YouTube Is Ready to Take on TV-Sized Budgets
ADWEEK|May 2, 2016

Google plots a multipronged strategy - using talent like Rachel Levin - to make its video arm the biggest draw for TV dollars.

Lauren Johnson

IT ISN’T ALWAYS EASY TO PAIR UP THE SUITS OF THE MARKETING WORLD WITH THOSE FREEWHEELING KIDS that make the buzziest videos in the digisphere. The two sides—and more importantly, their respective brands— must have chemistry. So last July at VidCon, the annual digital video conference held in Anaheim, Calif., YouTube set up a “speed dating” event, hoping to play matchmaker between advertisers and creators. Among the talent mingling with marketers was Rachel Levin, a rising beauty vlogger who immediately hit it off with the people behind the anti-smoking initiative Truth. “She wasn’t originally on our radar,” admits Justin Hooper, group creative director at 72andSunny, the agency handling Truth.

She’ll be on just about everyone’s radar this week at the Digital Content NewFronts in New York where YouTube will pitch Levin and other charismatic stars from its creators’ stable at its Brandcast event. Levin, though still a relative unknown, seems like an easy sell—she’s recently entered rarified YouTube air by passing the 1 billion view mark. What’s more, her YouTube subscribers have shot up from 1.9 million to 7.6 million in the past year, and her videos get watched 3.5 million times per week.

Such numbers are why Truth execs cast her for their “It’s a Trap” campaign after learning that, in her personal life, she had little patience for cigarettes. “She had so much enthusiasm and believed in the brand so much [that it] seemed like a total no-brainer to use her,” Hooper says. The commercial has been viewed 6.5 million times (a big number for a PSA) on YouTube since August.

Levin’s secret to success is “only putting out content that I’m super proud of,” she says. “I know what videos my audience likes to see, and I’ve maintained a good connection with my audience.”

On the business level for YouTube, connecting brands to up-and-comers like Levin and her peers—there’s always a need for fresh faces in this business—is central to its burgeoning Google Preferred program. Google Preferred lets marketers buy unskippable pre-roll ads purely against the highest-performing YouTube stars—it will be front and center at Brandcast for a third consecutive year.

While YouTube remains the biggest digital video player on the scene, its goal of chipping away at big, traditional media budgets is particularly important this year. That will be the talk of the NewFronts—especially since Facebook, Snapchat, Twitter and others are also taking serious aim at TV dollars. “If we look at previous years, we saw [advertisers] make a lot of decisions for traditional media upfront and then afterwards look at digital and YouTube,” explains YouTube CEO Susan Wojcicki.

Not anymore. EMarketer expects digital advertising to surpass TV spend for the first time next year, accounting for $77.4 billion—or 38 percent of spend—compared to TV’s predicted $72 billion (36 percent).

“What we’re seeing this year that’s new and different is that we’re being considered right alongside TV - I think this shows some of the change in the market,” Wojcicki says.

On the surface, YouTube’s strategy is intentionally simple for brands chasing millennial cord-cutters. It promises to reach more 18- to 49-year-olds than any TV network on mobile alone. (That boast has grown—last year, YouTube stated only it reached more mobile viewers than any cable network, not broadcast.)

HER SOCIAL STATS

YOUTUBE 7.6 MILLION fans (also known as #Levinators)

MORE THAN 1 BILLION YOUTUBE VIEWS and 260 uploads since joining in December 2010

INSTAGRAM 2.2 MILLION followers and more than 900 posts

TWITTER 611K followers since joining in February 2011

24 MILLION VIEWS A popular YouTube clip imagines a pool party with Disney characters.

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