YouTube Creators: Are Agencies and Influencer Networks Threatened?

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YouTube video bloggers and other independent producers have been a growing part of marketing content creation for brands, sometimes in deals brokered by third parties. Now Google itself is getting in on the action, linking YouTube video production talent with brands and their agencies to produce video ads for the site.

Through an initiative called YouTube Labs, Google, working with influencer network AwesomenessTV, recently linked L'Oreal brands Maybelline, Essie and Dark & Lovely with YouTube creators, who also worked with agencies Code & Theory and Tag Creative. The result is a series of videos for each brand.

L'Oreal USA had exclusive U.S. use of YouTube Labs for 2016 in what Kirk Perry, Google president-client and agency relations, describes as an alpha test, though the model will be open to other companies this year. In Europe, BMW, Johnson & Johnson and Mondelez have tested the approach.

The effort moves Google into a sort of talent brokerage, linking content creators on YouTube with brands. And in the case of the L'Oreal brands, that didn't mean hooking them up with beauty bloggers with which they're already familiar in many cases through content or promotional deals. Rather it meant bringing creative talent from others areas, such as travel blogger Raya Encheva, together with brands.

Google doesn't make any commission or fee from the arrangement, Mr. Perry said, though the content creators do, and Google benefits from paid advertising revenue for placement of the videos on its site. There's no restriction on brands using the videos elsewhere, such as Facebook, other publishers or their own sites.

The effort came out of brainstorming sessions earlier last year on "the next generation of content," said L'Oreal USA Chief Marketing Officer Marie Gulin-Merle. "The idea was to put in one room in a beauty hackathon the YouTube creators, our marketing teams and our agencies. We would behave as publishers and invent the web series."

Howard Collinge, group creative director at Code and Theory, which worked on the videos for Essie and Maybelline with the YouTube creators, said he doesn't see the outside help as a threat.

"This was a really great collaboration," he said. "From the creative side, I think it gave us a lot of freedom."

The emphasis was on speed, with the agency going straight to production once the scripts were approved, guided by insights from YouTube creators and what they knew about the market," he said. "But we essentially wrote scripts and went and shot them. So we used them as a springboard. We had a lot of creative freedom to do what we thought was the right thing."

The brief was simple, Mr. Collinge said: "Be entertaining and really get their attention and be relevant. That's a great brief for any agency. It was a very experimental lab approach that felt a lot freer and more fun, nothing like a typical ad agency where you get briefed and have six weeks to work and then research and go shoot a commercial."

Ms. Gulin-Merle also describes the process as "less linear than before," replacing the usual process involving copy testing. "It was a fast and furious way of working with one motto: Better done than perfect. It's OK if you don't take another week to polish the content. You put it online and optimize from there and listen to the conversations and feedback from the consumer."

Among the ideas in the series was to tap into the stories behind the names of Essie nail polishes, she said. One video tells a story behind "Jamaica Me Crazy," named after an annoying vacation-intensive coworker and her trip to the island.

It's less clear if Google getting involved as a conduit between YouTube creators and brands helps companies like Gen.Video, which has done the same thing albeit with somewhat different projects for such players as Procter & Gamble's Olay.

"This is a logical and inevitable evolution of Google's facilitation role in the YouTube marketplace," said Jessica Thorpe, president of Gen.Video, in a statement. "It will put added pressure on companies (platforms and agencies) to provide more services than simply matching to support and amplify the impact of influencer video."

Gen. Video is already doing that, she said, in part by facilitating distribution of videos created by the producers it represents on e-commerce sites.

"The players that only provide exchange-based matching will quickly die out, and those that can differentiate will thrive as leveraging influencers becomes more universal," she said. But she said Google's involvement will "be another catalyst for growth for the video generation."

"I don't think we compete in any way, shape or form with the Gen.Videos of the world or the Tongals of the world," said Google's Mr. Perry. "We obviously have a little insight on the YouTube business and the creator ecosystem. We also have access to a lot of data and analytics about where consumers are and what they're watching. So we have that unique insight others wouldn't have."

While Google gets no money directly from making the introductions, the idea, he said, is an investment to make brands more comfortable so they'll want to reach consumers on Google media.

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CORRECTION: An earlier version of this article did not note that Google had worked with influencer network AwesomenessTV to link L'Oreal brands with YouTube creators. It also implied that Code & Theory worked on videos for Maybelline's Dark & Lovely brand; those were handled by Tag Creative.