Thoughts 08.09.14

All hail the internet superstars

A recent survey from Variety magazine reports that YouTube stars are more popular amongst teens than Hollywood A-listers. We look into what it is that these internet sensations can offer fans that the kings of Tinseltown can’t.

There’s no denying that the internet has transformed traditional methods in which people climb their way to fame. It’s opened the door for any average joe to become a celebrity; from six-second Vine sketches to YouTube reaction videos – the internet is jam-packed with those only a few hundred thousand clicks away from becoming tomorrow’s next viral sensation. The results from the Variety survey however pose some even bigger questions into just how influential these online stars have become. The top five that feature on the list are all YouTube stars, beating the likes of Hunger Games actress Jennifer Lawrence and funnyman Seth Rogan. So what makes these online natives resonate stronger amongst teens and millennials, and how have they overtaken the big dogs in such force?

Let’s start with authenticity. Teens enjoy the fact that they can share more intimate experiences with their online heroes. YouTube video game star PewDiePie – voted third on the list and who currently has the most subscribed YouTube channel of all time – has gained fame with his bizarre commentary and facecam reactions. Facecam, which is used to record facial expressions on a webcam, adds a more personal touch for viewers. The visibility of PewDiePie’s reactions opens him up to fans, letting them enjoy that specific moment together. The Swedish gamer also prides himself on not being manufactured to ‘look’ a certain way, refusing to hire editors to make his videos look more ‘polished’. Whilst big studios are relentlessly throwing money at their glittering projects, it seems as though the online stars are actually getting more bang for their buck with their authentic approach.

And so with authenticity comes more engaged and loyal fans. The nature of the internet allows YouTubers to interact with their fans via the comments, and the majority of them are heavily involved in forums and are active on social media. YouTube comedy duo The Fine Bros., who came second in Variety’s list, spend a lot of time answering their fans’ questions, and often use their feedback to inspire content. Their ‘Cats react to viral videos’ hit, which has clocked up almost eight million views, was a result of fans demanding for a cat spinoff to their popular ‘React’ franchise. We’re witnessing teens become more and more engaged with these online celebrities because the internet enables them to share a much deeper relationship. They have the opportunity to be heard by their idols and are invited to engage in conversations with them; an experience oh so different to admiring your favourite Hollywood star in their latest blockbuster, to then feeling distant from them again once it’s over and the credits roll.

The increasing desire for millennial brands to collaborate with internet stars also proves just how valuable this breed of celebrity has become. Take Coca Cola for example, who called upon ‘Vine Magician’ Zack King to help promote their Coca-Cola Freestyle fountain machine, or Taco Bell and Disney who have both reached out to one of the world’s first Snapchat celebrities, Shaun McBride, in hope of a collaboration. Brands are willing to fork out six-figure sums for content which they’ve realised will give them the opportunity to naturally talk to teens in their social playgrounds without appearing to ‘bombard’ them.

It’s obvious then that these internet celebrities are winning over audiences by inhabiting a more ‘human’ approach; Variety say that it’s the “lack of filter and risk-taking spirit” that teens are championing. In an age where pushy marketing fails to strike a chord with millennials, it’s important that brands work harder to generate real conversations with their audiences. Consequently, it’s the internet celebrities of today who are topping the class when it comes to meeting the demands of the millennial generation.