How Casey Neistat built a multimillion-dollar business creating ads for people who hate ads.

Casey Neistat pulls in about 489,000 views on his YouTube videos… every day.

He catapulted daily vlogs into the mainstream, and his following surged from 500K to 4M after a whopping 500 consecutive uploads in 2015-16.

He’s now pushing 12M+ subscribers. For scale, that’s nearly the entire population of LA and NYC combined.

But long before he was one of the internet’s most beloved creators, Casey began – quite literally – from nothing.

.  Starting from the bottom

Casey ran away from home at 15, dropped out of high school at 17, and had his first child shortly after. Living in a trailer park with no career path in sight, he went on welfare to get free milk and diapers.

After finding a passion for filmmaking, he started posting short videos to YouTube. That’s when he stumbled on something that would change the course of his career: a $50 traffic ticket.

Cited by NYPD for not riding his bike inside the lanes, Casey responded with Bike Lanes, filming himself as he crashed into every obstruction blocking the path. (The video has racked up over 25 million views, and spread so fast that the Mayor of New York City had to address it.)

Suddenly, Casey had a platform. And the advertisers came knocking.

.  Throwing out the rules

Not one to play by the book, Casey went rogue on a 3 video deal with Nike – blowing an entire video’s budget on a 10-day adventure around the world.

Watch: Make It Count

Little did he know, this would spark a revolution in the way advertisers thought about branded content. Make It Count now has over 30 million views, and is one of Nike’s most viral videos to date.

Casey has always been a renegade creator, writing his own playbook for success. Here are a few insights he’s picked up along the way.

Cue Casey…

 break through the noise

How to be heard in the new world of marketing

This is an excerpt from Casey’s keynote at the HyperGrowth conference.
You can see the full talk here.

.  I f**king hate ads.

The media landscape has changed in such a tremendous way. The viewer has absolute agency over what they consume.

When I was a kid, I had Nickelodeon or MTV. That is not agency – that’s binary.

Therefore, you could put any stupid TV commercial in front of me, and it would have an impact.

.  That’s not the world we live in, anymore.

I remember watching my son a couple of years ago. He would click play on a YouTube video, and a five second, unskippable pre-roll would come up. And faster than Beethoven’s fingers on a piano would move, he would CTRL+T+F, which is ‘new tab, Facebook’. He would skim Facebook for four and a half seconds. Close it. Back to the YouTube video, and the video would start playing.

He was so trained to skip those five seconds. There was no way you were going to penetrate his ability to weed out the bullshit. And therefore, the only way to reach him is to put something in front of him that he actually wants to see.

.  It’s not about forcing a product down people’s throats.

And that’s why I credit that Nike movie with the success that it was. It was about sharing an idea or perspective than an audience engaged with.

This is the new normal in the world of media, and I think this is the new normal in the world of marketing. This is the world that we all now have to contend with in order to find success in this space.

How do we share something that people actually want to see? How do we engage with people in a way that they actually care?

That has been foundation to my career.

Like this? Watch: Drift HYPERGROWTH Keynote

.  Your Playbook: Beware of banner blindness

There’s a term thrown around a lot in the advertising industry – banner blindness.

People are so overwhelmed by advertising that we instinctively tune out anything that remotely resembles an ad.

Like Casey’s video with Nike, the best way to break through is by leaning into that instinct. Engage people in a way that makes them want to participate, and your message will hit way harder.

 branded content 101

It's not about selling products, it's about selling ideas

Casey’s explosive success with Nike presented him with a curious problem: his inbox was now flooding with brand deals that all wanted the same thing.
“They’d be like, ‘Hey, make us that video you made for Nike.’ And eventually, I got really frustrated at that.”

One day, Casey got a call from 20th Century Fox. They offered him $25K to make a similar video promoting their upcoming movie, The Secret Life of Walter Mitty.

.  “And I said, no.”

Casey made them a video – this time spending the entire budget on disaster relief for the victims of Typhoon Haiyan in the Philippines.

Watch: What would you do with $25,000?

“I encourage you to watch this video, thinking of it through the lens of marketing. There is very little about this video that cries of marketing because that wasn’t the intent with this video.”

.  Your Playbook: Build an audience-first strategy

Casey’s success with sponsored content comes from an audience-first strategy. Starting with a story that people want to see and share, he weaves the product in organically.

In a world where advertisers permeate YouTube, creators are quick to put the product first. This leads to frustrated viewers disrupted by “a word from our sponsors.”

Casey’s videos have nothing to do with selling a product. He separates himself (and wins the respect of his audience) by selling ideas.

 passing the bullsh*t detectors

This is where beginning YouTubers waste the most time

Casey is quick to point out that the biggest waste of energy on YouTube is when new creators attempt to be exactly like someone else.
Reverse-engineering the success of your favorite channel can have unintended consequences, especially with YouTube’s audience.
“Their bullshit detectors are so highly-refined that even the slightest amount of bullshit will set off their alarm, and then you’ll be rejected; the community will reject you immediately.”

.  A great place to start: honesty.

“And that sounds wishy-washy, but the truth is: being yourself on camera is an incredibly difficult thing to do. It’s why the David Letterman’s and the Jimmy Fallon’s of the world are so brilliant: because when you’re watching Jimmy Kimmel on TV, you really believe that that’s who this guy is.
“When you see someone who’s uncomfortable in front of the camera, which is the vast majority of us, it reeks of something else, which maybe is something that’s contrived, or something that’s forced, or something that’s faked.”

.  Your Playbook: Quality comes from quantity

For almost 2 years, Casey published a new video every single day.

Success on YouTube is based around action. The more you do something, the more comfortable it becomes.

Quality is important, but people don’t look to YouTube to find cinema-quality films. They look there for relationships.

 the not-so-secret weapon

You can always compete on hard work

“You realize that you will never be the best-looking person in the room. You’ll never be the smartest person in the room. You’ll never be the most educated, the most well-versed.

“You can never compete on those levels. But what you can always compete on, the true egalitarian aspect to success, is hard work.

.  You can always work harder than the next person.

“And if you’re willing to work harder than the next guy, you will succeed. When someone’s like, ‘Yeah, but I’m not going to commit to working like that. I’m not waking up, how could you sleep only a couple hours?’

“The second I hear someone say that, I think to myself, ‘Great. That is one less person I have to climb over on my way to the top.’

“Because I know what hard work can yield, and I know just how meaningful hard work can be.”

 defining success

“Success is defined not by how many cars you have or any of that nonsense. For me, it’s not even how much time you spend doing what you love.
It’s how little time you spend doing what you hate.

Like this? Listen: Casey Neistat on the Rich Roll Podcast

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