With YouTube Auto Videos, Who's Watching What?

YouTube is critical to auto campaigns. Digital video content supports launch creative and sustains the campaign over weeks and months. But who's watching what? From the perspective of sheer volume, very few are watching official content on automaker channels. 

BMW is the top auto brand on YouTube according to new research from YouTube enterprise rights and marketing firm Zefr. The brand has 4.5 billion views, but the “official” videos probably constitute 3% of that, at best. Most of it comprises content from individuals who live along that creator continuum from person-with-a-smart-phone to professional YouTube producer/vlogger with a mission statement and revenue model. 

So, after BMW comes Honda with close to 4 billion views; then Mercedes-Benz with 3.5 billion; Nissan with about 3 billion views; and Lamborghini, Chevy and Ferrari with  about 2.8 billion each, give or take. Audi follows the leader pack.  

Incidentally, sedans are by far the top category of vehicle on the Tubes. They garner about four times the viewership numbers versus the next most frequent category, sports cars. And well behind the halo cars are SUVs. And then pickups, hybrids and minivans. 

Zefr’s report notes that one should not conflate “car content” with car reviews, though the latter is part of the mix. No, the content is anything about cars, including racing, “"What's in my car” type videos; do-it-yourself customizing content; and even road trips. 

And all of this stuff, whether it is a street race, or a road trip from Denver to Helena, has potential for a car maker, if only they can figure out a legitimate way in that doesn’t look forced. The point is that an automaker can certainly make its own road trip video. But the upside is far greater if the OEM can partner with a vlogger who authentically respects the company and loves its brands. 

The numbers are huge, as Zefr’s report makes clear: Fan videos are the Hollywood Bowl. Official brand videos are the coffee house down the street with a mike and a stage. Take the “What's in my Car” content. Yes, that's the car version of “what's in my purse.” But ZEFR says the 280 or so videos garner some 7 million views. The big numbers, though, are around the 305,000 or so classic car videos, garnering 1.6 billion views; the 895,000 or so racing videos Zefr measured that garner 8.2 billion views; and the 95,000 road trip videos, garnering 442 million views.

 Flipping those stats, the firm says  98% of video views involving BMW, Honda, Mercedes, Lambo and Chevy are of fan and vlogger content. 

We can perceive a way for auto brands to get vlogger mileage from something one content maker said in the Zefr sturdy. “My experience with brands is very little, actually. Every single car I have ever reviewed is not from a press car division or the brand. They are actually all owners’ cars.” But car companies have approached him, and he says a partnership works if it’s honest, “If you believe in the product you are working with. You have to avoid what I call ‘Wayne's World’ syndrome, where it’s obviously forced.” 

Uwe Dreher, BMW Group's head of brand communication, makes a good point in the Zefr report: while the most popular car content on YouTube is not official content, very few of those viewers are the right people. “From a marketing perspective, we learned a lot about the different categories of fans and potential customers, and that there is a need to target the right message to the right target audience.” And the obvious: not every BMW fan or customer is interested in every BMW product. “Success on YouTube should not only be defined by the quantity of views and engagements alone as they are quite easy to manipulate. In fact it should be about the quality of the views and their contribution to the communication targets.” In other words, you have to differentiate between several kinds of content. And not all of that content is really designed to get millions of viewers. Just the right viewers.

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