It’s holiday season at YouTube, and inside one of the many sound stages at the video platform’s Los Angeles campus in Playa Vista, three creators have come together to promote beauty products on a set reminiscent of a cozy cabin in the woods. But unlike these YouTubers’ typical fare of edited beauty tutorials and lifestyle vlogs, this highly produced collaboration is being broadcast live for their thousands upon thousands of fans.
Branded as “From YouTube to You,” YouTube’s holiday shopping extravaganza was a year-end culmination of the company’s growing expansion into live shopping, a format that has taken off in international markets like the Asia-Pacific region, where the ecommerce industry is expected to hit $3.5 trillion this year.
In trying to capture that success in other markets, including the U.S., YouTube brought out some of its biggest creators like MrBeast (110 million subs), Simply Nailogical (7.5 million subs), Manny Gutierrez (a.k.a. Manny MUA, 4.8 million subs), Amber Scholl (3.6 million subs), Blogilates (7.6 million subs), Larray (8.6 million subs) and Mai Pham (2.7 million subs) for 10 days of shoppable live videos across beauty, fitness, fashion and technology in November.
For the beauty-focused livestream, which The Hollywood Reporter attended on Nov. 16, brands like Ulta Beauty and TULA skincare took on major sponsorship posts to heavily feature their products during the nearly hourlong event hosted by Scholl, Pham, Allyiah Gainer (a.k.a. AllyiahsFace) and Gutierrez (who joined virtually). The result was something like a yassified QVC or HSN show for younger audiences complete with a makeover reveal, bubble bath demonstration, a makeup-spewing piñata and drop-ins from a suited man who delivered discount codes on a silver platter.
YouTube’s goal isn’t, of course, to only have its creators participate in highly produced shopping events, but the holiday shopping effort was an opportunity to introduce more creators and viewers to the format, especially since the U.S. market has been relatively slow in adopting live shopping compared to the Asia-Pacific region, according to YouTube executives who spoke with THR.
“A lot of our focus here … is about basically giving support for creators so they can experiment in the space, so they can start to feel more and more comfortable doing it, so they can start to learn what’s working, what’s not working,” Michael Martin, vp and general manager of YouTube Shopping, said. “This is a newer thing, and it’s a bigger transition, but I think it’s a transition that will still happen.”
A representative for YouTube declined to share specific sales figures generated via the “From YouTube to You” shopping series, but creators like Larray, who was promoting new products from his clothing line, were able to sell out items, according to the rep. As of publishing, the beauty-focused live event hosted by Scholl, Pham, Gainer and Gutierrez received a modest 1.3 million combined views across their respective channels.
For Scholl, live shopping videos on her personal channel are a lucrative chance to connect with her most “dedicated” subscribers and work best with new product drops or offers on exclusive discount codes. And depending on the shopping integration being used with YouTube, such as Shopify, Scholl said she’s able to see the direct sales and conversion rates in real time as she’s hosting a livestream. “You may be advertising to a smaller number of people watching a live stream in the moment, but of those people watching, the customer rate is like 90 percent,” she said.
Gainer said she plans on incorporating more live shopping videos into her content slate for the next year, though she’s careful not to make it “overkill” with her audience, since her channel isn’t solely focused on product recommendations. “I don’t want to ever shove it down their throats, but I’m definitely going to be incorporating it every now and then,” Gainer said, pointing to videos like her monthly favorites as a great use case.
To close the loop for creators discussing products in their videos, YouTube is also preparing to launch an in-house affiliate program that will allow creators to, among other benefits, receive a commission when their subscribers click on a shopping link from their videos. “As with all things with creators, we want to provide the best possible deal in the market for the creators,” Martin said. “We’re here to help them build and diversify their business, and so we’re going to do everything that we can to make that happen. And we think that the affiliate network is going to be a key piece of it.”
Though specifics of the program have not yet been disclosed, a YouTube affiliate program, backed by the power of Google’s ad business, could increase the frequency of affiliate links appearing on videos and offer a major boost of revenue for creators who mention products in their videos, regardless of whether a marketer sponsors the video. “We can make it much more visual and intuitive and really bring those products to life,” Bridget Dolan, the managing director of YouTube Shopping partnerships, said.
And the company is getting even more bullish on advertising for Shorts, YouTube’s short-form video platform that rolled out shoppable videos earlier this year. According to Tara Walpert Levy, YouTube’s vp Americas, Shorts sees the “most purchase behavior at scale.”
“We’re just seeing even higher take rates on that format, which is why we’re getting in a little bit more aggressively there,” Walpert Levy told THR. “One of the big challenges and opportunities of working in a place like YouTube is to figure out okay, where’s the most bang for the buck? In the United States, we’re thinking it’s likely shopping on Shorts.”
Marketers, who are being more judicious with budgets in anticipation of a recession, may also lean more heavily on creators as a better way to reach buyers. “We’re not economists so we can’t say how this is going to play out, [but] I will say, though, when you look at the traditional situation around a macro economic downturn, people tend to pull back away from things like brand advertising and move more towards direct response,” Martin said. Consumers, who may also be shying away from impulse purchases, are seeking out information from creators they trust to inform whether to make a purchase.
“If I think of myself from a brand standpoint, this is a situation where it’s not just a direct response ad. It’s actually a creator coming in here and providing that strong endorsement to a consumer who’s looking for a really solid indication [of whether to buy a product], and then the conversion and the purchase can happen at that moment,” Martin said. “So it has both the benefits of a more traditional direct response model, but then it’s got this extra boost of confidence and trust from the creator side.”
A version of this story first appeared in the Nov. 30 issue of The Hollywood Reporter magazine. Click here to subscribe.