YouTube Celebs are Different, Not Better

People write for a lot of different reasons: to express themselves, to educate, to sway opinion, to show off or simply to get paid. Those of us who do it for a living have almost certainly written for all of those reasons and more.

Quite often, I write to give myself a better understanding of a subject and to get a better grip on what I think of it. Writing about something forces me to think it through (this is not true for everyone, by the way … but I bet you knew that), and during the course of writing about it, I may change my mind several times.

The good thing about the writing process (which must include research or it’s almost certainly a waste of time) is that it keeps me open-minded. You can change my opinion or perspective quite easily when I’m still writing about it.

The bad news is that once I’m done, I usually feel that I’ve done my due diligence, thought the subject or issue through carefully and arrived at a correct understanding. At that point, it can be tough to change my mind. Better bring your “A” game.

In the last couple of years, some manufacturers have been telling me that the YouTube fishing stars have outpaced the traditional fishing celebrities. They point out that the YouTubers have far bigger social media numbers than the old school stars. As a result, some companies are devoting big chunks of their marketing budgets to these social media sensations.

I was skeptical of what they were telling me and skeptical that a social media following was the answer to the marketing and sales woes in our industry … but I didn’t want to go off half-cocked and argue against “the numbers.” After all, I have a personal code — printed out and pinned to the bulletin board in my office. It says, “If you argue against math, you will lose.”

This week I decided to write on the “YouTubification” of celebrity and what it really means to our industry. The process has put me a lot closer to understanding the nature of YouTube celebrity. I’ll have more in an upcoming issue of Fishing Tackle Retailer magazine, but for now, here are some thoughts.

Let’s start with some numbers. I certainly don’t know all the “big names” in this space, but some of the most popular personalities are:

  • BlacktipH (922,000 subscribers)
  • LunkersTV (907,000  subscribers)
  • 1Rod1ReelFishing (871,000 subscribers)
  • Jon B. (809,000 subscribers)
  • FLAIR (553,000 subscribers)
  • apbassing (416K,000 subscribers)

Those are big numbers, especially when you consider that “mainstream” stars Bill Dance and Kevin VanDam have fewer than 100,000 subscribers … combined.

Are these YouTubers more famous or influential than Dance and KVD? I didn’t think so when various industry marketers started raving about these (mostly very young) anglers, and I don’t think so now.

The YouTubers have tapped into a type of celebrity that is new to our era and inextricably linked to our current technology. I’ll call it “binary celebrity,” and I can best describe it with an example. 

Have you heard of LeBron James? Well of course you have. He’s the most famous basketball player on the planet and is competing in his eighth straight NBA Finals as I write this.

You may not be a basketball fan, but unless you live under a rock with no access to media, you’ve heard of the 6-foot-8 forward many consider the greatest player in history. Public awareness of James runs the gamut from zero (“I live under a rock.”) to 10 (“I am currently wearing an autographed LeBron jersey.”) There are a few zeroes and quite a few 10s, but most of the American public is probably in that 3 to 7 range. We know who he is, what he does, and that he’s very good at it.

Now let’s consider the YouTube fishing “stars.” Do you know who Joshua Jorgensen is? Probably not. He’s the host/creator of BlacktipH, one of the most popular fishing channels on YouTube with roughly a million subscribers. That’s a big number—especially in the angling world — but if you know who Jorgensen is, you’re probably already subscribing to his channel. And if you don’t know who he is, you certainly do not subscribe.

If we use the same zero to 10 continuum for Jorgensen that we used for LeBron James, we see a huge number of zeros and relatively few 10s, but almost nothing in between. His fame is binary — either “on” or “off.” He’s completely invisible to most of us and highly visible to a very few, whereas James hits every stop between zero and 10 with plenty of 5s, 6s, 7s and 8s in between.

When casual anglers walk into a tackle shop and see pictures of Dance and VanDam on fishing products, they probably have some inkling of who they are because they’ve been saturating the market through all sorts of platforms for decades. They may not have as many YouTube subscribers, but far more people are aware of them, they have far more “fans,” and they’re far more influential.

If you or I were to walk into a tackle shop and see a larger-than-life cutout of Joshua Jorgensen, we’d probably have no idea who he is … and we wouldn’t care. If he was endorsing a new lure from ABC Bait Company, his recommendation would carry no weight, whereas the support of Dance or VanDam might well cause us to look more seriously at a product. Their connection might even be enough to tip the scales so that we buy it.

I’m not saying that the YouTubers don’t have anything to teach us. They certainly do. (More on that in the July issue of FTR.) For now, I say only this:

Beware the binary “stars.”