“I’ve finished YouTube; when does the next season start?” - A teenager Dubit interviewed a few weeks into the COVID-19 lockdown.
Beneath the sardonic sentiment, lies an authentic challenge and conundrum. When there is more content than any person could consume in a lifetime, much less a pandemic, what you want right now becomes harder to find.
Dubit finds that most children and teens have a maximum of 3-5 “passion” brands at a time. Something new can only break in if the child is introduced to something so compelling that it knocks out an existing favorite (Fortnite’s debut KO’ed a lot of challengers) or when the kid hits the “all done” tipping point on previously-loved content.
There are numerous ways to discover something new – word of mouth, advertising, algorithmic recommendation, happenstance. Depending on the platform and the type of content, these methods rise and fall in effectiveness. Advertising is great for broad audience titles but isn’t affordable for niche content. Algorithms can suggest something similar to what you’ve enjoyed but may regress to the mean – narrowing rather than broadening your options.
YouTube Now More Influential Than TV Ads
YouTube changes the equation. As long as YouTube has been around, it’s been a strong platform for consumption, but in the most recent waves of Dubit’s global Trends surveys, it’s emerged in the US as one of young people’s top sources for discovering something new, and it’s not far behind in the UK.
It’s not the advertising on YouTube that’s proven so effective in helping kids find something new, it’s the ecosystem itself – exploration on the platform and recommendations by YouTubers. In the US, those two sources have grown consistently over the past two years, to bypass TV ads and equal parent recommendations, while still trailing peers’ opinions. In the UK, advertising remains second to friends, and parents, YouTube and YouTubers are roughly equal.
Discovery – whether on YouTube or by word-of-mouth – refers to ideas coming to the child from an external source. We also explore search – the times when a young person actively looks for something new. There the YouTube influence is even stronger, equal to friends and outstripping parents, siblings and social media in both the US and UK.
(In Dubit Trends, we often see a pattern of behavior start in the US and then ripple out to the rest of the world, reaching the UK first, then Northern Europe and the Nordics, and onward. Seeing YouTube “search” in the UK equaling the US in its influence is why we conclude it will soon do the same in overall “discovery.”)
Advertising is No Longer Enough for Discovery
During the recession earlier in the 2000s, brands absolutely needed to sustain their advertising presence to remain top-of-mind among consumers. As an indication of how the world has changed in a little more than a decade, in the first months of the pandemic, advertising spending has plummeted (more in the US than the UK, but still dire).
Considering young people, it’s easy to envision two reasons for this. First, their media use has shifted away from the customary delivery sources for linear ads like over-the-air or cable television, and toward non-commercial streaming video and games platforms (some with embedded ads). Second, even relatively young children have become more skeptical or inured to traditional advertising. They want to explore new brands in context to validate that they’re right for them, then get tacit approval from peers and parents.
Therefore, it’s become more critical that brands have a content presence in the places where young people explore. Dubit recently published a report on brands and Roblox games, branded events in Fortnite and Minecraft have drawn massive crowds, but YouTube is the most important of these platforms.
Keys to YouTube Discovery: Flexibility and Authenticity
Dubit Trends’ most recent wave found 55% of kids 2-15 in the US had used YouTube in the previous 24 hours, and 26% had used YouTube Kids (including more than 30% of 5-7s and 8-10s, an audience the company highly desires to attract to the under-13 platform).
Discovery is enhanced on YouTube because a brand can present itself in any number of ways, to invite different types of user or emphasize specific aspects. YouTube covers full episodes, short clips, supercuts, behind-the-scenes, outtakes, product demonstrations, unboxings, influencer videos, and more. Your content is your advertising, and you’re in control of how and where it appears.
The possibilities are limited only by the dimensions and needs of your IP, but what you offer has to fit the venue. Inauthenticity, failure to understand a platform’s niche, or trying too hard to “sell” will be recognized and rejected. Young people have an innate sense of where content belongs (a UK 8-year-old, during a home visit, rejected a high production value video made for YouTube, telling Dubit’s researcher that it was better for Netflix or linear.)
Young people have always had a strong interest in discovery. It’s not only how they expand their world and their taste, it’s also how they earn social currency. Every kid wants to be the one on the playground who’s ahead of the curve in finding the next big thing. Now, technology has caught up with the desire for immediacy: as soon as a child finds something attractive, he or she can pursue it across the range of the IP, starting on the path from newbie to superfan, and can share it with others to build community.
YouTube and YTK are “Kid Google,” young people’s first stop for search and discovery. If you don’t show up there, do you indeed exist?
This blog post originally appeared on C21Media.