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Want to keep a pulse on creative culture? You’re more likely to achieve that at VidCon than Cannes, says Joshua Lowcock, UM Worldwide EVP and chief digital officer.

A version of this perspective previously appeared in Adweek.

The advertising industry prides itself on its ability to not only research and participate in culture, but to push it forward. We’re at our best as an industry when we’re looking outward for our inspiration, not inward.

In a nutshell, that’s why I’m arguing that you can safely skip Cannes this year and instead go to VidCon. You’re more likely to find the freshest talent and the future of storytelling on a stage in Anaheim than on a beach in the south of France.

You’re better off spending time with the next generation of storytellers, and getting close to creators instead of just creatives.

For the uninitiated, VidCon is the world’s largest online video conference, and kicks off June 20—right in the middle of Cannes. It’s a celebration of culture, with 26,000 fans and the YouTube creators they adore. It’s the bellwether of not only the future of online video, but the future of storytelling.  

So if you want to create the next award-winning creative campaign and develop innovative messaging that will resonate, you’re better off spending time with the next generation of storytellers, and getting close to creators instead of just creatives.

I experienced VidCon for the first time last summer. It left such an impression that I even joined the advisory board—that’s how important I think it is to this industry. This year I’m inviting along clients of IPG Mediabrands to experience VidCon for themselves. Here’s why:

1. You can put meaning to the metrics.

It’s easy to look at huge YouTube numbers and get a little numb to what those views and subscriber counts really mean. But if you get up close and see fans mobbing a creator, you can’t mistake it: The 26,000 fans at VidCon are famously passionate about their favorite YouTube creators. For most of them, VidCon is their best shot at meeting these YouTube stars in real life, after maybe years of watching their videos online. 

Whether or not they get to meet them, the relationship is real. Many millennials see themselves as friends with these creators, not just fans. It’s easy to overlook or underestimate the connection these creators have with their audience, because it’s not the kind of connection or celebrity we’re used to. 

Consider a traditional celebrity who might appear in an upcoming motion picture. You get exposure to that celebrity with out-of-home ads, trailers, licensing partnerships, and appearances on talk shows. Now look at these YouTube creators. Many have zero marketing budget and tend to be underrepresented in traditional media, and yet most millennials think these creators are trendsetters more than traditional celebrities.

That’s a big cultural shift in the nature of celebrity, authenticity, and community—three topics that are closely aligned to our interests as advertisers.

2. You learn from creators shaping what matters in culture.

Speaking of community, our industry has been talking about the need for brands to be more authentic and transparent for years. It’s easier said than done, as it represents a new way of thinking for most of us.

YouTube creators do this better than anyone.

VidCon is a chance to spend time with them, talk to them about their priorities, and see how they can work with brands. From ads to integrations, talking to a few and getting a feel for why being authentic is important, how to connect with your audience, and what they consider appropriate and rewarding can go a long way.

3. You discover tomorrow’s top creators, today.

You’ve probably heard of Casey Neistat and Lilly Singh, but there are many creators out there making great content.

Last year at VidCon I met Jackie Aina. Her YouTube channel has 1.3M subscribers and 82M views. After serving in the army, she started producing informative beauty videos for women of color. In her words, she’s “changing the standard of beauty, one video at a time.”

"Everyday" Makeup Tutorial | Jackie Aina

I also met Kurt Hugo Schneider, whose channel boasts 8.8M subscribers and 2.5M views per video. Kurt is a multi-talented composer, musician, and videographer with a long history of brand partnerships.

Scared To Be Lonely - Martin Garrix - Sam Tsui & KHS Cover

If we as advertisers want to think of ourselves as culturally relevant in a changing landscape, we need to be familiar with these names, and get to know the many, many others that have influence and audience reach.   

Thinking beyond creator collaborations

Here’s a tip: The easiest way for brands to tap into great YouTube content and reach passionate fans isn’t necessarily by partnering with the creators on an integration. YouTube content is media, just like TV.

Advertisers have always wanted to align their brands with high-quality, popular content, because we know that kind of content moves the brand needle. YouTube ads can appear before and after a creator’s content, and those ads work.

Last year at IPG, we bet big, pledging to invest $250M for the 2017-18 upfronts season on Google Preferred. And that’s paid off for our clients: IPG’s research shows 97% of our campaigns showed an awareness lift, and 73% of studies showed a lift in purchase intent.1

That’s why this year I’m bringing my clients along to VidCon, where they’ll find the future of entertainment, storytelling, and creativity.  

See you in Anaheim.