A leading biscuit brand got itself into a bit of hot milk late last year, when it was accused of dominating YouTube by advertising its products via YouTube celebrities. This sparked a furore over the credibility of many YouTubers’ content, with the Advertising Standards Authority (ASA) ruling that ‘vloggers’ must be more transparent and upfront about sponsored videos. The ASA ruling stated that vloggers must clearly tell fans when they’re being paid by advertisers, which means that the word ‘ad’ or ‘promo’ needed to be included in the title of the video, or that the video’s thumbnail needs to make it clear that the viewer is about to watch an advert.
With marketers everywhere looking for alternative methods of advertising, using YouTubers as a vessel to market a product may have appeared to be an ideal solution. Content marketing is now at the heart of the communications landscape, aiming to put the need of the consumer, not the brand first, and deliver valuable content rather than sales speak. However, with the ASA’s 2014 ruling, where does this put brands that want to capitalise on the popularity of vloggers? Will it affect audience engagement with these Youtubers, whose disclosure may make them less accessible to their viewers?
YouTubers ‘AmazingPhil’ and ‘Danisnotonfire’, who participated in the biscuit campaign in question, both have loyal fan bases and a collective subscriber number of 6 million and counting. Their videos have the sole purpose of engaging and amusing their audiences. Ironically, these YouTubers have the time and money to make this hobby their full-time profession because of click-through-ads and sponsorship deals. Their participation featured the two in a race to twist, lick and dunk the biscuit, with consequences for the loser.
It was argued that the nature of the video was misleading due to the lack of sponsorship signposting, but was it actually the effectiveness of user-generated content and the YouTubers’ personable nature that made it hard to notice the product placement?
Brands such as ASDA are capitalising in a similar vein, with the likes of online make-up artists Pixiewoo filming a make-up tutorial using the supermarket’s products. However, ASDA also has its own YouTube channel entitled ‘Mum’s Eye View’. Here they ask popular YouTubers to film their cooking escapades using the supermarket’s ingredients. In this way the intention of the video is clear and the sponsorship obvious, but the content is still engaging.
Perhaps by using their own branded platforms, brands can find a way to capitalise on vlogger popularity without being regarded as misleading their audiences. A testament to a YouTuber’s popularity and influence over their audience will now lie in their ability to turn the most mundane household object into valued content. It’s definitely something for marketers to chew over.