A Little Celebrity Goes a Long Way

Partnering with these micro-stars puts your brand in front of a huge audience at minimal cost.

Written by Murad Hemmadi and Joe Castaldo

Among the many products and services that General Electric (GE) sells is a suite of technology-testing gadgets aimed at businesses’ product development departments. It’s useful equipment, but sales brochures can’t really do it justice. So GE hired the Slo Mo Guys.

The Slo Mo Guys are YouTube stars. “They do extremely slow-motion HD footage of things exploding, smashing things—that sort of stuff,” explains Derek Callow, Global Head of Creator Marketing for YouTube. “GE got the Slow Mo Guys to deconstruct all of their electronics stuff and put a human face to it.”

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Fortunately, you don’t need a marketing budget the size of GE’s to hire a virtual product-pusher. While YouTube has given birth to bona fide superstars like Justin Bieber, it also supports countless micro-celebrities: users with tens of thousands of subscribers instead of millions, but devoted fan bases nevertheless.

Many of YouTube biggest micro-celebrities broadcast their videos from Canadian bedrooms, with the maple leaf ranking third on the list of biggest content exporters on the platform. Lily Singh, who goes by “Superwoman” online, is perhaps the most popular of the Canadian creators. The Brampton-based Singh has built a global supporter base, and was the biggest draw at the FanFests that Callow’s team put on in several Asian cities last year.

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Partnering with these micro-celebrities is made easier by the fact that the most successful already speak the language of business. “Think of YouTube stars as entrepreneurs—they think of themselves in varying degrees as building a brand,” suggests Callow. “They’re launching record labels, they’re writing books that are getting picked up by legitimate book publishers, they’re integrating brands.”

FameBit, a Silicon Valley startup founded in Toronto, connects brands with YouTubers for marketing campaigns. A boutique guitar maker, for example, partnered with YouTube musician Chad Neidt to create a mashup of Queen songs played on one of the company’s axes.

FameBit’s minimum required budget? A manageable $100. “You don’t necessarily need the biggest star,” says co-founder Agnes Kozera. “You can work with a bunch of creators that collectively reach the same audience at a fraction of the cost.”

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But marketing via a YouTube star isn’t like any other product placement or celebrity endorsement deal, cautions Callow. For one thing, the fit between brand and creator needs to be organic, or the dedicated user base you’re trying to tap might lose interest. “Traditional media companies that are embracing YouTube—great Canadian media companies like Blue Ant Media and DHX—understand that the most important thing is to never take your fan base for granted,” he explains. “It’s about remaining true to them, making them feel like they’re a part of something.”

It’s also important to think long-term, because YouTube celebrities can’t guarantee the success of any one video. There’s no way to make a viral video, because there’s no way to definitively predict how fans will react to a piece of content. “Not every video is going to be a massive hit but the growth over time is really important,” says Callow. “One month doesn’t constitute a test.”


Have you partnered with a YouTube micro-celebrity to promote your brand? Would you consider it? Share your experiences and thoughts using the comments section below.

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