What brands can learn from McDonald’s YouTube fail

McDonald’s launched its spin-off YouTube channel, Channel Us, last July. But just one year on, it pulled the plug.

Fronted by YouTube personalities Oli White and Hazel Hayes, the channel had featured career-centric videos on topics from becoming a vlogger to creating a fashion show. Its aim had been to target, you guessed it, the 16- to-24-year-old demographic. But the young audience faded. While its all-time high was 758,000 views, only one video in 2016 topped 1,000.

McDonald’s, who did not respond for comment on this story, has chalked the channel’s failure up to the difficulty of making content in a crowded space. Not all brands are capable of attracting a following, according to Peter Csathy, founder of Creatv media.

“Only obvious lifestyle brands have the real potential to succeed with their own channel and OTT opportunity,” he said. “Red Bull is the poster child here in terms of doing it right.”

For brands that can’t lay claim to a specific lifestyle, he added, they’d be better off leveraging existing channels and creators.

Brands like McDonald’s are keen to bottle star power by featuring influencers on their own videos and channels. But part of the problem with hosting content on a brand’s channel is that it’s harder to tap into the following of the influencers featured.

“When it’s brand first and influencer second, as an audience, I’m just going to switch off from that immediately,” said Pete Grenfell, managing director at VCCP Kin. Rather, cross-promotion on their channels would prove to be more effective.

Part of this is about letting go of control. Whether that’s letting influencers tell the brand’s story on their turf (and terms) or ceding control over to other channels. Being the message, not the messenger.

While brands that have their own channels are privy to more data about how their content is being consumed, reaching younger viewers requires ceding control to more opaque channels like Snapchat.

“What happens now is that content is put up there and distributed elsewhere,” said Michael Litman, CEO at video analytics platform Burst Insights. “It’s not about growing subscriptions anymore; it’s about growing the audience of a brand across all their channels.”

Plus, McDonald’s content is under increased scrutiny following a new zero-margin deal with its media agency Omnicom. Things that aren’t performing will get axed quickly on its quest to create 5,000 pieces of content by the end of the year.

James Whatley, planning partner of innovation at Ogilvy and Mather Advertising, says the issue is more about where that content lives. Facebook’s increasing dominance in video has eaten into platforms like YouTube. With audiences spending more time in video-heavy apps like Facebook and Snapchat, it makes sense that brands should go to them, rather than trying to entice them into their “house,” in this case, a YouTube channel.

“Why build your own house and have a party when you can go to someone else’s party where everyone is already?” Whatley said.

Jordan Julian, a social media analyst at Socialbakers, agrees. “In reality spin-off channels can fast become a money pit; it’s expensive enough creating content for your main brand channel, never mind a second one.”

In 2016, channels like YouTube are “pay to play” and so not putting enough money behind something like Channel Us seems like an oversight. Coke TV, which only launched in May, regularly sees 150,000 views per video. It makes similar content to Channel US, with vloggers Manny Brown and Dodie Clark taking on weekly challenges like trampolining and parkour. Whatley and others point to Coke’s success here as an example of paid spend done well.


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