YouTube partnerships: Why sharing the spotlight requires sharing a purpose

July 2015

A new generation of YouTube celebrities is rewriting the rules of fan engagement. Some are even sharing the spotlight with brands. In this Creative Shortlist, Co:Collective's Tiffany Rolfe shares the key ingredients of these partnerships, along with five great examples.

Tiffany Rolfe is a partner and the chief content officer at Co:Collective, a strategy and innovation company. She's also the co-managing director of The Pub, a new creative publishing agency that helps brands and native creators collaborate on content in meaningful ways. The Pub works with YouTube and some of today's most interesting content creators, including Hank Green, Epic Rap Battles, Dude Perfect. Rolfe recently led a talk at Cannes Lions with YouTube personality Hannah Hart.

YouTube creators are emerging as the new icons of pop culture. People such as Bethany Mota and Hannah Hart are redefining what it means to be a celebrity, not through glitz and glam, but by being approachable and authentic with their millions of faithful followers. They treat their audiences as friends instead of just fans, and because of that personal connection, they can activate millions of them (or tens of millions for an uber-star such as PewDiePie) with a click of the "publish" button.

A close relationship with content and its "always-on" makers has become the norm for YouTube viewers, especially younger ones. As creators raise the bar for what it means to engage with an audience, brands need to find new ways to reach these viewers and provide the constant interaction and genuine connection they expect. This kind of authentic audience relationship doesn't always come easily to marketers, so it makes sense that they're looking to partner with YouTube creators who get it right.

I've found that the most successful collaborations come when a brand teams up with a creator whose passions align with the brand's greater purpose. That means brands and marketers can't just think of these collaborations as simple, one-off ways to reach a particular demographic, showcase a product, get content produced more cheaply or hitch a wagon to the latest YouTube celeb. Instead, brands (and/or their agencies) and creators must work together to create content with a shared purpose that can lead to deeper relationships with the creator's fans.

More importantly, creating from a place of purpose leads to increased participation because the audience has something to believe in and join. A creative brief rooted in something beyond just product messaging gives creators the room to develop authentic content for their communities. And that's the kind of meaningful content fans want to watch, talk about and share.

The most successful YouTube collaborations come when a brand teams up with a creator whose passions align with the brand's greater purpose.

Meaningful YouTube partnerships between brands and creators seem to have these three essential ingredients:

Purposeful starting point: The content strategy and concepts should align with the brand's purpose and the creator's passions.

Purposeful creation: While mindful of that higher purpose, brands and creators should form a partnership and develop serial content in which creators have the freedom to create authentically for their communities.

Purposeful outcome: It's not about a quick viral hit or blasting your product info out to a key demographic. Rather, it's about building an engaged community of fans (and friends) over time.

Here are five examples of YouTube partnerships that are beginning to put these principles into practice:


GE YouTube Creators: The Slow Mo Guys

Gav and Dan are in the GE lab using nanotechnology to show you cool liquid physics at 2500fps. The first experiment shows a superhydrophobic surface that GE has been working on. Surfaces like this can be useful in aviation and wind power to reduce ice build-up or for self-cleaning applications. The surface traps a layer of air using its nanoscopic structure, which prevents water from sticking.

When the scientists at GE Global Research invited The Slow Mo Guys, Gavin Free and Daniel Gruchy, to their lab to test some of the brand's cool technologies, it was a natural fit. After all, these creators live to show the audience the world through a new lens. Their shared purpose? Help people see the world differently through GE innovation.

Brand: Nissan

YouTube Creators: Roman Atwood, Action Movie Kid, Epic Meal Time, Dude Perfect, Convos With My 2-Year-Old, Break Media and Jabbawockeez

James wanted to spend some time with Dad, and Nissan suggested we might as well film how we turn our days into crazy adventures.

Nissan teamed with YouTube creators — and in some cases, their dads — to develop a content series teasing the automaker's #withdad campaign. The partnership had a common goal: Celebrate dads who are finding cool ways to make life better for their families.

Brand: American Legacy Foundation

YouTube Creators: Becky G, Fifth Harmony, King Bach, Grace Helbig, Harley Morenstein, Anna Akana, Jimmy Tatro, Alphacat, Terrence J and Timothy DeLaGhetto

The American Legacy Foundation's "truth" campaign has a clear purpose: Eliminate teen smoking. It's a passion shared by many young YouTube stars. So, when Legacy wanted to create content based on the fact that people who smoked in their Tinder profile pictures got fewer matches than those who did not, it wasn't hard to recruit a group of YouTube creators to make something interesting. The result? The "Left Swipe Dat" music video, which gets an important message out to millions in an entertaining and highly relevant way.

Brand: Pepsi Max

YouTube Creators: Damien Walters

Unbelievable feats and experiences created for you by Pepsi Max. Human Loop the Loop with Damien Walters - Pepsi Max. Unbelievable #LiveForNow

Damien Walters is a stuntman and creator with a distinct purpose: He's always testing his own limits. This aligned perfectly with Pepsi Max's mission to encourage people to break out of their routines. Together they came up with a unique campaign idea — something that had never been done: Walters attempted to defy gravity by running a human loop-the-loop. They created history and showed that it's possible to defy expectations.

Brand: Universal Picturesbr

YouTube Creators: Flula Borg

"Crazy Youngsters" by Ester Dean, available on the Pitch Perfect 2 Original Motion Picture Soundtrack

Flula Borg made his name on YouTube with his unique style of satirical comedy. He's also been known to show off his DJ chops making music, a way for the popular creator to have fun and interact with his fans. His passions led to purpose, landing him a featured role in the wildly successful "Pitch Perfect 2", as well as a spot in its promotional campaign. To help drive interest in the film, Universal Pictures released the "Crazy Youngsters" music video, including both cast members and YouTube creators, and featuring Flula.

The knowledge: Pharrell Williams