P&G Partners With Zefr to Listen In on YouTube Fan Base

Startup making its pitch next week at Cannes

All brands want to be content creators these days—and if their customers will create content for free, even better. But in the vast sea of YouTube videos, it’s not easy to keep track of all that fan-created fare.

Los Angeles-based Zefr claims to have a solution. Procter & Gamble's CoverGirl and Pantene are the first brands to use BrandID, a software product designed to help advertisers find and listen to their most engaged and inspired customers—that is, people who actually make videos about or in response to their favorite products.

Surprisingly, there are a lot of these folks out there. Zefr was originally founded as Movieclips, helping traditional movie and TV companies identify and monetize fan-uploaded video content (like your buddy who’s constantly posting his favorite Anchorman quotes to YouTube). But the company believes it’s found a major new constituency for its tools and technology: brands. It tested BrandID with 10 pilot partners over the past few months, including several P&G products, and said it has uncovered a ton of fan-produced brand videos on YouTube.

“Brands continue to worry about earned media metrics,” said Zefr co-founder Zach James. “In the normal world, earned media is maybe 10 percent of a brand’s impressions. But we’ve found on YouTube it’s exactly the opposite. There are some brands where 99 percent of tier views are created by fans.”

For example, Zefr has unearthed a series of clips featuring consumers dancing while using Swiffers. In the cases of CoverGirl and Pantene, initially the companies plan to use BrandID to listen in on what consumers are saying. But James eventually sees advertisers making decisions on which media to buy or which spokespeople to employ based on YouTubers' reactions. “We also might see brands pushing their superfans in things like contests and sweepstakes.”

Couldn’t YouTube, Buddy Media or another software company simply copy Zefr’s offering? James argues that while they might try, they’d be about two years behind. “Our product was tested with media companies for two years,” he said. “This involves real data scientists and algorithms. This is not cheap software.”

James and his team are headed to the annual ad festival next week in Cannes to pitch BrandID.