In January, parents who have lived blissfully ignorant of the world of YouTube creators were forced to confront a muscle-bound meathead named Logan.
Unfortunately, we’re not talking about the Marvel superhero, but Logan Paul, a YouTube vlogger that boasts some 16.7 million subscribers, the majority of whom fall neatly into the lucrative ‘pre-teen’ market.
Paul’s daily vlogs most frequently involve goofing around with his entourage of obnoxious fratboy friends, content that is ostensibly without artistic value and serves primarily to promote his various merchandise lines, a practice that is shared by his brother Jake. To the world outside of You- Tube’s youthful bubble, the Paul brothers' antics flew under the radar until when in January, barely 24 hours into a bright new year, the viral personality made international headlines by posting a video in which the subject of his trademark tomfoolery was the corpse of a real-life suicide victim.
Despite the scorn from critics far and wide, the pair still boast an obscene online following of youngsters, with a combined audience of almost 30 million subscribers. And for the unaware, Logan’s equally controversial brother Jake was on hand at NY Toy Fair to promote his merch lines.
Logan is not the first high-profile You- Tuber to court controversy by any means. Last year Disney dropped Felix ‘PewDiePie’ Kjellburg for making several videos with anti-Semitic jokes, and later dropping a racial slur on a live stream.
With a built-in audience of millions who Tiana can reach directly and on a daily basis it's easy to see why toy brands are eager to strike a partnership with creators. With all factors taken into consideration its actually a surprise that more toy brands haven’t taken the initiative to strike up direct partnerships with creators, and no doubt the issues surrounding regulation of content and negative public image are no small part of that hesitation.
“Here at Viral Talent we work closely with the brand. Once we have discussed the product that the brand wishes to promote, we know immediately which Kidfluencer will complement the brands’ products,” elaborates Viral Talents' Edwards.
“If the child does not connect with the product then this will be reflected in the content created and not make for good viewing or engagement.
"We make sure we recommend the right talent that could potentially become brand ambassadors, and this could be just one tier one Kidfluencer or a few of our Micro-influencers.”
One firm that made use of influencers throughout various campaigns is WowWee, who detailed the importance of being thorough when finding influencers to represent the brand.
“Over the last few years, it has become a tougher job due to the sheer numbers of social media users looking to break into the influencer scene. From a brand perspective, the comms team is very thorough,” comments Tiffany Kayar, communications manager at WowWee.
“We have teams members dedicated to looking through all of the up and coming video bloggers, seeing who would be a good fit, who has the tone we are looking for. It is a manual job. There are algorithms that people suggest and equations that look at the number of views and subscribers, but really you have to get stuck in and get to know each and every one of these guys to be able to assess who would represent the brand in the best way.”
With a reputation for youthful, irreverent games with uniquely quirky twists, it was no surprise that one of the first board game firms to dive into the world of You- Tubers was Shoreditch-based Big Potato. With a multi-year legacy on the platform and a fanbase that has been faithful to the pair since their teenage days, Dan and Phil had built up a reputable brand that the company felt very comfortable to align themselves with. Co-founder of the firm, Trist Hyatt-Williams explains that their partnership was born out of a mutual admiration and appreciation for each other.
“Dan and Phil very kindly played some of our games on their YouTube channel and seemed to have a good time, so they approached us when they had the idea of inventing their own game,” enthused Hyatt-Williams. “We were a bit starstruck when they walked through our Potato Cave door. And they’re tall. Giants of men!”
“The pair brought a lot to table when developing their first board game, Truth Bombs,” continues Hyatt-Williams, “We took Phil’s party game concept he used to play with his pals, hammered away at it for a while and out popped Truth Bombs.”
From a marketing perspective, Dan & Phil’s audience of tweens, teens and young adults also provided a boon to the indie games house.
“We’re still quite a small games company so we can’t splash out millions on expensive advertising. When Dan and Phil walked through the door they brought six million followers with them.”
Dan Howell and Phil Lester, share the Big Potato team’s enthusiasm for the product. Speaking to us via email, the pair expressed their passion for creating original and inspired consumer products.
“Living and working in the online, digital space, it has been refreshing to be able to launch a game that people can play around a table with their friends and family. Its good to know that even in the age of the internet, people still love a traditional tabletop gaming session.”
“The game concept is 100 per cent from Phil, and it’s based on a game he’d invented years ago to play as an icebreaker when friends come around,” adds Dan Howell. “Big Potato helped finesse gameplay elements and also with the styling of the game packaging. They were a wonderfully co-operative team to work with and really understood what we were trying to achieve with the game.”
"When it comes to business, the best course is to remain authentic to the content we create," the pair added. "Our audience is smart and they would know immediately if we were doing or promoting something that our hearts weren't into."
As you may have gathered from the range of responses, the rapid explosion of the YouTube platform has left best practices up to guesswork. In many ways, YouTube is still in its infancy and some teething problems are to be expected when brands begin utilizing the platform in major ways. Whether partnering with a content creator for products or just collaborating with them for marketing materials, it's imperative for brands to be diligent in finding creators that fit their brand, and remain untarnished by scandal or exploitation.
Organisations like Viral Talent go some way to protect the interest of brands, however many feel that the onus is now on Google to take a bigger hand in regulating its con- tent to create a safe environment for kids.
“We meet the parents and their children and we discuss a strategy with them to help them build their social media journey in a child safe way,” adds Viral Talent’s Edwards. “We ensure they are aware of YouTube's community guidelines and we stress how important it is to create ‘safe content’ to protect viewers, uploaders and of course, children.
“We also make it clear to content creators that if the guidelines are not respected and adhered to that they realise the consequences which could lead to demonetisation of their channels or their channel being taken down by YouTube.”
Edwards also points out that disclosure of paid promotions in kid’s content can also land less diligent firms in hot water.
“It’s important for us to build a strong relationship with the brands and we educate them on how to work with Viral Talent’s content creators in the most effective way to maximise the brands ROI and meet their strategic objectives,” details Edwards.
“Once the content is produced it must conform with Google Ad Policies of which we are responsible to comply with and disclose to viewers that it is ‘Paid Promotion’ when this is the case.
“Once we have found the right influencer for us, it is a case of maintaining that relationship to make sure the message is always the right one,” concludes WowWee’s Tiffany Kayar. “Of course, we don’t want to stifle someone’s personality or creativity, because that is what draws in the views, but ultimately when the brand’s reputation is in someone else’s hands to a certain extent, you have to be very, very thorough.”
While certain controversies have scared brands away, it's reasonable to picture a future in which YouTube and toys can form a powerful symbiotic relationship that serves both brands and creators, without either one’s reputation going down the tubes. Tiana and Viral Talent's roster of creators are powerful examples of this symbiosis, giving the industry and idea of how the platform could be utilised to great effect.