Influencer marketing has exploded in the last few years, that’s obviously a great thing for content creators, but navigating that tricky path between the content your audience loves and the message that brands want to communicate isn’t always straightforward. And that’s where you need a creative agency that understands both sides of the equation.
Fourth Floor Creative looks to have balance just right. The agency has delivered over 140 campaigns to date and, though it was spun out of YouTube heavyweights The Yogscast, the majority of those have used talent outside of its own channels.
All that has allowed it to expand from just two people to a staff count of eighteen in just 12 months, as it marks its first birthday today.
A key to that success is the agency’s solid grounding in the games industry – and an awareness of the responsibility that it has to creator-led campaigns explains Rich Keith, managing director of Fourth Floor Creative.
FIGHTING FOR THE FORM
The games industry needs great content around its titles – content that engages passionate audiences. To date though, as in many sectors, the advertising models of the digital era have struggled to support the huge expansion in content that digital formats have brought.
Keith sees influencer marketing as the spiritual successor to traditional display advertising, whether that be the TV spot, the magazine page or the banner ad. But he also sees key differences, allowing it to succeed where its predecessors have stumbled.
“With The Yogscast audience, over 60 percent of people are using ad blockers. If your audience doesn't want it, you shouldn't carry on trying to find different ways to make them see it anyway,” Keith opines.
“Branded content should add to the experience,” he states firmly. “You know it’s supporting the channel... creating content that wouldn't be there otherwise. And if you get that right, with the partnership's supporting the channel and new kinds of content, then there's value for an audience there. So it's accepted.”
However, that acceptance depends on maintaining a balance between creators and brands – keeping the quality up – something that not every creative agency is doing says Keith.
“I think there's a lot of people trying to drive the prices down, who are trying to do influencer marketing like its performance marketing and it's not. It's much more aligned to brand marketing.
“What is incumbent on all of us, is not to try and drive it into being performance marketing, because that will lead to bad content, that will lead to people turning off branded content in the same way they turned off display advertising and other performance channels.”
A CHANNEL FOR THE CHANNELS
The reason for Fourth Floor’s strong line on finding this balance for influencer marketing comes out of its partnership with The Yogscast. Keith explains how the company came about.
Keith had been at Yogscast since 2013, largely as chief revenue officer, but it became clear the influencer marketing wasn’t evolving in the way he expected.
“The multi-channel networks were all breaking up, losing their importance, and we originally thought what would grow in their place would be creator-led companies like our own, but instead it was smaller commercial networks and standalone agencies who were brokering commercial deals between influencers and brands.
“Working with them [as Yogscast] we found that they didn't understand the creative point of view, they didn't understand how that content gets made, why it gets made. And from my point of view, having worked in the industry for a long time, I didn't feel they understood the games market at all either… They were just there to get a buck.”
“So we saw a real opportunity to do it right. We wanted to work with a specific kind of agency. At the end of the day it was ‘why don't we set up our own agency and do it the right way’. So one of the aims of Fourth Floor was to do that, to have an agency that understood the creative point of view and also understood the broader market.”
That all led to the creation of Fourth Floor and continues to define what drives and differentiates the agency today, but its very quickly grown outside of its parent too.
“We spun it out of Yogscast, but it's a standalone business. It's not part of Yogscast,” he states. “Yogscast was a big, well-known brand and so it has a specific perception for people. We wanted something that was separate to that, so creators who weren't in The Yogscast were comfortable working with us and clients that we wanted to work with didn't think they were just getting The Yogscast. They understood they were going to get other people as well.”
How that works is pretty simple, Keith explains: “Yogscast talent are exclusive to us. But we're not exclusive to Yogscast.” So you have to come through Fourth Floor for The Yogscast, with around 50 channels, but obviously that pales in comparison with the wealth of talent in the market as a whole.
“For lots of things Yogscast are really appropriate. A great audience. But there's lots of games and areas where Yogscast channels aren't on the right thing to use.
“It's all about matching the right creators for that campaign for their needs. So what we don't want to be is tied into some specific channels that we have to push at every campaign that comes up. Instead, we start with the campaign and then we match the right channels for that campaign.”
“Whether with Yogscast channels or anyone's channels we're always careful to make sure that that blend between what's branded content and what's their normal organic content never tips over.”
And while Fourth Floor is branching out into other areas too, the core of its work remains games: “There is an increasing amount of lifestyle brands trying to reach a gaming audience. Though the majority of our work has been for people launching, or doing player acquisition, for games.”
Of course, all that talk of understanding the market, and respecting creators, has to eventually boil down to some engaging creative campaigns.
Recent campaigns include one for Square Enix and Shadow of the Tomb Raider. “That was about creating standout content for them,” Keith explains, “where we've got five different influencers to do ‘Lara Challenges’, they vlog them on their own channels, and then Square Enix had that content to use across its own social channels.
“Jumping off a cliff, learning to do stealth, climbing mountains... Ant Middleton [from SAS Who Dares Wins] was showing the influencers how to build up those skills.” It’s easy to see how this isn’t the usual day-to-day content for influencers, that the campaign is bringing a richness and variety to their output.
Working with brands from further afield, and with a broader selection of creators, Keith tells us: “We've helped Netease launch a number of mobile games this year, including Identity V by partnering them with the right creators to match the audience they're targeting, including 8-bit Ryan, Dawko, John Wolfe, LaurenzSide and more.”
“We worked with Frontier on Jurassic World Evolution, where we got Game Grumps, a big American YouTube channel, and Yogscast and we brought them together in a dinosaur-themed version of the Great British Bake Off… We've got the tent, we've got the camera shots, we've got everything.
“And what we created was just fantastic entertainment that Frontier had their brand across and if you look at the views on those videos they're some of the biggest videos that those channels had all year.
“That's the high end, working with the creators on how we can turn this into fantastic standout content and reach a wider audience who wouldn't necessarily click on a gameplay video and watch it. An audience who then gets interested in the brand and they can follow up with either click-through to buy or watch more content.
Of course, while Keith may not want the wearying demands of performance-led marketing on creator-led content, campaigns still have to be effective.
“One of the things we're most proud of is the amount of people who've done repeat campaigns with us, who have come back and done more. So most people that we've worked with will come back to us again and again. So that's a mark of what we're trying to achieve here.
“It's a growing market. There's lots of people in it. We've got an approach that works really well for creators. We now know it works really well for brands and that we're helping create good content.”
FOURTH FLOOR... GOING UP
Fourth Floor has big plans for the future as well and it’s not all YouTube, Twitch and video content.
“We set out with a mission to help creators do the thing they love, to help them be able to make great content. And so a big part of that is always going to be about helping them make enough money to carry on making content. But it's not just about the branded content side of it, it's also about other the services we can bring to creators to help them on their journey of being creators.”
Fourth Floor is also expanding into merchandise, for brands and for content creators: “We know all the practical elements of how to manufacture, store and sell it. We've done four years for Yogscast. We understand the market, we understand what sells to gamers and what they'll buy in a way that lots of people don't understand.”
And the company is producing white-label content for other brands using its in-house production experience and talent, including video for Nintendo’s Labo range.
Moving beyond YouTube and Twitch is also key: “They are the big platforms, but we do a bunch of campaigns across Instagram as well, so we see that as a powerful platform – one that idea is becoming more and more a part of.”
And then there’s a move to spread its wings beyond the UK: “There's obviously other languages as well, we have an office in France. And we're looking at how we can move into Germany. That’s a big goal for us in 2019 to have representation in Germany. In January we're also opening up in North America. We'll have an office in Toronto in January.
And the company continues to grow at its base in Bristol too. “Yes, across all our roles, right now we are actively hiring for a data assistant, an analyst. But we have a rolling recruitment of campaign executives and that's about finding the right people.”
Dean Smith is one of those people, a veteran of media sales in UK games, who came on board as sales director in August, having previously held the same role at Network N.
"Influencer marketing is fast becoming the lead component on marketing plans as brands look to connect with audiences in more creative ways," Smith tells us. "Communities are more aware of Influencer brand integrations than ever before so picking a partner that is value-based with strong experience is crucial and that is where we excel.
"It's a really great time to be working alongside the incredibly talented team here at Fourth Floor. With huge growth in campaign size, more dynamic partnerships and an ever-expanding team, it's exciting to see where we'll be another 12 months from now."