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In mid-July, Korean rapper Psy’s management made a move that changed his world. The simple act: they posted his video for the now ubiquitous romp, “Gangman Style,” on a little site called YouTube.  Like Justin Bieber before him, this star circumvented traditional channels and took to the same outlet that countless moms and dads, kids, tweens and 

teens have used to post their slightly less polished and possibly less entertaining performances. Carly Rae Jaepson may have had a platform on Canadian Idol, but she didn’t hit the big time until Justin Bieber and a few of his pals (including Selena Gomez and Ashley Tisdale) created their own YouTube video for “Call Me Maybe” (triggering a trend that led to viral spoofs by everyone from Barack Obama to the Harvard baseball team). It’s no surprise that some of our most talked about cultural phenoms come from YouTube – not the newest network, but a surprisingly powerful one. According to YouthBeat, YouTube has been rated the favorite site among kids and tweens, and only second to Facebook for Teens, for a few years running. Its youth appeal is evident: it’s constantly new, easily sharable, focused on fun, and a novel boredom buster.  But what does it mean for brands seeking stardom?

  1. Don’t underestimate the power of the people. For this cohort of youth, getting a say, and knowing that someone was discovered by youth like them, goes a long way towards affirming brand/star authenticity.
  2. At the same time, don’t assume that the best videos rise to the top…You could have a great ad or idea, but the YouTube ocean is vast. While we believe that getting your brand on YouTube is a great idea, it’s also important to promote your video across other platforms. If you’re not friends with a celeb with a seriously loyal Twitter following, make sure that you’re using your other assets to draw attention to your YouTube presence.  
  3. Don’t take yourself too seriously. If you’re a brand that wants to use YouTube to appeal to youth, make sure you check your ego at the door. The best and most popular videos on YouTube stay salient by taking on a second (and third, and…you get it…) life of their own. The parody might be more powerful than the first post on this site. Think of it as an endorsement that takes your message to the extreme (see what happened to Psy’s Gangman Style – and wonder if he’s offended).
  4. Don’t oversimplify “participation.” If we evaluated the appeal of YouTube by counting the kids, tweens and teens who actually post videos to it, we would have taken a pass. 91% of online 6-10 year olds have never posted a video online. Only 32% of teens have gotten in the game. But watching, sharing and voting constitute real participation for youth. Don’t build your promotions on the false notion that youth love to share their own videos. Instead, leverage the way they look and pass-along to make your brand famous.
  5. Finally, know the rules. While many brands (including one of our favorites, Old Spice) simply post their TV campaigns on YouTube, the ones that work best have learned the rituals and rules of making a YouTube hit. Humor and irreverence are always paths to consider when promoting an idea to youth, but for YouTube, they’re essentials. Most great YouTube videos are one part provocative. For your brand to sing on this space, consider the messages that might not work on traditional TV, but that may promote lunchroom patter.