Cannes Lions 2016: Brand storytelling with YouTube creators

June 2016

In the second of Tuesday’s Lightning Talks from the YouTube Beach at Cannes, Google’s Cecelia Wogan-Silva gathered together four leading lights from the world of contemporary brand storytelling for a closer look at how YouTube and influencer marketing have changed their craft.

In a world where viewers expect always-on video content, brands, agencies and production partners are having to adapt to new ways of working: embracing new technology, new formats, and even considering bringing production facilities in-house to increase agility and responsiveness. But there is a group for whom the routine of rapid content creation is already second nature, and at the core of the day’s discussion was a single question: how much control should agencies and brands expect to have over video production when they work with online influencers from the YouTube creator community?

Pete Borum, CEO and Co-Founder of influencer marketing platform Reelio, began the conversation with a valuable insight: “Recognising that creators have a brand that they’re just as zealous in guarding as you is really important.” He believes that with the right tools, it’s possible to create a collaborative space in which influencers and brands can work together effectively. And there’s certainly value in finding ways to compromise and align with influencers, as Pete observed: “the creators have built their audience, so they know how to reach them better than anyone.”

“Recognising that creators have a brand that they’re just as zealous in guarding as you is really important.”

Pete Borum, Reelio

Speaking from the perspective of a brand who’ve worked extensively with YouTube creators, Delphine Buchotte, Chief Communication and Digital Officer at L’Oréal Paris, began with a lesson learned the hard way: “At first, it’s tempting to think of YouTube Creators as actors in a traditional advertisement, but this is not the case. We’ve learned to trust beauty influencers - they know how to engage their community, they know what they want.” Of course, trust is not without risk, so Pete Borum advises marketers to diversify to avoid over-reliance on any one creator, and to ensure that they maintain a veto over publication of any brand-aligned content.

Taking a slightly different approach, Branco Scherer, Managing Director of Commercial Partnerships at Endemol Shine Beyond, explained how his organisation approach this type of campaign, emphasising their desire to guard brand values by generating content treatments in-house. In contrast, Delphine Buchotte returned to the idea of creator independence, asserting that for her, “strict briefs have always failed - you have to let the creator speak with their own voice.” She also cautions that influencer audiences are savvy and recognise insincerity, and that over-editorialising can lead to negative perceptions and community backlash.

On this subject, Vic Palumbo, Director of Integrated Production at Deutsch/LA, added his own experience. Recalling influencer-attended launch events in the music industry, Vic reinforced the idea that it’s important to spread your bets, especially when asking creators to respond honestly and immediately in the moment. With Live Video becoming increasingly commonplace, opportunities to re-do and edit are diminishing further, so, as Pete Borum notes, it will become increasingly important to have processes that allow for positive serendipity and surprise, while controlling potential negatives as far as possible.

In the final reckoning, the panelists were in agreement over what defines good storytelling. A good story is something that will be told and shared over and over, and in this respect, there are few better at telling and sharing stories right now than YouTube’s vibrant community of creators.

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