Revolution often results in democracy. The inverse can also be true, especially in media. The printing press, once it proliferated, allowed anyone to print their thoughts and spread them to large audiences. The internet tore down the floodgates, and the digital age allowed just about anyone to become a journalist, filmmaker, critic, activist.
The democratization led to an uprising of sorts, and we currently find ourselves in the throes of what many call the Creator Revolution. At Advertising Week in New York, Rob Davis, Executive Director of Content Marketing for OgilvyOne Worldwide, hosted a discussion on this revolution—what it looks like, where it’s going, and how brands fit in—with four leading digital thinkers.
Cenk Uygur knows a thing or two about this revolution. He started The Young Turks back in 2002, and also spent time on traditional television, on MSNBC. Uygur credited the lack of “gatekeepers” in digital media that have sparked the power of creator-driven online content. As a result, you’re not just able to speak more truthfully to the audience online, but you’re able to reach so many more people. “The TV world brags that they’re in 160 million homes,” Uygur said. “Congratulations, I’m in 3 billion pockets.”
If someone has the ability to reach that many people, we all know who is going to be knocking on the door: brands. Ever since the days of game show hosts pitching products during breaks, brands have always wanted to align themselves with trustworthy public figures. YouTube, Instagram and Vine “Stars” in many ways have taken this mantle as brands still try and figure out how, when, and where to make their mark in the digital content world; where built-in, trusting audiences reside.
Maureen Ahmad, Director of Brand Content Strategy for Lenovo, acknowledged however that there is plenty of risk involved for brands who want to partner with successful online content creators. In these situations, brands are going to have to do something they normally don’t like to do: cede a lot of control. “If Ryan (Higa) is loved by his people, then what he says to them will work. So you have to ride that trust,” she said.
And it goes for creators, too. The last thing they want to do is be phony. “Don’t get seduced by the money,” Uygur said. “The trust of your audience is so much more valuable than any short term profit you might make.” And that’s why successful creators are where they are: they’ve built an enormous amount of trust with their audiences, and they know their audiences better than any brand could try to.
“Smart marketers are starting to see that creators know their audience,” Seth Rogin, Chief Revenue Officer at Mashable said. They’ve found what resonates with their audience and continue to serve them well. “If it wasn’t for the audience, we’d be nowhere,” Uygur said. “They made us. They are us.”
Naturally, brands want to find partners on each and every content platform. But they certainly need to understand that what works on one platform won’t work on the other. Sam Rogoway, Founder and CEO of Victorious, believes that the impending “all vertical” forecast for video is a bit premature. “There’s something to vertical video, and there’s something to 16-by-9,” he said, and mentioned that GIFs, memes, longer and shorter form videos and images all can be effective given the platform. “You shouldn’t have a laser focus on one type. Let the user decide what is best for them.”
Of course, once we think we’ve figured something in the digital world out, it changes. “What we’re talking about is not instant revolution,” Rogin said. “But something that’s been a story arc for a long time. We have to get used to this industry constantly changing.”
For brands, it’s difficult to operate in a world that’s always changing. By the time a brand has found a great YouTube star to partner with, the audience they seek might have already gravitated to Snapchat. And how do we know what has staying power and what might be fleeting? Will Periscope be a powerful brand platform in three years’ time, or will it fade in the rearview as the cool thing that let us watch that Ronda Rousey fight for free that one night?
Maybe that’s how we know that we’re in a revolution. Because when it’s over, what happens during and after is never certain.