If you don’t know who Casey Neistat is, why he’s important or why I’m writing about him today, read this from the folks that brought you Watergate:
Casey Neistat is one of those people you either know everything about or nothing at all. Neistat is a YouTube celebrity with a following of more than 5.7 million people. To his fans, he’s a guiding light of YouTube who helped legitimize the practice of “vlogging,” or video-blogging daily life.
But now, less than two years after he started, Neistat is ending the vlog that made him a household name — at least in households with teenagers.
In other words, he has a massive audience that brands will pay huge amounts of money to get in front of. This is undoubtedly because he can do a lot of things brands can’t.
But it’s also because he does a lot of things brands are afraid to do or don’t realize they can do. Things like:
1. Be Less Like Brands.
Having worked with Social Media Influencers on a few projects in adland, I learned that while hiring celebrities and influencers can have a positive impact on your brand by getting eyeballs you wouldn’t normally get, many would be far better off if they just behaved like the influencers they hire.This means getting an audience to like you because you make interesting content, not because you paid someone famous to be seen with you. At the end of the day: If you’re good enough, they will like you.
It also means, if you’re going to collaborate with an influencer, make sure both of you are enhancing each other’s image. For example, at some point Casey became a brand ambassador for Samsung. So part of his vlog became what it’s like to be a Samsung brand ambassador, allowing audiences to live vicariously through Casey and aspire to be a Samsung VIP. Also, GoPro’s drones, Boosted Boards and other tech that Casey frequently used not only enhanced what he put out, but also convinced countless viewers to buy the same gear demo’d in his videos.
On the other hand, brands that got him to do yet another waterskiing stunt or shameless plug because marketers wanted audiences to think they were “bold” or “unexpected” didn’t fare nearly as well.
2. You Can Be Tricky if You’re Honest, Interesting and Consistent.
Clickbait gets a bad wrap, as much of it rightly should. But a distinction needs to be drawn between clickbait and effective copywriting. Casey Neistat’s videos carry titles that are arguably misleading because they frequently speak to like 3 seconds within the 7–10 minute video (e.g. “Kickflips in the Office” features precisely one kickflip). But when asked he addressed it honestly and asked people to stop watching if they found it boring after the click. Another reason audiences forgave him was because he at least delivered on the video’s titles and kept you entertained for the rest. Also, if it wasn’t his best video, there’s always tomorrow. Hence the next point.
3. Streams Not Spots.
What you saw from Casey for nearly two years straight was a sustained campaign designed to exponentially increase his subscriber count and notoriety. He went from under half a million followers to over 5.5 million by the end. From zero to one million took over five years. From 1 to 5.7 took less than two. This is a feat some of my advertising friends belittle or overlook because the production values of each individual video barely compares to cable access TV, let alone infomercials. Some of them stopped belittling him when they tried to start vlogs of their own, though.
Nonetheless, bigger brands wanting to create engaging content streams will likely have to pay more, but it probably won’t cost as much as you think. Casey’s everyday content was fun and interesting enough to keep users coming back, that became a daily habit, which made it that much easier for all of them to share content worth spreading at once. End result: maximum impact. To use the analogy of sales, a spot is like a door-to-door salesman who interrupts what you’re doing and tries to wow you into buying their product or telling your friends. A stream is like the salesman who builds a sustained relationship with you and is there when you finally need what they’re selling.
4. Be Newsworthy.
Casey’s most popular videos got orders of magnitude more views than his regular vlog because they would have made headlines whether Casey was in them or not. Snowboarding through the streets of NYC during a blizzard while towed behind a car. “Flying” around Manhattan on a magic carpet. Making a $10,000 gold Apple watch for less than $1K. Riding first class on one of the most expensive and luxurious airlines in the world. People remember it’s Casey because they are all part of Casey’s brand, but it’s not why most of them first watched it.
5. As You Grow, Ditch Behaviors That Don’t Scale Anymore.
In the early months of Casey’s vlog, all you had to do to get quality time in one of his videos was wait outside his studio until he came out. Eventually, as the vlog grew and kids started constantly showing up in greater numbers, the practice of featuring fans in his videos simply because they could get in front of him became too disruptive to the running of his day-to-day business to sustain. Ditto with “Mail Time”, wherein Casey opened viewer mail and helped plug the people/businesses that sent him free stuff.
Ultimately, the demands of doing a video everyday while keeping things fresh and exciting led Casey to shut down his vlog. By the end of his run, I and many of his viewers had gone from tuning in daily, to checking in once a week, to checking in monthly.
While many still caught the vlog with their morning coffee, it seemed less and less likely that Casey would continue to make something more remarkable, exciting or surprising than what came before. The vlog's trajectory was still upward, but you could feel the tank getting lighter. When what he was producing got in the way of bigger things he wanted to produce, he shut it down. But, like the metaphorical Tarzan he compared himself to, he’s only doing so now that the “daily vlog” vine has swung him onto a much bigger platform than he could have dreamed of when he started. Now he can find something to do that scales to the demands of an audience 500% larger than when he started.
As a marketing feat, Casey Neistat’s vlog is incredibly impressive. He’s done more in two years by himself with the resources of a private citizen than most public enterprises have been able to accomplish in decades. And as Nerdwriter explains, a lot of preparation goes into making those off-the-cuff 7–10 minute videos seem off-the-cuff. Even now, millions can’t wait to see what he’ll do next. While it will be harder than ever to hijack Casey’s channel and get in front of his audience, the vlog itself is something far more valuable. A blueprint to build a powerful audience and marketing channel of your own.