Debrett’s 500, the prestigious roster of Britain’s most influential people, had two notable additions this year: Zoe ‘Zoella’ Sugg and boyfriend Alfie Deyes, a.k.a. PointlessBlog. This may seem surprising, given the names are largely under the radar of those born before 2000, but the traction of these vloggers (video bloggers) amongst the younger demographic is difficult to exaggerate. Most interestingly for brands and advertisers, vloggers have a remarkable ability to sell product.

It has been a challenge for brands to harness the selling power of these bona fide online celebrities. Research on the efficacy of vlogs as routes to product discovery has yielded results which contradict their apparent popularity. For example, a GlobalWebIndex study found that only 7% of internet users say they find out about new products, services or brands via vlogs. Furthermore, product placement within vlogs has also proven to be problematic.

The secret to the success of YouTube stars lies in no small part in their authenticity. Though they are undoubtedly savvy today, Zoella and her colleagues did not begin vlogging in order to make money from brands, and commerciality is a jarring overtone when introduced into the vlogger-viewer relationship, which is extremely intimate. Though her vlogs’ primary purpose is diversion, Zoella has the air of a squeaky-clean big sister to whom one might turn for advice; within her home territory of fashion and beauty, this makes her a powerful force.

Vloggers are emerging as experts in their field, and, crucially, they are elected as such by their audience, voting with their clicks. This creates the opportunity for an extremely compelling and ever-so-21st-century mode of celebrity endorsement: relatable, more than aspirational. Pragma’s recent study of the UK health and beauty market found 63% of beauty enthusiasts used vlogs as a mode of engagement, and it comes as no surprise that some of the first examples of this have been in the beauty sector. To be sure, Zoella’s second product line (after her bestselling books) – which launched at Superdrug earlier this summer – sold out in many stores within hours.

By respecting the intimacy and non-commercial nature of the vlog itself, the doors to vlogger endorsement and collaboration are swung wide open in the real world. Opportunity abounds for sectors beyond health and beauty. Given time, the right vloggers will emerge, and interested parties ought to foster relationships – in the most constructive and least intrusive way possible – with these powerful and uniquely democratised brand leaders.

AJ Chandrasena