These are truly mainstream stars
In each of the write-ups for our chosen YouTube stars, there's a
line that starts, "Mainstream media that should sign them." For
instance, globetrotting British wonder twins Jack and Finn Harries
of the JacksGap YouTube channel would be a perfect fit for Travel
But I have to confess that in a way it's kind of confusing to
talk about mainstream media as the "other" in the context of these
YouTubers, because they're already mainstream stars -- and
YouTube itself is obviously mainstream media that's completely
permeated global media culture.
Just look at the scale and reach of the content these folks are
producing. The number of people who have subscribed to their
channels range from 2.9 million to 14 million; the view counts on
their video libraries range from 156 million to 1.6
These are pros
How do you get to be huge on YouTube? Beyond the requirements
usually associated with media popularity -- be appealing, have some
modicum of talent, have something to say, find your niche, etc. --
you've gotta work. The YouTubers in our package derive
their incomes primarily through the YouTube Partner Program, which
serves up targeted ads on their videos and gives them a cut of the
revenue, and there's no faking it when you're your own boss. They
often have very rigorous, self-imposed posting schedules that
they've stuck to for years; they're clearly aware that they're
suppliers of programming and that their fans are counting
When I mentioned to a colleague that Ad Age would be calling
marketers' attention to rising YouTube stars, she compared
YouTubers to wild horses that brands and agencies would try to tame
and "break." I get that -- these personalities are beloved for
being themselves, for being unfiltered, so the presumption is that
it can be risky to attempt to work with them; i.e., that marketers
will end up getting kicked in the head.
But I look at these YouTube stars and I see plenty of
discipline, resolve and careful modulation of message. Even Jenna
Marbles, the comedic YouTuber with 1.6 billion video views to date
for her wry, foul-mouthed commentaries on pop culture and girl
culture ("How To Throw a 4th of July BBQ With Iggy Azalea," "What a
Girl's Eyebrows Mean"), is clearly playing a character that fits
neatly into a time-honored entertainment-industry continuum that
extends from Joan Rivers to Sarah Silverman.
Besides, plenty of marketers have gotten kicked in the head by
supposedly polished, media-trained stars who've come up through the
traditional celebrity-industrial complex and then spectacularly
crashed and burned.
YouTube stardom has a lot to do with selfie
One surprising thing to me as I watched a lot of videos from
YouTube stars is how long they are. Supposedly everyone is
so ADD-addled these days that all we want, at least online, is
"snackable content," and yet our group of YouTube stars routinely
post videos that run nine, 10, 11 minutes or more.
Finn Harries of JacksGap
recently told The Guardian, "Google allows us to see how long
people watch for. The average engagement of those people is 13
minutes, out of a 15-minute episode."
Keep in mind that, while the Harries twins have graduated to
doing beautifully shot and edited travel videos and other
adventurous content, they started out basically sitting in their
bedrooms, often not doing much more than talking to the camera.
And that's still the m.o. of the rest of our YouTubers.
They sit and perform for the camera.
Some of these videos almost come off like FaceTime or Skype
sessions with particularly charismatic friends. And that's how I
think their fans -- the completists who watch every video and watch
them to the end -- receive these chunks of content. They're
consumed as intensely personal one-on-one dispatches that,
paradoxically, often have more reach than many shows on national
These are selfies in video form, basically. Once you accept that
premise, then it's easy to understand how these voluble, rambling
and, yes, self-absorbed YouTubers fit perfectly into the media
zeitgeist circa 2014.
Simon Dumenco is the "Media Guy" columnist for Advertising
Age. You can follow him on Twitter @simondumenco.