Spending the afternoon making short funny Vine videos with friends may seem like a total slacker thing to do, but for a select few, it’s a pathway to fame and fortune.
Cody Johns, Brent Rivera and Greg Davis, Jr., who goes by the username "Klarity," are top Vine influencers, rising stars on the six-second-video app. All three say they pull down six-figure salaries with their Vine videos.
These guys are the new Don Drapers, creative guys who have figured out how to connect with consumers – which is worth big money.
Johns, a 24 year-old from Florida, said they were making Vines for a year before they gained traction on the app, and now they have caught the attention of major companies like Coca-Cola, willing to pay these Viners a lot of money to make Vine videos with their products and share it with their followers.
“Vine's average audience are … 13 and 15 year olds,” Davis said. “We have the ability to affect an audience in any way simply by saying go do it. They come to us because we can reach an audience that they can't.”
Davis, 30, also from Florida, has two million followers on Vine -- more than Miley Cyrus' 1.4 million. Johns has 2.4 million – 300,000 more than Justin Bieber. Los Angeles native Brent Rivera, just 16 years old, has five million followers.
In addition to all those followers, the three Vine stars have something else going for them: a squeaky clean image.
“I'm clean. I'm very kid friendly I guess,” Rivera said. “My mom is a fourth grade teacher and the kids in her class watch my videos. I get a young audience 8 to 20… It's pretty crazy. I can't believe it's happening."
One six-second ad on Vine can be worth anywhere from $20,000 to $50,000, according to according to Rob Fishman, the co-founder of Niche, a combination advertising and talent agency for the digital age. The Vine ads don’t look anything like the traditional 30-second TV spots. They’re shorter, grittier, and often wittier.
This sort of home-grown, user-generated ad style is called “native advertising,” and industry analysts say corporate America is forecast to spend $4 billion this year alone on it – probably twice that much by the end of the decade.
Fishman said connecting big corporate brands with social media stars is the best position to influence target audiences because fans can relate to them.
"We see tons of people on the site who see better engagement on their social channels than Miley Cyrus, and yet Miley Cyrus is a world famous recording artist,” Fishman said. “Vine stars and Instagram photographers are more influential, more popular, and more relevant with audiences.”
But, Fishman cautioned, social media stars have to think carefully about turning their personal accounts into an advertising mechanism.
"These creators can do whatever they want on their channels,” Fishman said, but noted that Fortune 500 companies comb through the videos on the lookout for anything that could hurt their brand image.
“It's not so different from a political candidate who has to think about not what am I saying on the campaign trail, but what am I doing in my private life,” he said.
The Viners also have to be choosey. They don’t want their videos to seem like they’ve been sanitized by the corporate PR team, potentially diminishing the authenticity that made them popular in the first place.
“We don't want them to think, yeah we're just using them,’” Davis said, sensitive to being called a sell-out. “So it makes us think about doing brand deals, it makes us think about doing stuff for any other advertisers.”