We might be living in the age of influencers, but not all young YouTube sensations began their journey intentionally looking for fame. “I started making videos because I was sad, and I wanted to be happy,” says comedian Lilly Singh. “That’s the honest reason.”
Lilly is joined by teen twin vloggers Brooklyn & Bailey, makeup artist Claire Marshall, and soul singer Aaradhna, for a VIP panel at O&M Singapore — all of them are appearing at the It’s A Girl Thing festival.
Ogilvy PR President of Southeast Asia & India, Andrew Thomas, who chairs the session, asks whether the kind of videos they make are shaped by feedback from fans, or informed by what has done particularly well in terms of views and subsequent ad revenue.
Each panellist agrees that it is folly to try to come up with a formula for what kind of content they should be putting out. Brooklyn and Bailey simply talk about what’s going on in their lives, while Lilly says that she wants to address a range of issues in her comedy, and so she shies away from trying to concoct a viral hit every single week.
Brooklyn and Bailey acknowledge that they are still young, and as such their videos will change over time, but that their audience will change too. “Our content is going to grow up with us,” says Bailey, adding; “When we’re old grannies, the other old grannies will be watching.”
One of the advantages to being a YouTuber is the immediacy of the relationship that they enjoy with their viewers — but this can also mean that the less positive interactions can have an impact on you, both as a creator and as a person. “I kick myself for it now, but I really let the negative comments get to me, and I stopped making music for a while,” says Aaradhna. Now though, she channels that energy into her song-writing.
Brands and bucks
None of the young women present on the panel are “above” working with brands, but they each have a keen awareness of their own audience, and aren’t afraid to turn offers down when they haven’t felt right. “Learn to say no when you want to say no,” advises Aaradhna. “Don’t let anyone mess with your art.”
Lilly echoes that sentiment, recalling times when brands have acted like gatekeepers, rather than partners. One brand which subverted her expectations in this regard was Coca-Cola, who gave her complete freedom to be herself during their year-long contract, liberated from constrictive brand guidelines. “At the end of the day, [creators] don’t want to make a bad video for your brand, because that would be a bad video for their channel,” she says. “When I’m making a branded video I want it to be the best video. In fact, I overcompensate, because people know I’m getting paid for it.”
But there’s no need to call her a sellout just yet. “My bread and butter is always going to be YouTube, not because that’s where the most money is, but because that’s where my foundation is,” says Lilly. “I never want to abandon that core audience.” And everything that she does outside of that platform, from her book to cosmetics, is a reflection and an extension of the brand which she started on YouTube: “All the things I put my name on, I think are pretty epic.”
If anything, these endorsements allow YouTubers to remain their most authentic selves and keep that close connection with their fans, as their channels won’t be clogged with intrusive, annoying pre-roll videos. Instead of relying on AdSense, Lilly believes that her fellow creators are so talented that they should be seeking other more exciting opportunities to make money, be it through partnering with brands, or writing books.
Claire Marshall adds that she doesn’t monetise all of her videos, as sometimes it can end up having an adverse effect on quality. For instance, if she wanted to include a specific piece of music in a video, she’d rather be able to do that and have a great piece of content as a result, than make compromises for the sake of ad revenue.
“Uploading a video doesn’t automatically give you the right to monetise that video,” says Lilly. “I think we’ve been spoiled… Creators are like, ‘I deserve to get paid!’” And with a trademark shrug, she asks: “Says who?”