After two years away from its physical footprint in Anaheim, California, VidCon, a massive annual convention where the world’s leading digital creators and their fans come together to celebrate all things digital media, re-emerged in 2022 as real-life representation of an industry transformed. Tangibly, there was a new marquee sponsor—TikTok, ousting YouTube who has had an outsized presence since the conference’s inception in 2010. Culturally, there was a new, more mature creator mindset present—one focused on monetization and platforms.
With estimates of approximately 50,000 attendees across the event’s four days at the Anaheim Convention Center, this year’s VidCon was an explosive reminder of the passion and power of the creator economy. As the 2022 Industry Track, Edelman had both access and representation on site, bearing witness to some key emerging trends that will shape the creator economy in the year to come:
- Deeper, More Immersive Experiences. VidCon has three primary audiences—industry, the creators themselves and the community that follows, engages and supports the creators they love. Acquired by Viacom in 2018, VidCon has evolved into a vehicle for promoting and highlighting content, trendy (or wannabe trendy) brands, as well as creators. This year, Viacom properties AwesomenessTV, Paramount and Nickelodeon created experiences to excite the community on the Expo floor while YouTube used the rockstar fame of Mr. Beast to generate excitement for a giant gumball machine that gave away everything from free Google Play passes to hoodies, Nintendo Switches and even a Tesla.
Smaller, direct to consumer brands like X-Shot (Nerf competitor) and skate brand, Bones Love Milk made a play for free content through elaborate give-a-ways and semi-immersive experiences, while more traditional brands like Vera Bradley showed up to reinvent themselves with a new audience. There was even a giant Squishmallow Claw machine that people waited hours to try out.
While the power of “influence” was everywhere, the world of “creators” had clearly replaced the dominion of influencers both in name and in spirit. The focus of these experiences to deliver content during the conference certainly played into this new focus on creators as a way to both empower and engage attendees. The experiences at VidCon were clearly built to help foster creation, not merely lend a hand in influencing.
- Commerce Fuels Creator Independence. Most striking about VidCon this year, in a remarkable difference from years past, is how many companies were catering to creators’ need to sustain and maintain a stable income vs. pure-play hardware and software sales. In the past, hardware brands like Canon and Samsung dominated the expo floor and creator halls—exhibitors were oriented toward getting creators the hardware they need to make content.
While creator tech was still present at this year’s show (I’ll get into that next), there was an overwhelming focus on targeting creators with passive income opportunities or tools that make i-commerce (influencer commerce) easier. TikTok, in particular, focused on creator commerce autonomy through demonstrations of live shopping and in-app commerce features. “Live” commerce was a featured theme, with workshops presented by Amazon, Pinterest and companies like Orca offering new ways for creators to sell products in a “live” environment. Upstart platforms offered easier ways to connect brands to creators—putting the creator in control of the relationship and what they sell. In years past, platforms tried to focus on getting creators to sign up to make themselves available to brands at prices either the technology platform set or the brand set, but increasingly companies seem focused on putting more control in the hands of the creators or are providing ancillary services to help take them from amateur to professional, and ultimately more independent than ever before.
This shift very tangibly signifies the stabilization of the creator economy. No longer are companies merely looking to help creators color correct, they are offering products and services built for monetization that more directly support the “economy” aspect of the creator economy.
- The Commoditization of High-Quality Content. At VidCon, it was clear that the bar for what’s deemed “quality” content keeps getting higher and higher. Companies offering cheaper, easier, more streamlined creator tools were prevalent and reflected the ease with which creators can now create professional-grade content.
Lightricks, for example, is a suite of creation apps, offering in-app editing software for creators, like FaceTune. At VidCon, they not only sponsored a panel with TikTok star Charlie D’Amelio, but they were there to promote their recent acquisition of micro-influencer network, Popular Pays. In a 2-for-1 style deal, they were recruiting creators to join the network, as well as promoting their editing, content creation, and postproduction resources those same creators might not otherwise have access to.
Perhaps the most striking example was BlackMagicDesign which came to VidCon to promote its professional grade color correction software priced at just $250.00 for an annual subscription.
The platforms were also heavily focused on demonstrating their content creation offerings. SnapChat’s exclusive creator lounge provided demonstrations on how easy it is to create innovative and quality content on the app. Meanwhile, YouTube, TikTok, and Meta’s demonstrations introduced creators to in-app content creation tools, NFT creation, and the metaverse. Roblox and newer players in the NFT space—Momento, Matter, and Rally—were demoing even more complex creation tools, like using the metaverse to create augmented reality experiences. Even considering the complex, yet nascent, potential of the Web3 creator ecosystem, it all felt so accessible.
There were lots of new players at VidCon this year, and together live video, live commerce, passive commerce, and resonant digital experiences that utilize Web3 represent the new frontier of influencer marketing. It’s no longer about just “posting” something to amplify a creative campaign. It’s about creating an experience (whether by content, app, or platform) that generates participation, attention, and if we’re lucky, cultural impact.
Therein lies the creator economy opportunity I’m most excited to see play out. As the creator economy reaches maturation and as the creator-made experiences become deeper and higher-grade, the trusted relationship between creator and follower becomes a powerful one. So, when the cultural impact of the creator economy collides with other societal and cultural forces—recession, climate change, human rights, disinformation—we can leverage our understanding of this trust equation to push brands forward in ways that make a difference, carrying consumers of today (and tomorrow) from awareness to consideration, from conversion into ongoing advocacy.
Corey Martin is Executive Vice President, Client Innovation and Business Development, Edelman Blue Room Studio