YouTubers are the New Influencer for today’s youth

Digital stars are inspirational but seen as being 'just like me'

Last year, Variety magazine released a study showing YouTube stars’ influence on teens far exceeded that of traditional celebrities. The results showed six of the top ten personalities were YouTubers — including DEFY Media’s own SMOSH at #1 — but we weren’t content to rest on our laurels and wanted to understand what’s driving this movement. Now in its third year, DEFY Media’s annual ACUMEN Report combines qualitative and quantitative methodologies to provide a comprehensive and thoughtful view of the media behaviours of Millennials 13-to-24 years old.

Nathan George

Nathan George

The most recent study included a deep-dive into why digital celebrities are showing greater influence among youth compared to the biggest names in TV and movies.

The results clearly showed that YouTubers ARE the modern day role models and compete on equal footing with traditional celebrities. Among the 13-to-17 year old segment, 32 percent responded they are more likely to look up to a YouTube personality than a traditional celebrity. 52 percent of the older 18-to-24 set said they “feel closer” to their favorite YouTubers than TV/movie stars and nearly 46 percent stated YouTubers “like the same things I do”; that figure jumped to 61 percent among 13-to-17 year-olds.

Young people overall said they more strongly relate to YouTubers and rated them higher on attributes such as “someone I trust” (49 percent vs. 20 percent for TV/movie stars) and “has the best advice” (48 percent vs. 18 percent for TV/movie stars).

TV/Movie stars are traditionally viewed as aspirational — “someone I’d like to be,” “does the things I want to do,” or “has unique or special talents” — and unsurprisingly, youth rated them high on these qualities in our study. What we did not expect was for youth to also rate YouTubers equally high on these traits, suggesting that YouTubers popularity stems from the capacity to straddle both worlds.

One 14-year-old interviewee described a traditional celebrity she admired, “I like her style [but] in her songs all they talk about now is getting money and stuff like that…not a lot of people can get money. I can’t really relate to her because I don’t know her life.”

The power of these new influencers was even more evident when it came to purchasing influence. A whopping 63 percent stated they would try a product or brand recommended by a YouTube personality, while only 48 percent said this about TV/movie stars.

Nathan George, VP of Sales at DEFY Media Canada commented, “YouTube stars such as SMOSH’s Ian Hecox and Anthony Padillo have created an iconic worldwide brand while retaining the ability to connect with and relate to youth audiences on a daily basis. This represents a pinnacle shift in the world of advertising and celebrity endorsement; a shift that is proving to be a rewarding one for advertisers aligning themselves with the world’s newest form of celebrity.”

While the internet remains core to these newfound digital talents, the industry has seen a number of top YouTubers attracting movie and TV opportunities. It seems the millennial audience thinks they can easily replace traditional talent. When asked whether YouTube stars could be successful TV or movie stars, the youth in our survey responded with an overwhelming 65 percent – YES THEY CAN!

George continued, “Whether you’re a Canadian marketer or content creator, these ACUMEN findings magnify the growing influence of custom programming aimed at millennial consumers and further affirms that traditional media is falling short within this key audience segment.”

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