Time to tap YouTube for talent? Cold remedy Zicam goes there in deal with singer Tyler Ward

Tyler Ward is a YouTube singer with almost 2 million subscribers, who tune in to check out his unique covers of well-known songs. But one of his newest videos is both a cover song and a product endorsement.

Ward sings the boy band 'N Sync's song "Bye Bye Bye," weaving the OTC cold remedy Zicam into the visual storyline. He snaps open nasal swab tubes to start a beat and hands the swabs to his sniffling family members. He ends the video with a shout-out to fans, mentioning that homeopathic Zicam is "clinically proven to shorten the life of your cold when taken upon the first signs of a cold."

Enlisting YouTube stars is not a new marketing technique--consumer brands such as Oreo, Google, Macy's and Marriott have all turned to YouTubers for campaigns. Advertising Age noted a study of adults last summer that found YouTube stars are "up to 5 times more influential and believable than traditional celebrities."

But pharma and healthcare companies haven't turned to YouTube stars much. While drugmakers and other healthcare businesses frequently use corporate YouTube channels to post informational videos and even ads, enlisting popular YouTube talent to endorse products is still unusual.

"We are always looking for new platforms and partnerships that embed our brand message in unique ways," Lori Norian, VP of Marketing at Zicam, wrote in a FiercePharmaMarketing email interview. "… Influencers like Tyler are able to create engaging content that incorporates our brand in a way that our customers have never seen before.

"We can't speak for other companies, but we can say that we believe in partnering with people like Tyler to better connect with our audiences in engaging and relevant ways."

Zicam found Ward when it went looking for a YouTube artist to do a short music cover, with the idea that Zicam shortens colds. They saw a Jason Derulo cover he did--Ward is the producer for his covers and his original music--and contacted him. It turned out Ward was already a Zicam user and a fan.

"Tyler's up-and-coming star presence also aligns well with Zicam's brand personality as an innovative contender on the market," said Kelly Hushin, Director of Content at Kwittken, via email. "…The partnership feels unexpected, which we like, but also underscores the brand's mission to help consumers feel better faster, which is something Tyler's music does for his fans."

If the video's YouTube comments are any indication, Ward's fans seem fine with the endorsement. Several even noted how much they liked the way he incorporated the product. The video went up in mid-January on Ward's site and in Zicam-sponsored content running on USA Today, which also features a Q&A with the singer. The video already has more than 81,000 views.

Healthcare brands should take note, Kwittken's Hushin said, because it's not a question of whether online influencers work for branding or not, that's already a given. "We don't see this type of influencer engagement as a trend--this is the next gen evolution of a proven, winning strategy," Hushin said.

- watch Ward's video
- see a sponsored story on USA Today
- read Ad Age story on YouTube influencers

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