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.


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.





The 2-minute marketing guide to Vines

How to use Vine for marketing

Sure, Vines seem kinda dumb – until you realize Nash Grier has almost 10 million followers.

How to use Vine for marketing

I admit I’ve adopted a bit of a cynical attitude toward app-based marketing trends. It’s possible I’m just too old to keep up with every whim of the mass market, but I like to think long experience has given me a healthy dose of caution when it comes to recommending the ‘new new thing’ just because it’s the new new thing.  (I keep hearing about Snapchat’s coming marketing juggernaut, for example, but given the app’s privacy problems and general jerkiness of its founder, I have to wonder just how excited advertisers will be to get in bed with the brand.)

But I have to concede that Vine has no such problems.  The tech seems to work, it’s got critical mass, and brands are already working with Viners to apparently great success.

Vine, the two-year-old smartphone app that lets users make, share and post 6-second looping video clips.  TechCrunch reports that more than 1 billion Vine loops are played every day, and the app has spawned a generation of Vine ‘stars’, whose vines get hundreds of thousands of views as soon as they’re uploaded.

Vines present a great opportunity for marketers in both the B2C and B2B space to build awareness, engagement, and brand personality.  Here’s what you need to know to get the most out of them:

It’s not just for kids

While Vine is still most popular with the under-25 set, its ubiquity on smartphones means it’s catching on fast.  Don’t assume that your brand, product or service can’t benefit.

Encourage user-generated content

Don’t want to invest a lot of resources in a relatively new channel?  Invite Twitter followers and Facebook fans to create and post Vines based on your product, with prizes offered for community favorites.

Choose a hashtag – and own it

Vine supports Twitter-like hashtags, which are a great way to drive awareness and continuity across different social media channels.  Choose a brand-related, unique hashtag that you can use to unify and leverage your messaging, and commit to it over the long-term.

A simple app means simple messaging

Originally just a simple way to record and share 6-second video loops, Vine now offers a few features like ghosting and slow-motion, but it’s still a relatively simple app.  Which means it does best when used to convey simple, single messages.

Don’t overthink it

One of McDonald’s most popular vines is a stop-motion animation of a game of tic-tac-toe between their french fries and their fish patties.  A popular GE vine is simply Buzz Aldrin asking “Are you ready to walk on the moon?”  These aren’t Big Ideas – and that’s the point.