How Brands Can Navigate a Video World of Celebrity Creators

More and more A-listers are making their way to YouTube

Dwayne "The Rock" Johnson was one of the first celebrities to use YouTube to connect with his fans. Getty Images
Headshot of Nate Houghteling

The story of YouTube is one of continuous reinvention. From the early days of chaos and cats to the wave of viral videos to the rise of a new type of entertainment personality, the platform has kept its audience enthralled by refusing to stand still.
For brands and marketers, however, this constant shapeshifting has presented a challenge: How do you set a strategy for a platform that is defined by change? The answer, which brands who have had breakout success on YouTube have proven time and again, is to look ahead for the wave on the horizon rather than the one cresting in front of you.
As we head into 2019, it’s becoming more apparent that the next wave of YouTube’s evolution is that of the celebrity creator. We’ve seen it over the last couple years with early adopters like Dwayne “The Rock” Johnson, Kevin Hart, Karlie Kloss and James Corden, who have all built up significant followings on the platform. More recently, a wave of mainstream talent has gotten in on the act, including Reese Witherspoon, Will Smith, Dua Lipa, Madelaine Petsch and Lindsey Vonn, who are all asking us to like and subscribe.
The age of the A-list creator on YouTube presents a huge opportunity for brands who want to partner with the biggest talent in the world on content that really matters to them. But just like any new phase, this one requires a working understanding of the opportunities and pitfalls before diving in. Here are a few words of advice on how to successfully navigate YouTube’s next big thing.

Be early

In this new era of celebrity channels, the brands that move first will be rewarded.
Brands deciding how to spend their money next year should see the writing on the wall. While the pull of networks on young people continues to grow weaker (no one wants their MTV anymore), the personal brands of the biggest celebrities in the world is only increasing. As a result of this dynamic, mainstream talent now push to own a greater share of their work and take more creative control over the projects they pursue. If you couple that with YouTube’s growing desire to have celebrities on the platform, you get a natural space for celebs to carve out their own fiefdoms on the platform and bring their fans along.
Investing in a series on a celebrity YouTube channel is a way to collaborate on a project that’s meaningful to the talent without the complexities and expense of an endorsement deal. Kevin Hart’s partnership with Old Spice on his most popular YouTube series, Cold as Balls, is a perfectly executed example of this. As the title sponsor of the show, Old Spice was able to collaborate with Kevin on a project that he cared about on his home turf.

Find channels where talent wants to be

As more celebrities launch their own YouTube presences, many are tempted to go full Oprah and launch a network that is based on their personal sensibility without putting themselves at the center of the content. While there are a couple successful channels that have taken this approach (Amy Poehler’s Smart Girls and Rainn Wilson’s SoulPancake, for example), these are the exceptions to a simple rule of YouTube: It’s a personality-driven platform where the individual is more important than the show.
The early success of Madelaine Petch’s channel and her collaborations with brands demonstrate how powerful YouTube can be when harnessed in this way. In the past six months, Madelaine’s channel has skyrocketed to over 3 million subscribers for the simple reason that she has put herself at the center of every video. Her recent partnership with makeup brand Il Makiage was a perfect extension of that philosophy. She recorded her own intro to the video announcing the partnership directly to her community and then remained the focal point from beginning to end.

Create partnerships with talent that wants to take risks

Just like any strong community, YouTube has its own values, but right at the top of that list of commandments is a simple credo: Show me something I haven’t seen before. The cord-never generation is aware that TV exists, but they don’t watch it because they know they can get fresher material on YouTube. For celebrities entering this world for the first time, it’s not enough to turn on a camera and film—to be successful, they’ll need to take some risks.
No one has embodied the YouTuber ethos quite like Will Smith. Since joining the platform less than a year ago, the superstar has surprised even himself in some of the risks he’s taken in the name of YouTube glory. He’s skied in the desert, done the “In My Feelings” challenge on perch over the Danube and jumped out of a helicopter into the Grand Canyon. His partnership with Pixel is a great example of a brand empowering a creator who also happens to be one of the biggest stars in the world.
Finding the celebrity channels that define this new era of YouTube, the ones that plan for the long-term, embrace the personality-driven aspect of the platform and take risks will give brands the opportunity to be ahead of the curve. And, more to the point, it’ll connect them with fans in an entirely new way.


@nhoughte Nate Houghteling is a co-founder and executive producer at Portal A.