At Cannes Lions on Sunday, I had the amazing opportunity to moderate, “Classic Hollywood Meets the YouTube Generation: Who Are Fans Following?” A discussion between two stars at the peak of their respective fields: Hollywood actress Laura Dern and YouTube sensation Grace Helbig. It was Ketchum’s first appearance in the Festival’s 2,200-seat Lumiere Theatre, and we used the opportunity to get them talking about the different ways they approach their careers and their work with brands. It turns out that are more similarities than differences.
This wasn’t always the case. Laura, who literally grew up in the Hollywood scene, described an earlier stage in the evolution of celebrity. In the past, it was about “the mystique of the actor”: “You did maybe one magazine cover and the Johnny Carson show, and that was it.” In the 1970s Hollywood of her childhood, stars were expected to be unreachable and untouchable, and the support brands provided to the entertainment industry took place mostly behind the scenes.
Meanwhile, from day one, Grace was in the opposite situation. After she launched her career in 2007 recording cell-phone videos in her living room (“My family was like, ‘You’re in pornography, got it…’”), she began to develop a career based on a direct relationship with her fans, whom she literally spoke to every day – it was about intimacy, not mystery. This direct connection quickly made her and her cohorts very attractive to brands, and fruitful partnerships ensued.
Since then, these two ends of the spectrum have come much closer together. As YouTube stars like Grace add more traditional film and TV projects to their portfolios, classic celebrities like Laura are taking more direct control than ever over their personal brands and creative partnerships. One area where their opinions and experiences align is in their work with brands. As Laura pointed out, when an artist feels a connection with a cause or a product they care about, it’s “a beautiful match” – the sort of chemistry that characterizes the greatest creative work, regardless of medium or message.
Grace described how she’s come to this type of balance organically, creating and developing her branded videos in the same way as her more personal work. As an example, she cited some work she recently did with Wendy’s (a Ketchum client) that proved to be a perfect match to promote their summer salads. The brand trusted the relationship she’s built with her audience and provided creative feedback based on her ability to connect with them on her own terms.
Likewise, Laura, who is passionate about health, beauty and the environment, has found that her passions translate naturally to causes that resonate with her – while playing a real-life character who died of lung cancer in the film Wild, for instance, she found herself an outspoken advocate for women suffering from the disease. Onstage, she expressed an eagerness to work with Ketchum to help translate this enthusiasm to brands and products that help support her interests.
The common denominator, of course, is the creative spirit that underpins both of their careers – they’re both unpretentious and generous in using their imaginations to connect with others, which makes them both a marketer’s dream. This is illustrated beautifully in the following video, where they reveal the results of a creative challenge I gave them both, to describe how they would develop a piece of content to promote a hypothetical self-driving car brand:
(Incidentally, we were honored to have the session chosen by popular vote to be live-streamed on the Cannes Lions YouTube page, where the full video can be viewed for a limited time.)
So is there a difference between classic Hollywood and the YouTube generation? Maybe so, but it’s getting smaller every day, as stars of all stripes embrace the ability to interact more directly with their fans – and the brands they love.