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Youth and youth marketing have a disproportionate impact on older generations. (You can sell a young man’s car to an old man, but you can’t sell an old man’s car to anybody.)

Gen Z (ages 0-20) prefers to learn about brands through social media influencers, not advertising. Specifically, they like to be entertained and learn things via short (2-10 minute) videos made by ‘YouTube stars’ they admire and relate to. These ‘stars’ are not celebrities such as Kim Kardashian or athletes such as LeBron James. They are everyday women and men of any age who have developed followings based on their passion, creativity, expertise, and sense of humor.

YouTube is the social media platform that Gen Z would be least willing to sacrifice. More than half say they would suffer if denied access to YouTube.

But Gen Z is not alone in preferring video learning and entertainment. The proliferation of screens and the disintermediation of content creation have led all generations to watch YouTube videos on any topic, anywhere, anytime. YouTube is now the second-ranked search engine, following only its parent company, Google.

The vast majority of YouTube videos contain no advertising. A small but rising percentage contains sponsored content. Sponsored content has a long history in American media, from radio ‘soap operas’ sponsored by Procter & Gamble in the 1920s to the Saturday matinee broadcasts of the Metropolitan Opera, began in 1931 and continuing today, more than 1,500 broadcasts and 85 years later. Interestingly, consumers do not object to even overt appearances of the sponsor’s brand – as long as it is relevant and authentic. In fact, they appreciate sponsors who make possible the entertainment and information they enjoy. They show their appreciation through increased brand awareness, increased brand favor, and increased propensity to buy.

The goal of sponsored content is not simply impressions or clicks, though those will be measured. The goal is not simply engagement with a brand’s website or shopping cart, though product and service purchases should pay for the campaign and eventually show a profit. Producing sponsored content is playing the long game. Its high achievement is content that merits sharing, which not only expands the campaign’s reach, but also increases its influence on everyone who sees it. Itsultimateachievement is brand love and evangelism.

Achieving widespread sharing of sponsored content is capturing lightning in a bottle. Though the traits of share-worthy content are known, designing those traits into sponsored content often leads to it feeling fake or contrived – which kills its viral potential.

Therefore, a successful strategy for sharing relies on more than the content itself. To ensure social sharing, Groundswell recruits relevant social media influencers to star in the videos alongside up-and-coming actors. The influencers see the project as a way to gain stature with their peers and followers, and also as an affiliate marketing revenue stream.

Slick videos with high production values are not required. In fact, as with trying to engineer viral content, high production values can reduce a campaign’s reception and effectiveness. Many YouTube superstars use no more sophisticated equipment than their smart phones or laptops. The pervasiveness of YouTube has changed viewers’ requirements for video. Their requirements are as simple as this: Let me see it. Let me hear it.

That fact makes sponsored content accessible to brands that could not begin to consider TV advertising.

While sponsored content should be open to input and revision during the production process, the key to success is to start with a great idea, and then develop a solid script. Based on the client-approved script, we recruit a production team and relevant social media influencers, and cast the acting roles.

As stated previously, the ultimate achievement of sponsored content is brand love and evangelism, which leads to more sales to more people over a longer period of time. But there are less tangible benefits as well.

  • Creating something that people like and share, instead of advertising they try to avoid.
  • Obtaining maximum marketing results from minimal investment. (And avoiding the dilemma first posed by Sir William Lever of Lever Bros.: “I know half the money I spend on advertising is wasted. The problem is, which half?”)
  • Pride and satisfaction of being on the leading edge of marketing, where some of the world’s smartest marketers play.
  • You are creating a cultural artifact – a piece of intellectual property that you own and put into the world, just like a short feature film or TV series.

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Groundswell doesn’t tell stories about brands. We tell stories withbrands.

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