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VidCon: Brands and YouTubers must find middle ground

Branded content on YouTube shouldn't feel like a television commercial

A successful partnership between brands and YouTube stars depends on striking a balance, according to industry insiders at a VidCon panel Friday.

With the huge fan bases that YouTube stars amass, brands like Ford, RedBull and L'Oreal are increasingly turning to online video talent to forge new followers.

But the dynamic between independent video makers and large brands can get strained. That's because the creators are often more loyal to their audiences than the brand.

When the brand doesn't meld with the creator, it's "like trying to fit a square peg in a round hole," said Jeremy Scott of CinemaSins, the popular YouTube channel devoted to joking about movie flaws. About 2.4 million people subscribe to CinemaSins.

"Brands have to find content that is thematically tied to the same audience that they're trying to reach," said Luke Simmons, director of branded content for Electus Digital. Electus owns and operates a number of YouTube channels and websites including CollegeHumor.com.

Simmons offered two pieces of advice for brands: 1) Find content that is good enough to survive without the brand, and 2) Don't be "uptight and serious" about the brand.

In other words, don't make branded content feel like "a straight up commercial," he said.

Creators like Devin Graham have total allegiance to their audiences.

Graham's YouTube channel "DevinSuperTramp" has more than 2 million subscribers. It focuses on off-beat outdoor activities such as having a slip-and-slide on the side of a cliff.

"My audience is more important than any brand I'm ever going to get," Graham said. If a brand's idea of content doesn't mesh with what his audience likes, "it's not worth the risk," he said.

Graham said brands and creators have to find a middle ground. To do that, creators have to be upfront from the onset about making content that will keep the audience happy, he said.

"That way it won't feel like a commercial, and it will be real for an audience of YouTubers," Graham said. "Social media people want it to feel authentic and real."

Scott of CinemaSins put things a little more bluntly.

"You come into our house, get in on our party, but at the end of the day, I'm going to side with my fans," he said.

Twitter: @madeline_oh

Copyright © 2014, Los Angeles Times
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