Spend time with almost any child and it will rapidly become clear how attached they are to smart phones, tablets and mobile devices. And what they want to watch tends to be repetitive and rewarding — hence phenomenons such as unboxing and Surprise Eggs.
Hence Nickelodeon‘s committing to an impressive amount of resources to cracking the riddle of YouTube. The network’s initiative begins with VP of creative strategy and development, Jennifer Drury, whose “role changed in the last year to really focus on YouTube,” she told Daily Brief.
“We developed a completely new strategy for the platform and doubled down on making content that was tailored as much as we can to what our fans are really looking for on [the site], and then laddering that content back up to our marketing priority.”
The fact that Nickelodeon has designed a role like Drury’s at all “unto itself is really interesting,” said Thas Naseemuddeen, chief strategy officer for boutique creative agency Omelet, “and super indicative of a company doing things differently from a broadcast perspective and putting that kind of emphasis on content development within the YouTube space.”
Spearheaded by Naseemuddeen, Omelet is another crucial piece of the Nickelodeon YouTube puzzle, part of an under-the-radar strategic partnership that helps the network “identify opportunity before they know the opportunity is there,” she said, adding: “Which, in all honesty, good strategy should always do.”
Combining data with insights—or, as Naseemuddeen put it, “art and science”—Omelet strives to target movements on YouTube as they are happening or even before they are happening. The process involves a labor-intensive combing, organizing and analyzing of digital content patterns, but it’s also more than “just trend-spotting,” Naseemuddeen said. “Trend-spotting is a lot about surfacing really interesting things that are happening in the world or our culture. What we’re doing is being surgical with how we look at our client’s business and the goals they are trying to achieve, and then translating those into actionable opportunities.”
A recent example of an “actionable opportunity” occurred in response to a YouTube trend around the game known as “The Floor is Lava,” in which players scramble to attach themselves to anything but the ground because, yes, the floor is lava.
Developing in June, the trend saw thousands of YouTube videos popping up that found participants dealing with imaginary molten rock in a vast array of creative ways. Nickelodeon responded swiftly, calling on its creative team to tap network talent such as JoJo Siwa and the cast of School of Rock for a quick-turnaround response to the challenge. The resulting clip had 1.8 million views in its first week on YouTube and now has nearly 8 million views.
“It created this really fun video of a live-action talent piece of content that was really opportunistic, and hit upon a trend that was happening right at that moment before it was over, which is always a struggle,” Drury said. “You don’t want to hit it after it’s done.”
Naseemuddeen traced the dawning of this need for an in-the-moment response back to the famous ASL Ice Bucket Challenge of 2014. It was a cultural moment that swept the social universe with massive opportunity for leverage, but “not all brands were equipped to react quickly,” she said. “We’re trying to shorten the gap of time between getting information and getting content out there. We try to help truncate some of that time from trend to execution.”
Achieving that objective involves a nuanced understanding of what Naseemuddeen calls the “rules of YouTube,” of which there are two. The first she described as “the proliferation of content,” which is essentially understanding that YouTube is, above all else, a powerful search engine.
“People are searching for things,” she said. “They’re not necessarily searching for a network, or a program in particular. They’re searching by their interests, whether it’s DIY tutorials or a how-to video, etc. People are searching for things that are important to them versus things that you just create and people become interested in, which is kind of the broadcast model.”
The second guideline involves “the nature of the content itself,” Naseemuddeen continued.
When Omelet, which is a full-service agency that also produces ads, makes, say, a Super Bowl spot, “it’s all about being really precious and creating this beautiful piece of film, whereas when you go into the YouTube space, things are so experimental and the expectation is that you look something like the platform. It’s not just about creating the most pristine piece of content with the absolute perfect messaging. It’s a little bit more loose for brands and particularly for a brand like Nickelodeon.”
Combining these two rules produces a simple formula: Respond to what people are searching for with looser content. That sounds like a lowering of the bar of the premium wares Nickelodeon is known for supplying, but it’s actually more about raising the authenticity level. Nickelodeon is set up to make pristine videos whether it’s a half-hour episode on broadcast or a 2-minute clip on Facebook. It can churn out rapid responses to search trends on YouTube without losing a lick of quality, but the weird thing is, it may actually want to rough things up a little on YouTube.
“If you look at all the YouTube stars of today, they don’t have million-dollar production budgets for their 3-minute videos,” Naseemuddeen said. “They are doing things on their phone cameras and setting it up in their rooms and it all feels intimate and quite real. That’s where brands are constantly challenged in figuring out what their opportunity would be and how they can best speak to their brand in this context that’s a little bit more handmade.”
As a significantly bigger brand than an individual on YouTube, Nickelodeon should not necessarily have “the same kind of voice as one of those vloggers but we still do have a unique voice in the space,” Drury added. “And I think as long as we’re honing that and looking for opportunities to make content in fun and scrappy ways, that comes through.”
Which brings us back to Surprise Eggs, though you could really insert any online-specific subject matter in place of it. The point is, Nickelodeon has the power to take a trend like that, which captivates children through cheap, on-the-fly yet “authentic” content, and use it to captivate kids with typically pristine, well-produced content that has a calculated lack of polish.
Take DIY subject matter, for instance, that bastion of home-improvement helpfulness that has also produced some of the most spectacularly terrible home movies ever uploaded. Still, people love it and kids love it, so the network found a way to capitalize on it while staying true to its premium roots.
Not only isolating such opportunities but effectively converting them is a collaborative effort made possible by Nickelodeon’s unusually deep commitment to forging something lasting with Omelet.
The two entities paired up a few years ago to talk “about the future of Nickelodeon as a brand and how it can grow in relevance,” Naseemuddeen said.
Working together ever since has allowed them to finely hone their goals and communication methods, which in turn has sharpened Omelet’s ability to blend data with context.
“We know what their overall marketing objectives are, what they really have their eye on versus randomly being like, ‘this is a cool YouTube video,’” Naseemuddeen continued. “We know what’s relevant to the brand , we understand what’s important to their audiences at this point after working with them for a few years.
“The reality of the way client-vendor relationships work today, particularly in a lot of project-based relationships versus the agencies-of-record of yesteryear [is that] sometimes this piece of things kind of goes missing, which is a shame because it’s such a great use of an agency’s talents.”
And what’s more, it benefits both sides of the equation.
“It’s a really unique opportunity for an agency to work with a brand like Nick on something like this and it’s something that I hope more organizations pay attention to,” Naseemuddeen continued. “Sometimes this stuff does get lost in translation, but we actually have tangible outcomes that are not only making Nickelodeon smarter, it’s making us smarter. It’s a truly valuable relationship, and a fun opportunity to think about the future of a brand and the future of audiences.”