How many times have you looked around and realized everyone seems to be doing and talking about the same things? Often, these trends that permeate our society are started on media platforms, such as YouTube or podcasts (or TikTok but I think I’m legally too old to be on there). From true-crime to baking banana bread, these trends reflect the pulse of society. So, where do these trends come from and how can brands utilize their popularity to their benefit?
Understanding trends is the best way to determine where a brand should place themselves. The demand for “popular” content is often matched by brands fighting to be featured there. By looking at three major trends - true-crime podcasts, lifestyle YouTube videos, and live-play gaming on YouTube, it is clear that as the popularity of a trend increases, so does the number of brands that appear as sponsors on this content.
Trend I: True-Crime Podcasts
Raise your hand if you have a friend that swears they’ve found the best true-crime podcast (also raise your hand if you’re that friend). Everyday it seems like another true-crime podcast pops up, with a hungry audience waiting to consume it. From Serial - a podcast series started in 2014 that follows one specific case over a number of episodes, to My Favourite Murder - a true-crime comedy podcast that looks at different crimes each episode while still keeping it light, there is a style of podcast that fits everyones crime-related needs.
This graph displays data collected over the past 15 years, and highlights the rise in mentions of true-crime, cold-case, and other true-crime related topics on podcasts. It’s clear that since 2016 there has been a steep increase in the number of podcasts discussing or dedicated to this topic. As the popularity of true-crime grows, so does the number of sponsorships in this space. The blue line on the graph represents the number of times true-crime was mentioned on a podcast, while the red line represents the number of times true-crime was mentioned alongside a brand sponsorship. Both lines follow the same upward slope, hitting peaks around 2019. The demand for true-crime podcasts from listeners has fueled the increase in both the podcasts themselves and the number of brands that were featured on those podcasts. The steep incline of the red line illustrates how saturated the true-crime market is with brand sponsorships. While these podcasts still amass huge audiences, a new brand breaking into this space will now be one of many fighting for the attention of listeners. A great way to become a big fish in a small pond is by finding true-crime podcasts that are on the rise. This strategy uses the popularity of the trend, while giving the brand the opportunity to stand out.
Trend II: Lifestyle YouTube Videos
Let’s be honest, there’s something very relaxing about watching a video of someone going about their daily life. From morning skincare routines, to step-by-step ways to make the best avocado toast for breakfast, there is an undeniable trend of “lifestyle” focused videos that has taken over YouTube. Since 2010, the number of videos that mention the phrases, “What I Eat In A Day,” “morning routine,” or “home workout” has shot from approximately 20 to over 1500. All of these videos walk the viewer through daily tasks and are meant to inspire, or simply entertain, the audience. Since every creator is different, brands have a wide variety of content to choose from so that they can find the “vibe” that matches their own.
This graph illustrates the growth in popularity of videos with “morning routine,” “what I eat in a day,” or “home workout” within the title. Apart from “home workout” videos which peaked in 2020 due to the quarantine caused by COVID-19, the other two lifestyle videos peaked in 2018 and plateaued afterwards, following a very similar upward slope. A few brands, such as FabFitFun, Casper, and ThredUp, were ahead of the curve, while the others started to appear as the trend took off.
These videos are seemingly made for sponsorships because they can be moulded so that the integration fits the “theme” of the video. For example, beauty brands such as Function of Beauty, are often featured in morning routine videos as their product can be integrated into the routine being showcased. In the past two years alone, Function of Beauty has sponsored over 40 YouTube videos whose title included the phrase “morning routine.” This lifestyle trend illustrates the power of demand, and how lucrative it is for brands to be present in the type of content that continues to dominate YouTube.
Trend III: Liveplay Games
Every parent who told their kids to stop playing video games because it wouldn’t get them anywhere is probably kicking themselves right now. Gamers are able to make millions and not just through competitions. YouTubers such as VanossGaming, PewDiePie, and Fernanfloo reportedly earned over $14 million each in 2019. Gaming exploded onto YouTube through liveplay games and a unique style of video called a “Let’s Play” (LP). Let’s Plays involve a user playing and talking about a specific game, and can be used as a game review or an instructional video. The Let’s Play phenomenon currently attracts more than 60M subscribers from around 950 active gamer channels on YouTube.
The practice of video game live streaming and LPs started becoming popular in 2010, but hit its peak on YouTube around 2016. This is partially due to the launch of YouTube gaming - a video gaming subsite and app created in an attempt to compete with Twitch, which is the primary site for live streaming video games.
This graph displays the steep growth in popularity of liveplay and Let’s Play videos on YouTube since 2010. It’s clear that after hitting the peak in 2016, brands started to notice this trend, and the robust and loyal audience that supported it. If you read anything I wrote above you can probably guess what I’m about to say -as the popularity grew so did the number of brands sponsoring this content.
One might assume that this niche content would only attract niche brands but that actually isn’t the case. Brands of all types appear in this space, regardless of their product or assumed target audience. FabFitFun and ThredUp are both great examples of brands that would typically be associated with lifestyle channels but are still spoken about by gamers. Gaming videos have a much more varied audience than you’d initially guess, making it an open space for brands to sponsor.
Trends have always guided and shaped our society. Whether it’s heelys or filming yourself baking banana bread, trends reflect what people care about and what’s going on in our culture. Sometimes trends are fleeting,like flash mobs (don’t tell my mom), but within the world of content they can often build a cult following and stay around for years. It is essential for brands to be able to identify these trends, so that they can position themselves within the market. Even if a content creator has many sponsors, being the “new guy” can peak an audience's attention so don’t be afraid to aim high. Additionally, having the right resources and intelligence data can help you to find the diamonds in the rough and allow you to get there before anyone else in your market.