A recent study from Variety found that American teenagers are more enthralled with YouTube stars than they are the biggest names in the more established entertainment industry. The survey from July found that the five most influential celebrities among viewers ages 13-18 are all YouTube stars.
The most important finding of this survey was that online personalities scored significantly higher across characteristics with the highest correlation to influencing purchase intent among teens.
Because YouTube personalities are easily accessible, teenagers believe that they have a more intimate and authentic experience with them. Whether it is true or not, teens feel these stars don’t have the carefully created images that mainstream stars do.
But What Does this Mean for Brands and The Entertainment Biz?
Gen Z is drastically different generation from the Millennials that came before them. They are the first true digital native generation and the celebrities that they gravitate toward reflect that. This means that change is needed for advertising and entertainment approaches.
If Gen Z loves the authenticity of these personalities, then brands will want to hire them as spokespeople and studios may want to sign them to produce more mainstream products. Already, Bethany Mota has starred in ads for Aeropostale (where she has a fashion line) and O2L has a partnership with Invisalign. But there is a danger for both parties in this.
“If YouTube stars are swallowed by Hollywood, they are in danger of becoming less authentic versions of themselves, and teenagers will be able to pick up on that,” celebrity brand strategist Jeetendr Sehdev told Variety. “That could take away the one thing that makes YouTube stars so appealing.”
Should Hollywood just let these personalities stay online and ignore them? No. Justin Bieber was a YouTube sensation before he was a pop star, and already, stars like Nash Grier and Cameron Dallas are being offered movie deals.
The industry will just need to find a way to work with these stars without corrupting the close relationships they have built with fans. That may mean branching into new types of media and.or changing the way that Hollywood studios and media companies have traditionally controlled and crafted a star’s image.
And what about brands? The answer might not be so defined, but it likely involves letting these online personalities promote their products in a less traditional way, by creating their own content or reviews. Brands will be uncomfortable giving up total control of their messaging, but such an approach could keep intact that authenticity and truthfulness so important to Gen Z audiences.