British New Wave band The Buggles sang in 1979 that video killed the radio star. Perhaps it would be apt, 37 years on, for someone to write a song about the ‘death’ of television as a result of the rise of the internet.

Online video sharing sites, catch-up services and streaming sites have all contributed to dwindling ratings for TV. In recent times, advertisers have been looking elsewhere to promote their products, with YouTube emerging as a popular choice.

We’ve written before about how famous YouTubers have fast become the new brand ambassadors, with sponsored content becoming more and more frequent. So how is television countering the threat posed by YouTube? By using the very stars that have so far diminished its audience.

Rise of the YouTuber

YouTubers have slowly been infiltrating popular media and literature in ways ‘traditional celebrities’ once would have, and as consumers become ever more au fait with the modern YouTube star, the trend shows no sign of slowing down. Be it the next entry in Zoella’s Penguin-published ‘Girl Online’ novels, or ‘Laid in America’ (a 2016 film featuring the lively personalities of Caspar Lee and KSI), companies are continuing to find new ways to cash in on the appeal of these modern stars.

Crucially, brands are continuing to recruit YouTubers as their new ambassadors. In an effort to attract more millennials to Radio 1, the BBC devised ‘The Internet Takeover’, a one-hour radio show on Monday evenings which would feature various prominent members of the YouTube community.

Similarly, May 2016 saw Coca-Cola set up CokeTV which sees British YouTube stars Doddleoddle (Dodie Clark) and FIFAManny (Emmanuel “Manny” Brown) take part in a series of challenges sponsored by the brand. But perhaps the most prevalent way in which brands utilise YouTubers is through paid endorsements. These can range from simplistic ‘How to…’ videos, where stars will test the product they have been paid to advertise, to more creative ventures, such as comedy sketches based around the product they have been asked to promote.

Migrating from Digital to ATL

But with advertising now such a staple part of YouTube, what can television commercials do to counter this trend? The answer, it seems, is to do with YouTubers themselves, the very stars that have – in part – caused television’s decline. Not only are brands using YouTubers to advertise their products on YouTube, but they are also migrating them to the big-spend arena of television.

Advertising will be at its most effective if online media and TV can exist in a symbiotic relationship

In 2015, Laci Green (a prominent sex education vlogger with almost 1.5 million subscribers) featured in a television commercial for Trojan Condoms. The ad, which is filmed in a similar style to her YouTube videos, features Green educating the viewer on the benefits of using condoms before promoting the Trojan brand.

Similarly, Disney recently hired YouTubers Keith Lapinig and Albert Lawrence to advertise the attractions of Disneyland in a short promotional video on TV. The brand aimed to capitalise on Lapinig’s pre-existing audience as the online star runs his own Disney-themed YouTube channel. This tactic is being used around the world: in Italy, online personalities Ciro Priello and Simone Ruzzo were hired by Kinder to star in a TV commercial for its Kinder Bueno chocolate bar.

Colgate has, on more than one occasion, used YouTubers who specialise in health and beauty to advertise its products. The brand released two fairly run-of-the-mill commercials promoting its toothpaste. However, the defining feature of both is the stars it employs. The first ad includes Blair Fowler and Andrea Brooks, with the second starring Chloe Morello and Lauren Curtis: between them, these stars have amassed over 11 million subscribers, and with their considerable reach and popularity, their fans are far likelier to buy Colgate’s products having seen them endorse them on TV.

The Future of Celebrity Endorsement

Although offering brands the chance to reach new audiences, relationships with YouTubers can lead into murky legal waters. If a star appears in a TV commercial, it is overtly understood that they have been paid to do so; on YouTube, it is far more difficult to tell. In 2014, the ASA warned vloggers that they needed to make it clear when they were creating videos as part of a paid relationship with a brand. Will the introduction of YouTubers into television ads blur the once recognisable line between paid and unpaid endorsements?

Of course, TV ads starring YouTubers are only truly effective if the viewer has a pre-existing knowledge of who the personalities are – brands will have to make decisions about whether choosing such an ambassador will alienate their existing audiences. But with YouTube growing day by day, and with YouTubers set to amass even higher viewing figures, it makes even more sense for youth-facing companies to hire these stars as brand ambassadors, both in TV and online. Going forward, advertising will be at its most effective if online media and TV can exist in a symbiotic relationship, where brands can make the best of both worlds to reach their audience.