Because it’s not Sir Alan Sugar…but I confess: I’m addicted to BBC 1’s The Apprentice and the deliberations of the grumpy old man charged with finding his next apprentice. It’s a reality show in all but name but occasionally the show shines and last week was a gem. The two competing teams were tasked with launching a YouTube channel with the winning team decided by how many hits the new channel got “out there” as Sir Alan put it. Fascinating for me was seeing how new and old brands increasingly feature a new type of self-created celebrity to push their products. I actually panicked, because I had never heard of Sweden’s PewDiePie, despite his millions of followers who watch him just, well, game. (My boy knew who he was and apparently PewDiePie swears a lot).
This is the new world of social media marketing and a new breed of self-created and self-promoted celebrities, famous for spreading the word. They self-film, self-edit, self-post and it costs them (and us) nothing but time. What it means to me anyway, is that a certain cynicism about advertising is beginning to fade. This new brand of YouTube celebrity knowingly and ironically mocks the hand—or brand—that feeds it. They garner a staggering number of followers because they are just like the millions of kids that watch them as they go about their everyday lives. What’s more, they’re now coveted by the larger brands eager to use social media to build product awareness among a younger demographic. These new stars of social media, with their mindboggling subscriber numbers, dedicated Pinterest and Tumbler sites, widely watched Instagram feeds and YouTube TV channels are the gateway to millions of younger, digital savvy consumers. And traditional advertising agencies right now are investing and experimenting, trying to understand how to work the channel because big budget blockbuster TV ads and the tired celebrity endorsement no longer work. No wonder: I always thought it odd watching a mega famous superstar endorse a supermarket and you’re thinking “Hang on. He won’t shop there with his squillions. Where’s his minion?!” This cynical “paid for” endorsement is melting away with something much more real replacing it. And better for it.
Social media marketing is truly the softest of soft selling. It’s no surprise most firms clump social media with PR because it’s seen to be very emotional. Maybe this needs a rethink. With social media, you are not buying market attention, you’re actually earning it. And the new gate-keepers like PewDiePie and Zoella are dominating mindshare because social media is all FREE. In fact, its very freeness could be social media’s biggest problem when it comes to marketing for advertising. It costs anyone next to nothing to create content and push it out there. No one can tell a brand manager how successful his or her campaigns are bar the ubiquitous Facebook likes. And the cool kids are way past Facebook (and that’s a TRUE FACT according to a straw poll conducted around the Davis dinner table). The danger today is we’re drowning in the stuff that PR and their social media teams are throwing at us. Posts, snippets, advice, promotions fly at us and they’re all competing for our attention. I recently listened to a great show on BBC Radio 4 called The Bottom Line focused on social media and the rise of these new stars. What was truly insightful was hearing how one supermarket brand works its own “give to get” ratio. They run a 10:1 ratio with their posts, so they offer 10 engagement posts that tell you how to keep your carpet clean for example, and then 1 post aggressively pushing the carpet cleaner. So the 10 posts give them brand permission to push. For all the guests however, they all agreed its brand new territory and exciting for it.
Perhaps what we’re seeing with social media marketing is some of the flare, creativity and guile return. The 1960’s agencies and their Don Drapers controlled a brand message and how it was broadcast to huge swathes of people on a tiny number of platforms. 50 years later and today’s younger consumers are fully in control and tell us who they want to follow, how, where and when. Younger consumers are fragmented across many social networks and communities. Some of the ambition and guile of the 1960s is starting to return to the industry because the writing is on the wall for celebrity deference.
PS: Should I be worried that my 10 year old son watches PewDiePie or that he can now cuss in Swedish?