If you’re not into make up, gaming, cupcakes, pranks, shopping hauls or small dogs then there’s a good chance you don’t watch YouTube- and are over the age of 24. You may, however, have seen their books in WHSmith, passed their nail varnish line in Superdrug, found one of their fizzy bath bars in your Christmas stocking, seen their bedding range in Primark or read a magazine whose front cover they have graced.
What started out as average Joe’s filming themselves applying make up or playing on Call of Duty, eventually turned into a group of world famous YouTube superstars with a solid content strategy and an entire PR team behind them. Shaky family video cameras were swapped for the latest Nikon equipment, messy bedrooms were replaced with pristine mansions, and relaxed ramblings became scripted copy from big money ad agencies. Yet this orchestrated approach to what was once organic and off the cuff doesn’t seem to have put the fans off. If anything, YouTubers are gaining in popularity both on and off screen, and rapidly building their fan bases around the globe.
So who are these YouTube superstars and how have they created such successful brand empires?
1. ZOELLA (ZOE SUGG)
Zoella is probably the most famous and and well known UK YouTuber, with a subscriber count of over 11 million. She started her YouTube channel aged 19, known then as ‘zoella280390’. Now at the age of 26, her channel largely focuses on beauty, lifestyle and fashion with a target audience of 13-14 year old girls. Her initial success was a result of her friendly, upbeat personality, ordinary, middle class upbringing, unique yet affordable style, and ability to make her viewers feel like she was a close, personal friend. She was the first YouTuber to reveal she suffered from anxiety and panic attacks, used her New Look wages to buy her own Primark and Superdrug hauls and used bloopers at the end of her videos- all of which contributed to a clean cut, dorky, girl next door image. At the time this was a refreshing change from the polished, perfect American YouTubers who were also gaining in popularity across the pond, and she quickly became every marketing departments dream influencer.
Seven years after Zoella first ventured onto YouTube, her channel has now branched further out into vlogs, games, challenges and collaborations, whilst Zoe herself has released three hugely successful books, launched a collection of beauty and lifestyle products, is a ‘Digital Ambassador’ for Mind, the mental health charity and has moved into a million pound house in Brighton with her YouTuber boyfriend Alfie and their pet pug Nala.
Whilst most of her videos average around 1 million views, her most popular videos tend to be collaborations with other YouTubers such as Miranda Sings– their latest collaboration currently stands at an impressive 19 million views. Zoella, like most successful Youtubers, is managed by Gleam Futures,
2. THATCHERJOE (JOE SUGG)
Joe Sugg is the 24 year old younger brother of Zoella. A former roof thatcher, he now creates prank, challenge and impression videos from the London flat he shares with fellow YouTuber Caspar Lee. Since starting his channel in 2011 he has now amassed over 7.5 million followers, and is perhaps the most successful YouTuber on our list in terms of individual video views; his prank videos regularly exceed 8 million hits for example, with some even receiving up to 14 million! His total monthly view count takes him straight to the top of our list with 64 million- that’s 15 million more views than his world famous sister! His fresh take on comedy, entertaining content and boyish sense of humour has made him a hit with both male and female fans around the world and led him to create two further channels: ThatcherJoeVlogs and ThatcherJoeGames.
3. CASPAR LEE
Caspar is a London-born, 22 year old, South African YouTuber with almost 7 million subscribers, making his channel the 152nd most subscribed to channel on YouTube. His videos heavily rely on celebrity guest features to pull in the numbers, with some of his celebrity challenge videos reaching over 14 million views. His prank videos are also popular with ‘Girlfriend Pranks my Roommate’ attracting over 19 million viewers. Caspar has used his YouTube popularity to follow in the footsteps of his acting and producing family with roles in three films.
4. POINTLESS BLOG (ALFIE DEYES)
Alfie Deyes focuses his content on three separate passions- technology, gaming and lifestyle. He started his main channel, PointlessBlog, in 2009 before going on to create two spin off channels; PointlessBlogVlogs and PointlessBlogGames. His main channel is the most successful at over 5 million subscribers with each video averaging at around 1 million views. His most popular video is ‘Ariana Grande does my make up’ which has received over 15 million views in the three years since it was first uploaded, and he regularly gets a high number of views on his challenge videos in which his girlfriend Zoe and her brother Joe also feature. Keeping it in the family is a big part of most YouTuber’s marketing strategies with many introducing their own siblings and partners in their vlogs. Once a following has been created for them they can then go onto create their own channel and this paves the way for collaboration videos and joint merchandise further down the line.
5. MARCUS BUTLER
Marcus is described as ‘King of the Sketches’ and has been uploading YouTube videos for five years. He originally started out by creating music and video mixes and editing sports footage while in college. His channel eventually moved solely onto sketches, challenges and pranks and has now amassed over 4.5 million subscribers, with each one averaging around 1 million views. His popularity comes from being highly creative in his video production and content as well as being unafraid of offending people with his satirical approach to comedy. Marcus released a book in 2015 called ‘Hello Life’, described as part autobiography and part self-help, and has also created a second channel, MoreMarcus, where he posts daily vlogs showing his life in London and demonstrating his passion for healthy eating and fitness.
6. TANYA BURR
Tanya started out as an aspiring make up artist from Norwich, filming make up tutorials and makeovers on her friends whilst working on a beauty counter at her local department store. She expanded her channel to focus more heavily on vlogs, shopping hauls and baking tutorials and often collaborates with other YouTubers from Team Gleam. Tanya targets a similar age range to Zoella with much of her content being focused on issues young girls are interested in such as school, boys and growing up, despite being 27 herself and married to fellow YouTuber Jim Chapman. This is an issue YouTubers who started their channels several years ago, are now beginning to face- as their fans grow up should their content grow up with them? To combat this, Tanya has begun adapting her offline brand image to attract the luxury fashion market and keep in step with an older audience. She has appeared on the front cover of Glamour magazine, created YouTube ads for Mulberry handbags and sits front row at Topshop during London fashion week. She currently has over 3.5 million subscribers with each video averaging around 500,000 views, but videos with click bait titles such as ‘Some things I haven’t told you guys’ and thumbnails indicating shock or distress, can surpass 1 million views- a well used YouTuber tactic that has grown in popularity over the years.
7. SPRINKLEOFGLITTER (LOUISE PENTLAND)
Louise began her YouTube channel ‘Sprinkle of Glitter’ in 2010 as a side piece to her crafts and DIY blog of the same name. She also regularly collaborated with her best friend Zoe (Zoella) to create videos with an older sister vibe on topics such as university and boyfriends. Since becoming a mum she has now expanded her brand to include videos focusing on parenting as well as lifestyle, beauty and fashion. She currently has over 2.5 million subscribers to her main channel and over 1 million subscribers on her second channel ‘Sprinkle of Chatter’, which features “vlogs, chats, baby updates and ramblings”. Louise announced at the end of 2016 that she would be changing her brand image and YouTube name as she felt she, as a 31 year old mother and former wife, and her content had outgrown ‘Sprinkle of Glitter’, and that in future she would be focusing on more adult topics. Whether this move causes her to lose her current young fan base or gain a new, more mature audience remains to be seen.
8. JIM CHAPMAN
Jim is a 28 year old YouTuber who films videos focusing on pop culture, vlogging and men’s fashion to an audience of 2.5 million subscribers. He uploads daily vlogs to his second channel, ‘Every Day Jim’ which often feature his famous YouTuber family and his dog Martha. Jim has successfully managed to win over the fashion world with modelling campaigns for John Lewis and a GQ award for best dressed man in Britain, whilst simultaneously keeping in step with his younger fans with regular baking videos and YouTuber collaborations.
9. SAMANTHA MARIA
Sammi is a 26 year old fashion styling graduate from London who started her YouTube channel, formally known as ‘Beauty Crush’, back in 2009. Like Sammi, many YouTubers eventually opt to change their original channel names as their brand identity develops, often choosing to be represented by just their birth name in order to gain brand recognition outside of YouTube. Sammi’s channel primarily focuses on beauty and fashion but has expanded into travel vlogs, monthly favourites, girl talks and shopping hauls to cover all the interests of her 1.8 million subscribers. Despite this, her videos rarely exceed 250,000 views- perhaps because the YouTube fashion and beauty market is now overly saturated, or because her fashion looks are geared more towards an older audience who have less time or inclination to watch YouTube videos. She’s also the only person in our top ten list who is not close friends with or related to any other YouTuber currently represented by Gleam Futures, and therefore is not as easily able to capitalise on the ready made audience that YouTubers like Zoella and Alfie Deyes share.
10. THE SACCONEJOLYS
Anna and Jonathan SacconeJoly created their YouTube channel so fans could follow their adventures as an Irish family with two young children and six maltese dogs. The husband and wife team vlog on a daily basis to their 1.7 million subscribers, as well as uploading videos to their own personal channels. They have faced criticism in the past for uploading personal and sensitive footage such as the birth of their children and a recent miscarriage announcement, as well as concern over whether their children should be broadcast to the world before they are at an age where they can consent to it. But the SacconeJolys’ mission has always been to share their entire life journey with their YouTube fans- and that includes the highs and lows. In fact, some of their most criticised videos have also been their most popular, with the birth of their first child attracting over 4 million views. The family moved to Surrey in 2014 to make it easier for them to attend meetings and launches in London with their fellow Gleam Teamers, nearly all of whom have moved nearer to the capital since signing to the agency.
Most of the YouTubers on our list started their channels between 2009-2011, before advertising deals started to dictate content, before ‘wacky’ thumbnails and click bait titles became the norm and well before merchandise and book tours came along. For viewers who have watched these YouTubers from the beginning, it does feel as if what was once organic, messy, home videos of like minded teenagers talking about genuine passions of theirs with no hidden agenda, has now become a little too slick and formulaic for its own good. Ultimately this has alienated some of the older fans. Newer, younger fans of school and college age however, are more likely to enjoy the professional lighting, editing and aspirational lifestyles, simply because they have known no different.
On the flip side, YouTubers entertain millions every day with their vlogs, letting fans escape from their own world and into theirs. Many have helped raise huge sums of money for causes close to their hearts and they endlessly aim to encourage and support their fans to be the best version of themselves through their positive and uplifting videos. Wether the YouTubers on our list continue to grow their fan base or fizzle out entirely remains to be seen, but with their books regularly topping best seller lists and new merchandise flying off the shelves on release day, it’s unlikely they’ll be packing up their tripods any time soon.
If any of the YouTubers in our list have inspired you to begin your own channel let us know in the comments!