It’s a snowy December night in Milwaukee and a bus full of children pulls up in the parking lot of a shopping mall.
"I can’t wait to see the look on those kids faces when they go through those doors," says one onlooker.
"That's the most exciting part," replies a beaming Casey Neistat, YouTube megastar. The audience watching his video share the anticipation.
Inside, the mall has been transformed from a bleak retail space into a festive paradise complete with carol singers, snowboarders, an enormous Christmas tree lined with presents, a skating rink and a red-faced Santa Claus.
"You can eat the candy off the house!" one child screams as a smooth jazz version of Pure Imagination plays in the background.
It’s a wonderful, heart-warming piece of Christmas content. For the viewer, it’s easy to forget that the whole occasion has been orchestrated by Samsung.
In December 2017, two videos were uploaded to YouTube that received over nine million views and 350,000 likes. The first was Abandoned mall turned into Winter Wonderland by Casey Neistat. The second was From Dream to Reality by filmmaker Max Joseph, which tells the story of his lifelong goal to turn highway dividers into a zoetrope-style animation as cars drive past them.
Almost invisible sponsorship
Like Neistat’s, Joseph’s work is another piece of Samsung-sponsored content, yet neither video features the word Samsung in either the title or description and both were uploaded to the personal channels of the influencers involved. In fact, the word Samsung is only spoken once over the course of the two videos. Even the brand name only appears fleetingly on screen a couple of times.
Big brands haven’t always had the easiest relationships with digital content. Over the past couple of years, McDonald’s and Coca-Cola have both struggled to launch YouTube channels. Coca-Cola ditched its weekly UK YouTube shows in favour of a "more nimble" digital content strategy. With the impressive results achieved by Neistat’s and Joseph’s videos, Samsung might have just given us an indication of the future of sponsored content.
The relationship of Samsung to these two videos is simple. The tech brand funded both projects and helped Neistat and Joseph turn their visions into reality. In return, Samsung asked that both videos were shot using its products. To quote Joseph: "I told Samsung about it and they said: ‘Yeah! As long as you shoot it on our phones, we’re cool.’"
Both videos are ads, showcasing the impressive filming capabilities of the Samsung Galaxy Note 8. For those that give a damn about Neistat and Joseph, they effectively endorse the technology in their videos by successfully using it to create their content.
They were left to produce the best videos possible, which maximised the views and shares, and ultimately offered Samsung the best reach achievable
Apart from the filming request, Neistat and Joseph had complete autonomy over the projects. There’s even a point in Neistat’s where the kids receive free Samsung products to vlog with while at the mall. Even in this act of extreme generosity, Samsung didn’t ruin the moment by insisting on any specific credit.
In not interfering and allowing the influencers full control of the content, the results were better for everyone. They were left to produce the best videos possible, which maximised the views and shares, and ultimately offered Samsung the best reach achievable. Most sponsored content is ruined by an overbearing brand. For taking a backseat this time, Samsung should be given credit.
The videos are the latest in an occasional ongoing series, so Samsung is clearly happy with the results.
Commenting on the reasoning behind the YouTube video strategy at Dmexco 2017, Marc Mathieu, chief marketing officer for Samsung Electronics America, said: "Working with innovators and having them at the centre of our content division is important, and having the product as a tool rather than an object of marketing. If you support and enable people they will stand for you. We want to become a brand that is authentic and interested in supporting creators."
Ultimately, the success of both videos is that they are grounded in an experience. These experiences are spun expertly into stories, and like all the best stories, the viewer is kept in suspense. We follow the children to see what they discover behind the curtain and share in their joy. We follow Joseph to see if he can create his zoetrope animation against the odds. The lesson for other brands is that the best content is grounded in something real. It’s a simple formula: create something awesome and use social media to share it with the world.
That formula can be extrapolated out into something more general: do genuinely nice things and you will be rewarded. Neistat’s and Joseph’s videos show Samsung as their generous, visionary and humble partner in creativity, all the while advertising the capabilities of its products to a captive audience. It’s beautifully subtle - and the behaviour of a confident market leader.
Samsung’s example offers marketers two key lessons:
Leave YouTube to the YouTubers, but never underestimate the power of helping the people whose voice guides the next generation.
The best online content is grounded in something real; an authentic journey, an actual experience or a true moment of generosity.
In other words: keep it real and trust the pros to share your story with the world.
Dan Parkinson and Vaughan Edmonds are the planning director and junior planner, respectively, at Sense