I make videos on YouTube, and I make money on those videos. There are ads around the content – the little one that pops up from the bottom, the skippable one right at the start, etc. Due to my agreement with Google, I’m not allowed to say how much money I make per month on my YouTube videos – basically it’s a certain amount per view, and then if they click the ad, it’s a bit more. Around half the money I make a month is from ads and half the money I make a month is from music sales. That’s how I pay rent for my flat, that’s how I live my life. It’s a model I’m happy with because, in both cases (videos and music), I feel I’m being rewarded for the creative work I’m doing, either through people watching my free content or through them buying my unfree content. (And in the case of the music, you can listen for free on this very site before you buy.)
I also get quite a lot of offers from companies who want to give me money to promote their products in videos. This would provide additional income, obviously, but I don’t like doing it because I usually find the companies would compromise the quality of my videos too much. I see it like this:
-Let’s say I earn $1000 a month from YouTube because of the loyal viewer base that I have, watching regularly and enjoying what I do.
-Company sees my loyal viewer base and thinks ‘we wanna advertise to those views!’
-Company approaches me and says ‘hey, we’ll give you $1000 to advertise our product!’
-I think ‘wow, that means I’d get $2000 this month!’ and I do it.
-BUT THEN: that original audience gets turned off. So I end up earning less per month.
-My views go down.
-Companies stop paying attention to me because my views go down.
-I have to get a real job.
That’s an extreme scenario. But if I have to earn money from somewhere, I’ll pick loyal subscribers who actually care about me and the things I make and do over some faceless company who only want me while I’m popular. You can understand, then, my frustration when I see friends of mine that DO take up those opportunities. Especially because, very occasionally, a company will come up with something really freakin’ cool. But that happens so rarely, because people just accept everything, and businesses aren’t learning what works and what doesn’t.
In the absence of establishing some sort of online advertising standard, I want to share with you my Rules For Working With Companies in the hope it would create a more positive YouTubing environment for the future, both for businesses and for content creators. If you are one of the two, I hope you find this useful.
1) Go for unique opportunities.
If a company emails me and says they’ve been approaching lots of popular YouTubers to get on board with some idea, it’ll instantly be very hard to persuade me to get involved. I have a very specific niche on YouTube – I’m the ballsy sarcastic British guy. That’s my thing, whether it’s reading books or seeing Walmart or wearing gold pants, that’s what I do. (That’s why a lot of people don’t like my music.) Everyone has a thing on YouTube, they all have specific interests and ideas common to their own channel. So I like knowing that a company would, while planning an ad campaign, think ‘nerimon could be good for this’, instead of just ‘let’s email all the top YouTubers’.
Aside from not fitting with your channel, it’s SO OBVIOUS if a bunch of people have all been approached at once for something, and it makes everyone look bad. Current examples: a lot of people have been mentioning the Rise Of The Planet Of The Apes movie and also a competition being run by Bacardi. I’m sure if only one person had done that, I would have just assumed that person likes Bacardi/ape films, but because there are a lot of them, it instantly becomes more suspect. It’s mainly because ads aren’t commonplace within YouTube content. It’d be like if every television show on a certain network all made obvious references to a new film or album out that week … it pulls you out, it’s just weird. It compromises things.
This leads me on to -
2) BE HONEST.
If nothing else, this one. This is the one. If you’re given money for something, you should always say “I’ve been offered this much money to tell you about this” and that way there’s complete understanding on both sides. You can’t fool an audience. In general I’m not a fan of accepting any amount of money to compromise my content, because my audience want videos thought up by me, not by whoever paid the most for my channel space – but if you want to do that, you should just say so.
I mean, sure, if I was offered (hypothetical example) £10,000 to plug something in one of my videos, and I accepted it, I could probably do it well. I’d end one of my videos with “okay, so guess what? This company said that if I plugged their product in my videos they would give me TEN GRAND. Do you realise how much that is? So that’s mental and obviously I said yes.” And then I’d do the most enthusiastic product sell ever, to the point that it would come across as sarcastic, but would still be exactly what the company wants. I’m pretty sure, presented like that, most people would actually be rooting for me, because they would do exactly the same. “Good for you, easiest 10k you ever made!” But the key is honesty. (And, personally, I’d still have more respect for people that just said no than people who said yes and did it in a fun way.)
I have worked with some companies in the past though, and I want to explain why, so here’s my last point -
3) Take experiences over cash.
I’m on YouTube because I want to share experiences. That’s what I do. The companies that I’ve found exciting enough to work with are the ones that, instead of giving me money to talk about them, offer me experiences that change my life and give me new things to share.
When I worked with Red Bull, I didn’t just tell people to drink their drink. They emailed me out of the blue and flew me to France to finish the album I had no way of finishing without them. And I couldn’t stop thanking them. Not once did they tell me to even mention them in videos; I just wanted to because they were brilliant.
With Pixar, the deal was ‘we’ll take you to Pixar HQ and let you interview John Lasseter, and if you can make a video about it we’d be grateful’. Not ‘you must’ but ‘if you can’. It was on me to be as creatively free as I wanted to be, and they understood that if the idea wasn’t good enough, I just wouldn’t do it, and that was a necessary risk. Obviously that didn’t happen, given that it was PIXAR HQ, and I ended up making two videos about the experience.
Worldvision flew me to Zambia for two weeks to see the work they do in the field and share the stories of how the money gets spent. As a result, I’m now a sponsor of a child in Zambia and I have a far greater understanding of where that actually goes. That’s the opposite of your typical company pitch – I ended up paying THEM for the work we did together, but it was totally worth it. I got three videos out of that experience.
Guinness World Records held an event for the most people bungee jumping in one day, an event that both me and my flatmate Charlie participated in. I’d never bungee jumped before, it was terrifying, and I made a video about that.
All of these companies took what I do anyway on YouTube and made it better. With all these ideas, I was able to make money from my videos as normal, and that was I guess my ‘payment’ for the work (except for the Worldvision ones which were charity-based so I didn’t think it right to monetise them). The difference, though, is that I also made something new and creative out of something that I’d never experienced before. It fit my style perfectly, and I was upfront about the company involved, and you weren’t seeing a million other videos like it all in your sub box the same week.
I once had a company email me asking to insert a 15-second ad in the middle of my video, to advertise their new camera. My response was “send me the camera, and if I like it I’ll make a whole video about it, and if I don’t I’ll send it back”. Worst case scenario for them is nothing happens and they lose nothing, best case is that I talk about their camera for four minutes to hundreds of thousands of people. They never replied. They were still in TV land, where you take content like an episode of Friends and split it with an ad. To run with that analogy, what I was offering them was a customised episode of Friends called The One With The Camera.
My message here, in short – if companies start listening to and learning from creators, and creators start being more ruthless with the ideas they choose to be involved in, the quality of content on YouTube for both sides will increase by a huge amount, and everyone will benefit from that :)