SAN FRANCISCO (AdAge.com) -- Once upon a time, YouTube was considered the Wild West -- its so-called "stars" more likely to produce cringe-worthy performances than to displace the pitch-men and -women of traditional media. But now big-time brands like Lancome, McDonald's, Ford and Kellogg's are trusting YouTube celebs with their money and reputations. "The reason we turned to them is because they have a valid voice in their community, and people trust what they say and what they think," said Scott Monty, head of social media for Ford Motors.
They've got trust and, it turns out, engagement.
"What these YouTubers have proven is that they have engaged viewers -- they comment, they talk on the YouTuber's Facebook page, on Twitter. The brands want millions of views, but they also want engaged viewers," said Caroline Giegerich, director of innovation at Initiative, which was one of the first agencies to run a successful YouTube stars campaign with Carl Jr's. "If they're engaged with the stars, clearly they are engaged with the brand ... it means someone is not just seeing an ad and forgetting about it."
In the beginning, neither the brands nor the YouTubers themselves had much of an idea how much they were worth. But the price of hiring a YouTube celebrity to pitch a product is now comparable to hiring a B- or C-level Hollywood celeb.
Ryan Higa publicly lists his starting rate as $75,000 per appearance, a fraction of what someone like Paris Hilton charged for her Carl's Jr. commercial. Some, like Joe Penna, a.k.a. MysteryGuitarMan, feel as comfortable pitching themselves to brands as they do their audiences. "I get millions of hits, and I know my demographic -- I know what kind of video will be in line with my channel," Mr. Penna, a 23-year-old former pre-med student, said. "The best thing the brands can do is come to me with a blank slate and ask me, 'What can you do with this product for us?'"
Ad Age teamed up with TubeMogul to find the stars racking up the views.
CHARLES TRIPPYWHO IS HE? Mr. Trippy, 26, and Alli Speed, 21, vlog a "home-made reality show" called "Internet Killed Television" that is widely known as CTFxC. Mr. Trippy has been on YouTube since 2006 and continues to vlog almost daily -- he hasn't lost interest or enthusiasm for the venue.
CONTENT: Daily life vlogs with his fiance.
VIEWS (ALL-TIME): 159,489,749
BRAND VIDEO VIEWS: 2,122,380
BRANDS: Gillette, Google, Xacti Passion
DUDEPERFECTWHO ARE THEY? Garrett Hilbert, Cory Cotton, Cody Jones, Sean Townsend, Panda, Coby Cotton, and Tyler Toney -- a team of trick-shot basketball entertainers from Texas
CONTENT: Impossible basketball shots
VIEWS (ALL-TIME): 27,712,318
BRAND VIDEO VIEWS: 3,241,856 (top campaign for GMC snagged 1,917,028 views)
BRANDS:GMC, NBA (Sacramento Kings)
FREDWHO IS HE? Lucas Cruikshank
WHAT HE MAKES: Videos in which he pretends to be a child in a dysfunctional family with an alcoholic mother
CONTENT: Screechy voice, occasional meltdowns
VIEWS (ALL-TIME): 585,136,315
BRAND VIDEO VIEWS: 101,698,863 (includes promos for films and his own merchandise)
BRANDS:20th-Century Fox, Hot Topic, Nickelodeon, Taptivate
IJUSTINEWHO IS SHE? Justine Ezarick, 23, LA-based freelance graphic designer. Ms. Ezarick's almost unbelievable ability to create videos several times a day, her deft editing skills, her Apple obsession and her long, blond hair and good looks snagged her a young, male techie fan base.
CONTENT: Techie girl vlog
VIEWS (ALL-TIME): 171,403,990
BRAND VIDEO VIEWS: 7,408,587 (top campaign was GE, with 1,913,481 views)
BRANDS:AT&T, Fox, GE, Intel, Mattel, Nikon, Mozy, MTV, Carl's Jr. and Dick Clark Productions
MICHAELBUCKLEYWHO IS HE? Michael Buckley, 35, is a comedian who started with a public-access chat show called "Table for Two." He's benignly malicious -- the opposite kind of meany to Perez Hilton.
CONTENT: Celebrity memes/gossip
VIEWS (ALL-TIME): 261,715,708
BRAND VIDEO VIEWS: 4,370,345 (top campaign was for Fox's Teen Choice, with 865,885 views)
BRANDS:ABC Family, BabelGum, 20th Century Fox, Discovery Networks, Fox television, Nickelodeon, OpenFilms, PriceDoc, Pepsi
MICHELLE PHANWHO IS SHE? A Vietnamese-American who gained popularity afterher Lady Gaga "Poker Face" make-up instructional got 20 million views. Before YouTube stardom, Ms. Phan worked as a waitress in a sushi restaurant and studied illustration.
CONTENT: Cosmetics tutorials
VIEWS (ALL-TIME): 221,989,434
BRAND VIDEO VIEWS: 22,095,935 (of which Lancome Paris represents 12,234,338)
BRANDS:Colgate, Lancome Paris, PriceDoc, Sandisk, Verizon
MYSTERYGUITARMANWHO IS HE? Brazilian-born Joe Penna, 23, is an L.A.-based filmmaker, guitarist and animator who graduated from UMass with a pre-med degree.
CONTENT: Music videos and clever mash-ups of himself in his apartment in front of the camera
VIEWS (ALL-TIME): 138,614,194
BRAND VIDEO VIEWS: 5,125,862 (top campaign is for Microsoft, with 8 million-plus views)
BRANDS:Garnier, Pop Tarts, Microsoft, McDonald's, Coca-Cola
NIGAHIGAWHO IS HE? One of the highest paid YouTube stars, Ryan Higa is a Japanese-American comedian from Hawaii who started making lipsyncing videos with his friends during college breaks. YouTube stardom followed, and his content is now varied and wide.
CONTENT: Comedy, short films, parody videos, "rants," how-to comedy videos ("How to Be a Gangster"), advertising spoofs
VIEWS (ALL-TIME): 546,333,874
BRAND VIDEO VIEWS: 13,405,781
BRANDS:Google, Carl's Jr.
RHETT & LINKWHO ARE THEY? Comedy duo Rhett McLaughlin and Link Neal
CONTENT: Humor that's actually funny; not as viral but high-quality videos like "Facebook Song," and "T-Shirt War"; actual commercials
VIEWS (ALL-TIME): 66,294,209
BRAND VIDEO VIEWS: 25,093,462 (top brand campaign was Microbilt, with 9,986,225 views)
BRANDS: Alka-Selzer, AJJCornhole (not a joke), Baby Ruth, Coca-Cola, Dentyne, GM, McDonald's, Spy Associates, Taco Bell, Microbilt
SHAYCARLWHO IS HE? Shay Butler, 30, lives in Idaho with his wife and kids and produces family vlogs with a funny, edgy "cool dad" twist. His user name is ShayTards, his baby is BabyTard, and his other children are PrincessTard and SonTard. You get the idea. His most recent Footlocker campaign takes place in a school cafeteria and involves a giant food fight.
CONTENT: Family vlogs
VIEWS (ALL-TIME): 250,954,220
BRAND VIDEO VIEWS: 5,725,254
BRANDS: AT&T, A1, Google, Kia, Kodak, Sanyo, Footlocker
SMOSHWHO ARE THEY? Comedy duo Anthony Padilla and Ian Andrew Hecox, both 22, gained initial fame with the "Pokemon Theme Music Video," and this led them to be featured in Time Magazine's 2006 Person of the Year issue.
CONTENT: Sophomoric teen humor; video games
VIEWS (ALL-TIME): 465,534,527
BRAND VIDEO VIEWS: 12,310,844 (top brand campaign was GE, with 4,717,047 views)
BRANDS: Carl's Jr., GE, Google (Nexus One), Kia, Nintendo, Puma
VENETIAN PRINCESSWHO IS SHE? Jodie Rivera, 26, studied opera at the New England Conservatory of Music before becoming one of YouTube's first partners. Ms. Rivera has said, "I can make anywhere from the mid-five to six figures per one- to two-minute video with product placement."
CONTENT: Parodies of popular music videos
VIEWS (ALL-TIME): 258,098,945
BRAND VIDEO VIEWS: 1,697,996 (top campaign, for Pop Tarts, notched 1,562,269 views)
BRANDS: Pop Tarts, Samsung
WHEEZYWAITERWHO IS HE? Craig Benzine, went to school for TV, radio and film, worked as a waiter at Big Bowl before YouTube success. He's a hungry up-and-comer with a promising start.
VIEWS (ALL-TIME): 13,350,225
BRAND VIDEO VIEWS: 290,145