3 Muskateens: Why do brands keep getting YouTube so wrong?

Getting YouTube wrong

Getting YouTube wrong

Big Candy tries to buy…influence?

So 3 Muskateers has embarked on what they seem to think is some kind of innovative new strategy to reach Gen Z: Instead of just buying shoutouts from already-established YouTubers (it’s so expensive to get Zoella or Gigi Gorgeous to pretend to love your product now! And they won’t always do what you want!), they’ve decided to create their own trio of “influencers” to do kooky stuff in front of a camera in someone’s bedroom but with good lighting, colour-coded decor and multiple camera angles, just like Real YouTube Stars.

What happens when a bad idea meets even worse execution?

bad branding 3 muskateers

I think this little exchange – from the 3 Muskateers Facebook page – pretty much sums up the answers to that question.

This is a campaign by people who don’t know YouTube at all

I may be two generations removed from Z (no one talks about Gen X any more, but we’re still here, paying attention), but I’ve been a pretty hard-core YouTube consumer for 10 years now. I remember when Brookers was the first YouTuber to get a ‘real’ Hollywood contract; I remember when LisaNova was still dating Danny Diamond and no one knew Disney would buy Maker for $500 million;  the drama that unfolded around MiaRose and her fake comments; the questions about DaxFlame; and of course, who can forget the mysterious Magibon? Heck, I remember when Shane Dawson got fired from Jenny Craig for doing too many YouTube videos.

Today’s YouTube is a vastly changed place, of course: A quick look at the top 100 most-subscribed list reveals that popstars and ‘mainstream’ shows like The Late Show have taken over from the quirky DIY types of 10 years ago. And these days, even teenage beauty bloggers with a subscriber base of 132 understand 3-point lighting and how to create an attention-grabbing thumbnail.

But longtime YouTubers like JennaMarbles, NigaHiga and SMOSH are still drawing big audiences. Why? Because in world of scripted reality shows and carefully managed brand identities, YouTube is where people go for authenticity. (Yes, okay, I hate that word too. But it’s appropriate here.) YouTube likes real people, especially if they’re a bit odd in a way you’d never see on mainstream tv.

The YouTube audience is pretty sophisticated, so you won’t hear too much complaining when a beloved celebrity does some kind of product placement or endorsement. (In the early days, there were lots of cries of ‘sellout’ when YouTubers did this; these days I think there’s a better understanding that if you want high-quality content, someone has to pay for it.) But this same sophisticated audience, who expects YouTube celebrities to be more authentic, definitely gets annoyed when they feel like they’re being tricked- especially by a big brand.

youtube 3 muskateers ads


If 3 Muskateers had been more blatant about the advertising, no one would have minded; if they’d been better at making this channel look ‘real’, no one would have minded. By choosing the middle ground, they’ve managed to annoy everyone pretty quickly.

Prediction? The 3 Muskateens will be gone in 12 months.


More tips from the seamy underbelly of Twitter

How to avoid letting Twitter make you crazy

Twitter will make you crazy if you aren’t careful

How to avoid letting Twitter make you crazy

I think Twitter can be both useful and even fun: It’s a great way to find out about breaking news, it’s a good way to quickly connect with people who are interested in something you’re wondering about right this minute, and it can steer you to information and topics you might never have discovered on your own (right now, I’m finding #blackhistorymonth very interesting). For businesses, it can be an excellent CRM tool, delivering the kind of instant gratification that customers tend to like; it can assist with SEO by ensuring you have regular content attached to your brand/name; and over the longer term it can be quite effective at building your profile, particularly within a particular industry or field.

Twitter is also fraught with dangerous rabbit holes. Make the mistake of clicking on a trending topic like #zayndontleave or #gamergate and you’ll find yourself sucked into a vortex of vitriol, misongyny, anger and illiteracy so bad you’ll start to wonder if social media really is the scourge of humanity.

But don’t worry!

More tips to help you actually like Twitter

1. People who have text on their background pictures are trying to sell you something. If you see text on the background pic of an account, think twice before following, even if you can’t actually read the text without clicking on the picture. If the text includes a number, be extra careful – anyone whose main message is “Ask me how I can increase your traffic by 92% in 2 weeks!” is trying to sell you something you almost certainly don’t need. And, worse, is going to tweet really, really boring stuff.

1.(b) If the text is a quote, do not follow. People who put inspirational quotes like “Walking in the sand, I knew my heart was in the sky” can be classified as one of 3 things: A bot/fake account; a person who tweets way, way too much; or a person who spends 98% of their leisure time on Pinterest. None of these people will help you professionally (and probably not personally, either).

2.  It’s okay to follow brands. I used to say that it was better to follow real people rather than brands – my reasoning was that people would actually tweet interesting stuff while brands would just regurgitate party-line soundbites. I’m happy to say this has changed. Some brands have great individuals running their Twitter feeds; others have hired content strategy types (like me) to give them interesting, relevant content which is even sometimes funny.

3.  Don’t follow anyone wearing a hat in their profile pic. The exception to this might be a professional baseball player wearing a ball cap. Otherwise, it just means “I am a self-published romantic fiction/sci-fi author and I like tea and cats.”

4.  It’s okay good to get personal. Sometimes.  No, you shouldn’t tweet endless photos of your meals out (unless you’re a food blogger). But a quick tweet about the marathon you just ran, or a pic of a funny sign you saw, or an amusing comment about current events lets your audience know that you’re a real person who does interesting things and has interesting thoughts. And it will often generate better engagement than a link to an industry-related article.

5. If someone with 10k followers, who is only following 100 people, follows you, ask yourself why. In fact, you don’t have to ask yourself – I will tell you: Because they are going to wait for you to follow back, then unfollow you immediately. They are not interested in you or your business, they aren’t interested in your tweets – they just want to build their follower base so they can sell someone something (possibly access to their follower base). Which brings me to…

6.  Follower: Following ratio is important. Twitter, like so much of adult life, is like high school: The winner is the person who seems most popular. A person with 20k followers who is only following 543 people looks more popular (and probably actually is) than someone who has 80k followers but is following 93k people.  When you’re first starting out on Twitter, your ratio will be poor (see #5 in my previous Seamy Underbelly piece), but your goal, over time, should be to ensure you have more followers than people you’re following.

7.  It’s a long game.  Digital media types in skinny pants often try to give you the impression that in the Modern World, everything happens superfast! and supergreat! But the truth is that Twitter, like almost any other component in a social media/content strategy, delivers results over the longer term. It takes time to build up a following and think up some clever tweets that get attention and push out content that people actually read. I tell clients they need to keep at it for 6-12 months before they can really assess results.

8. Be very clear about why you’re bothering with Twitter in the first place. Twitter can deliver lots of benefits for small businesses: It can feed your other social media channels; it can amplify your content; it can give you access to eyeballs you wouldn’t otherwise have for free; it can help your Google rankings; it can be a CRM tool; it can make your otherwise static website look continually updated; it can act as a focus group; it can raise your profile within your industry or target market – all these things can be valuable.

But Twitter can also be a lot of work – it doesn’t necessarily require a lot of time especially if you’re using the right tools, it just requires sort of constant care and feeding, and that can be tricky for small businesses with limited resources. That’s why it’s crucial to know why you’re doing it and what you hope to achieve. If you can stay out of the rabbit holes and stay the course for a year, you might find it more effective than you think.


Growing up in advertising: All age groups required

Advertising needs old people too

Your perspective changes over time. So does your insight.


Exhibit 1

I was a newly-minted Account Director in yet another ‘brainstorming’ meeting with a client, whose key goal for the coming year was to sell more cans of bug-killing spray than any of their competitors. The problem was that the market seemed to be saturated: There were only so many suburban women aged 35-49 with a household bug problem in the country.

Finally I said, “Why aren’t we going after the 18-34s in urban areas? Don’t they have more bugs than you guys do?”

I used the term “you guys”, because all the people on the client-side of the table were in fact 35-49s who lived in suburbia. (Also because I was tired. “You guys” is just sloppy phrasing.)

I, on the other hand, was 29, living alone in a downtown-ish apartment in an older building, and bugs were a problem. Ants in summer, those million-legged creepy bugs in fall, huge weird black flies in the winter – and every so often, an unidentified winged bug I immediately assumed was the start of a cockroach invasion precipitated by a new tenant down the hall and on which I went nuclear. My friends were all in the same boat: We all lived downtown, we all lived in older, usually multi-family buildings, and we all, from time to time, faced bug problems.  We all had more cans of bug spray under our sinks than most of the suburban soccer moms we knew.


Exhibit 2

For most of my life I had no idea where to buy everyday baby clothes. I didn’t have kids, I didn’t like kids that much, I didn’t have too many friends who’d had babies. When called upon for a baby gift I usually bought something expensive, like a silver Tiffany baby spoon or a Christian Dior baby hat.

But in March 2013 I had a baby, and suddenly I became a whole new consumer: I quickly learned that Tiffany spoons and Dior hats were virtually useless, because what a new mother really needs is reasonably-priced multipacks of cotton onesies, reliable carseats and giant boxes of wet wipes for sensitive skin. And I had no idea where to start (two days before my daughter was born, I actually posted a query on Facebook: “Where do you find decent baby clothes that aren’t covered in Disney characters?” You can call me unprepared if you want; I was just trying not to jinx things).

At the time I had a client whose product was targeted to mothers who wanted ‘all-natural’ healthcare for babies and toddlers.  I went from (secretly) thinking the target market was basically just a subset of over-protective attachment-parenting anti-vaxxers to identifying with them – which meant that I started to have much better ideas about how to market to them, where to reach them, and what messages would work best.


Young people aren’t the only ones with Big Ideas

In advertising, it’s long been held that Big Ideas only come from young minds, and that if you weren’t a creative director by 40 or an agency owner by 50, you could expect to get sidelined in direct mail or something equally unglamorous.  (And no, you don’t need to point out to me that direct mail and direct email, done right, can deliver a far greater ROI than some super-deluxe Superbowl commercial. But it’s still not glamorous, and you’re not going to get to meet Brad Pitt at the shoot.)

But Big Ideas only come from Big Insights, and your insights change as your life changes.

My bug-spray insight – which, incidentally, led to a campaign that drove significant incremental sales in urban areas – was a direct result of my life at that moment, and I probably wouldn’t have the same insight today. My insights about the baby-care products would definitely never have happened 10 years ago, and 15 years from now I’ll have some insight about high-fibre breakfast cereal that wouldn’t occur to me today.

When I worked in ad agencies, we used to have a saying: “You are not the target.” It’s what we often said to the client, when we presented what we thought were fantastic ideas but they didn’t love.  These days I find myself thinking: “You are now the target.” Maybe hungry 20-somethings should not be our only source of big ideas.





Tips from the seamy underbelly of Twitter (mostly for SMBs)

Sarah Welstead Twitter for small business

Things the ‘social media gurus’ won’t tell you

Sarah Welstead Twitter for small business

The other day I wrote about why almost all small- and mid-sized businesses should have a Twitter presence.

But let’s face it: The world didn’t need another blog post about why Twitter’s so great for SMBs. Every day, my own Twitter feed is clogged unto bursting with articles by supposed marketing geniuses (if they call themselves  ‘guru’, it must be true!) promising that if you’ll only follow their 23 Foolproof Steps, you too will achieve business success via Twitter.

What I’ve noticed, however, is that all these “Top 10 tips for succeeding on Twitter” pieces littering the web seem to be written by people who’ve spent about 2 hours on Twitter, put quantity over quality, and who are too busy driving traffic to their keywords that they don’t actually tell you anything useful, like “If someone whose profile pic is a possibly-underage girl in a bikini follows you, do not follow back.”

Avoid disaster by following these simple rules

1. Don’t go more than a week without logging into your account or tweeting. Dormant accounts, especially if they have 1000+ followers, are targets for hackers/spoofers who take over the account and start tweeting spam. You don’t want to discover that your long-ignored account has been tweeting porn for 3 months without you noticing (true story).

2. Do not follow anyone with a US flag as their profile pic backdrop.  95% of the time, this person will turn out to be a super-right-wing conservative who will, sooner or later, tweet something unbelievably offensive, which will lead to two problems: Either (a) you will want to tweet a response, which will end badly; or (b) you will get associated with a whole community of offensive types that are not good for your brand. Prevention is the only cure.

3. Almost anyone who tweets more than 5 times a day is going to be boring – or worse.  Yes, you should tweet every day. But almost any non-celebrity/non-genius who tweets every 5 minutes is just going to clog up your feed with Inspirational Quotes or a zillion links to their Free Ebook – Download Now! page. Follow back if you want to keep your numbers up – but then see #4.

4. Use the ‘mute’ option liberally. Putting someone on mute means you don’t have to unfollow them (if you think that would cause offense and/or a mutual unfollow, thereby reducing your numbers), while still avoiding their incessant Maya Angelou quotes. Here’s where you can find the mute function:


5.  To grow your base, you have to follow 25-50 new people a day.  Here is what hardly anyone will ever tell you: Unless you’re famous, or really super-hilarious, no one is going to seek you out on Twitter. I’m sorry, but they just aren’t. So you have to follow a whole bunch of people and then hope that some of them follow you back.

6.  A half-naked profile pic is not someone you want to follow. There is a lot of crap on Twitter – the sheer number of accounts focused on pantyhose fetishists alone is astounding. To avoid falling into the Twitter slough of despond, do not follow, or follow back, anyone whose profile pic shows more skin than you’d see at the office on a normal day.

6.(a) Don’t follow anyone doing an elaborate duck-face, either. For mostly the same reasons.

7. Beware of secret religionists.  #6 notwithstanding, there are a startling amount of religious types on Twitter, and my personal philosophy is that religion and business do not mix. People who include ‘Christ-follower’ in their profiles are easy to spot – it’s the ones using secret code you have to be careful of. Religious tip-offs include using the word ‘servant’ in a list of personal adjectives (“husband, father, servant, SEO master”); Bible verses (any numbers separated by a colon, like 3:11); use of the words ‘saved’, ‘believer’, ‘disciple’ and ‘Israel’ are also problematic. And I’m always a bit dubious about anyone whose bio includes ‘family first’.

8. More hashtags = more spam. A person whose bio and/or tweets #consist #of #almost #nothing #but #hashtags is not interested in anything but promoting their own, probably spammy, website. Don’t follow them; don’t follow them back – they will do nothing for you, your brand or your business.

9. Don’t retweet a link you haven’t checked. Twitter-scammers are smart: They can make a headline sound great, so you retweet not realizing the link actually goes to some ad-filled clickbait or malware site. At best, you look lazy; at worst, you lose followers who think you too are a scammer. Check every link you tweet.

So there you are: 9 handy tips that should keep you out of the morass of mediocrity that Twitter can seem to be if you aren’t careful. Social media is not for the faint of heart.