The Digital “NewFront” presentations, which are taking place this week and next in New York as a platform for major companies to pitch themselves to advertisers, are notoriously glitzy affairs. But last night’s Brandcast from Google and YouTube, held in Madison Square Garden, felt like a full-blown concert: It opened with a rap sequence backed by an orchestral ensemble, followed by a choir performing Imagine Dragons‘ “I Bet My Life,” while rows of teenage fans screamed from the front rows.
YouTube CEO Susan Wojcicki said it was a first for the company to invite fans to the presentation, but it made perfect sense given the immense draw of its “rock stars,” including content creators like Tyler Oakley and Grace Helbig, who have exactly the kind of rabid following advertisers are aiming to reach.
But just in case the crowd of mostly middle-aged executives was having a hard time relating to the YouTube generation, Google brought out fun. frontman Nate Ruess to perform his latest solo single “Nothing Without Love,” and Mark Ronson and Bruno Mars for “Uptown Funk,” currently the No. 1 record in the world. Who can’t relate to that?
Ruess knows the power of a hit music video. In 2011, fun.’s clip for “We Are Young” featuring, Janelle Monae, became a viral sensation (it now has more than 320 million views) and helped catapult the band onto the pop charts.
“People wanted to see what all the fuss was about,” he said, “YouTube is a great place to see what all the fuss is about.”
Billboard reported earlier this week that brands spent record dollars on live music events last year ($1.3 billion, according to analytics firm IEG) and music video product placement ($156 million, according to PQ Media). This year is looking even better. Google and YouTube suggested that in order to maximize ad-dollar potential, companies and artists should look beyond creating viral videos and aim to make videos that spawn user interpretations. In other words, the video version of a remix. Of course, “Uptown Funk” inspired hundreds of users around the world to make their own versions, but Google also pointed to an old favorite: the video for Missy Elliott‘s “Work It,” which made young dancer Alyson Stoner famous for a period of time in 2002 based on thousands of user comments that demanded to know who she was (Stoner also performed at the presentation).
“Interactivity is what makes us different,” Wojcicki said, noting that mobile had become a major driver of the company’s traffic. Last year, YouTube reported that it reached more people between 18 and 49 than any cable network. But now, the company said it beats cable’s audience on mobile alone. Because YouTube users are highly social, the number of people visiting the site is up 40 percent year over year, she said.
For the advertisers, the key takeaway was emotion-packed content. Google vice president Robert Kyncl and Wojcicki referenced Always’ touching commercial “Fight Like a Girl,” which has garnered more than 60 million views in the past year.
“With great content like this, viewers are choosing to watch your ads,” she said.