How YouTubers are influencing back-to-school spending


Students are taking their back-to-school shopping cues from vloggers with millions of subscribers.

When Sandi Crystal Ball, (yes that is her real name) was a 12-year-old girl in Newfoundland, her mother gave her a basket filled with 50 bottles of nail polish she had collected over the years.

In retrospect, Ball thinks her mom got tired of having her rummage through her closet to get to them, but it was a move that set Ball on a path to prosperity.

Ball is the woman behind cutepolish, the No.1 nail art channel on YouTube, with 2.5 million subscribers and 306 million views. Her has more than 14 million followers.

Ball’s childhood interest in nail polish grew into a hobby that has become a full-time job for her and her husband, who is her business manager.

Her income is generated by advertising on YouTube, which appears at the beginning of videos or runs alongside it.

“It fluctuates every day, like the stock market. Some days the ads might be worth more than other days,” says Ball.

Ball, 26, who now lives in Windsor, is a member of Generation YouTube, teenagers and young adults who grew up immersed in social media and creating their own content for social media.

It is Ball and others like her who are influencing fashion purchases and smart retailers know it and are knocking on their doors.

On average, millennials spend eight hours a day on the Internet, according to Farla Efros, of HRC Advisory (check).

Whereas back to school used to mean shopping for school supplies, it has stretched out to include much more. Millennials are seeking cues for trends in nail polish, hair styles and clothes.

And the season has stretched out – back to school now starts in the summer and extends past the first day of school as students check their looks against their peers and make adjustments.

Rafe Petkovic, head of industry – retail, Google Canada said YouTube is a good platform for retailers to connect authentically with consumers. It also provides feedback in the form of comments, subscriptions and views.

“It’s imperative for Canadian retailers to be there,” said Petkovic. “TV is like being locked into a racecar track. YouTube takes you onto the street.”

Ball tries to work a nine-to-five day, connecting with her followers on Twitter, Facebook and Instagram for a couple of hours each day, in addition to making videos.

She launched her YouTube channel in February 2010.

“My first video was Hello Kitty nail art. I printed off a little picture of her face on my printer, cut it out and stuck it on my nail using clear nail polish. My nail art skills have definitely improved since then,” says Ball, who grew up in Brookfield, Nfld., population 300.

She completed her education degree at Memorial University in St. John’s, even though her channel was becoming lucrative.

Creators keep 55 per cent of the revenue. YouTube keeps 45 per cent. Other streams of revenue include brand deals. Ball has created videos for Disney’s YouTube channel. She also incorporates products she likes into her videos.

Ball is working on a special five-episode series for a new YouTube network called ICON that delivers beauty, fitness and life advice programming in partnership with Michelle Phan, a YouTube beauty and lifestyle pioneer and well, icon.

The key to becoming a successful YouTube personality is to be passionately knowledgeable about your topic, connect with viewers on social media, including Twitter, Instagram and Facebook, says Ball.

“When I first started, my first year, I was only making enough to buy lunch once a week, and I was really, really proud of that. It was great pocket money to have, to buy lunch with and extra nail polish,” says Ball.

“As the views grew my channel kept growing and growing. At one point I realized, this can be my full-time job now.”

For retailers ‘a wild frontier’

Best Buy Canada used to work with Lewis Hilsenteger, the Newmarket-based creator of Unbox Therapy, a YouTube channel with more than 2.4 million subscribers and 308 million views.

Hilsenteger built his audience by unboxing new consumer electronics while providing running commentary on video.

Best Buy spokesman Elliott Chun says that kind of content allows consumers to see products in a more natural and organic way. Best Buy has also partnered with pro athlete Amir Johnson featured on his YouTube channel, amirtv.

But with Hilsenteger’s climb to greater audience heights came a higher cost for collaborations and endorsements, said Chun.

This year Best Buy has partnered with a lesser-known YouTube personality, JamiePaigeBeauty, the creation of Montreal makeup artist and beauty vlogger Jamie Berger. Her channel has 32,000 subscribers and just over 1.2 million views.

YouTubers are a category of influencers, said Chun. “You want to build a relationship and encourage them to be an ambassador for your brand.”

Partnering with JamiePaigeBeauty got Best Buy into a younger, female demographic, and into a category that Best Buy is building up as it moves towards becoming an online retailer selling a wide range of products in addition to consumer electronics.

Berger featured a Best Buy smart television as part of her morning routine (she watchesFriends on Netflix to start her day), and a white chair at her desk from their furniture collection.

Best Buy’s collaboration with Berger targets electronics, a category the retailer is already heavily invested in; furniture, a category that is emerging; and beauty and lifestyle, a category it hopes to grow into.

Partnership is the key word in these collaborations, says Chun. Berger chose something that she wanted from their online furniture collection.

“Authenticity is key. We were very respectful of that as a company,” said Chun.

“We knew we only had so much runway. We’re happy that she was pleased with what we were offering her and we’re happy too because we can work with her in an organic way.”

Candace Corlett, president of WSL, a retail strategy firm in New York City, says the importance of retail partnerships with YouTube personalities is likely to grow as “Generation Z” moves into the marketplace.

She defines Generation Z as those aged 14-20, who grew up creating content for social media, including YouTube.

“It’s not like running a coupon, where you can see a correlation between the number of coupons you put out and the number of people who redeem them. It’s not necessarily directly measurable, but you wouldn’t want to be without it,” says Corlett.

Berger, 21, is at a different point in the YouTube life cycle than Sandi Crystal Ball. A certified makeup artist, Berger is also studying full time at university.

“I was a huge fan before I became the person behind the camera. Then one day, I decided to start my own channel. I was bored. I bought a camera. The rest is history,” says Berger.

If that makes it sound easy, it’s not. Although YouTube videos look effortless and in-the-moment, that doesn’t happen haphazardly, especially when makeup is involved and capturing the right colour is critical.

A simple five-minute tutorial can take Berger six hours to complete, whereas a lip swatch video can take more than 20 hours because of the complex editing it entails.

“I am constantly working and researching and filming and editing. It’s always on my mind,” says Berger.

For Berger and other YouTube personalities, authenticity is paramount.

“It’s extremely important to me to be genuine. I want my subscribers to trust me. If I were to endorse products I didn’t use or like it would be apparent and it would come off very fake,” says Berger. “That is not something I would want for my channel.”

Top back-to-school videos:

Bethany Mota

This California teenager has 9.2 million subscribers who watch her discuss fashion, hair, makeup and do-it-yourself projects, while throwing out names like Chipotle. She recently teamed with Aeropostale, a teen apparel retailer that has been struggling to boost sales, on a bedroom décor collection.

Back-to-school hairstyles

Watched more than 119 million times this year, Cute Girls Hairstyles was launched as a blog in 2008 by a Utah mom with four daughters. Now Mindy McKnight’s creations are shared on Instagram, Pinterest, Google and Twitter.

Back-to-school nail art

Two million hours of watch time from January 2014 to date. Windsor nail artist Sandi Ball has made CutePolish the No.1 nail art channel on YouTube. She started simply, working from home and still does.

Dorm tour videos

Viewership is up 122 per cent this year alone. Canadian Shawna Paterson recently posted one. Paterson, a Humber College interior design student, says her most popular videos offer freshman tips. “Girls want to know what to wear to campus.”

Locker organizer videos

Views are up 139 per cent, year over year. Aspyn Ovard vlogs from Utah: “As we all know, having cute school supplies makes it easier and like, more fun, to like take notes and just like, be organized and just do school in general.” Sponsored by Five Star, a maker of school supplies.

[By Francine Kopun.] [Read More.] [Image from Fanciful Magazine.]

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