I am a former obese man. Having struggled with nutrition and being overweight as a young man, I found myself looking down at a scale in 2002 that was climbing past 325 lbs. I couldn’t look at what that final weigh-in was; I just knew it was too much.
Over the next few years, I sought information to help reprogram my mind as it related to nutrition, exercise, and supplementation. By 2004 I was a trim 185 lbs., and I’ve continued to maintain my health and fitness goals ever since. I am now in my late 30s, and in the best shape of my life.
The Big Picture
In my head, I see 3 gears: 2 large gears with 1 small gear in between them. The big gears are fitness and training. They go hand-in-hand. You can’t out-train a bad diet, and eating alone won’t produce life-prolonging muscle and conditioning. The smaller, third wheel is supplementation. That little gear helps the other two operate more efficiently. Things can go smoother, and sometimes even faster when using supplements.
Thinking this way is why I attribute some of my personal fitness successes to how I use vitamins, minerals, and supplements. Apparently my story is part of a much bigger narrative:
“One of the fastest growing industries in the world is the nutritional supplement group, or more broadly known as Vitamins, Minerals and Supplements, or VMS. Producing about $32 billion in revenue for just nutritional supplements alone in 2012, it is projected to double that by topping $60 billion in 2021 according to the Nutritional Business Journal.” – David Lariviere, Forbes, “Nutritional Supplements Flexing Muscles As Growth Industry”
This growth industry is very appealing to me on a professional level because it is made up of new and growing brands. Within the VMS industry are dozens of categories like protein powders, pre-workout drink powders, fat burners (thermogenics), multivitamins, minerals, and the list goes on and on.
Some of the most interesting brands, though, are coming from an unlikely place: YouTube.
From Subs to Supps
When considering all the traditional channels CPG typically travels to get from product idea to in the consumer’s hands, YouTube is maybe the least likely channel to even be considered a proper channel.
Yet consider the bigger idea: Start with a shared interest (fitness), insert an expert, have him/her post content that is highly valuable to their audience, over time trust and authority build to the point that this is no longer just an audience watching videos, but is a potential customer base.
And that’s not fluff: The people watching the video content are already buying the products being discussed. So while YouTube may not immediately come to mind as a CPG channel, we can see why it is working so well.
Rise of the YouTube Sport Supplement Brands
Let’s consider the big brands in the landscape of YouTube VMS brands. In order of my own discovery of them, I present to you the YouTubers who are doing everything I mentioned above–and more–and have trusted VMS products being used, championed, and passionately promoted by their audience customers.
Heads up: One thing almost all of the YouTube VMS brands have in common is that their channel content is plain-spoken, doesn’t have huge production budgets, and in some cases the language may be NSFW.
Marc Lobliner / MTS Nutrition
Marc’s wit and personality background suited him really well for being in the right place at the right time, as YouTube became a platform for VMS brands. As CMO of TigerFitness.com, an online supplement retailer, his YouTube channel has been dedicated to supplement product reviews, AMA-style Q&A, and commentary on the VMS industry happenings. His marquee brand of supplements, MTS, is widely regarded as a premium brand in the VMS industry.
Dr. Jim Stoppani / JYM Supplement Science
Like Marc, Dr. Stoppani has a rich history in the fitness industry, specifically in writing content for traditional print media, and producing video content for other fitness media brands. In 2013 Dr. Stoppani and BodyBuilding.com came together to produce a line of supplements called JYM®, and with it came a flurry of video content about every JYM product. As of the writing of this post, the pre-workout drink mix, Pre JYM, is the #1 rated and #1 selling pre-workout on BodyBuilding.com. His YouTube content is a mix of product overviews, specific ingredients in JYM products, why certain ingredients are NOT in JYM products, training demos, and he even produces Google Hangouts On Air to field Q&A from his brand advocates, referred to as the #jymarmy.
Disclosure: I am a big fan of the JYM line of products. Anyone who follows me on Google Plus has seen me review the JYM line, and my admiration for how Dr. Stoppani uses video to build the JYM brand. In my opinion, if you want to see Exhibit-A of how to use video to build a CPG brand, spend time with his YouTube account.
Known for their catch-phrases and hilarity, the Hodge Twins started with what could arguably be the most grassroots background. As near as I can tell from their (many) YouTube channels, they simply started making videos that had them talking about fitness and supplements. It was and remains 100% opinion content, yet over the years their audience has grown to massive numbers. In 2014 they used one of their catch-phrases to launch a pre-workout called Pre-Gains™.
I have to admit that Lui’s pre-workout The Bump™ is what prompted me to start thinking about this post. Relative to the aforementioned men, he is a newcomer, albeit one that has come on strong to the YouTube scene with very strong opinions, mostly on competitive bodybuilders. Yet when I saw that Lui had taken his brand to the next level by producing a pre-workout (notice a trend here?), it inspired me to put the pieces together that YouTube is in fact a channel for CPG brands. I don’t mean to say “if he can do it, anyone can.” No. The luimarco YouTube channel is as strong as any out there, and I salute him for jumping into a VMS product early to take advantage of what others have taken years to realize.
Rich’s brand embraces what the Average Joe or Average Jane probably thinks a bodybuilder to be: brash, loves the way they look, and an alpha. That’s what Rich has poured into his YouTube content – videos that are in your face, telling it how it is, with absolutely no apologies. The same is true for Rich’s 5% Nutrition™ brand. The brand believes that roughly only 5% of people are doing what it takes to really excel and succeed. The brand philosophy mostly applies to the VMS products it sells, but Rich is vocal that it applies to all areas of life. His YouTube content backs up everything the products stand for, and 5% Nutrition customers are some of the most brand-loyal of any brand mentioned so far.
Dana Linn Bailey
As the sole woman on this list, Dana is also leveraging her YouTube audience to introduce what she maintains is a new product in a new category. Her Onward™ product aims to help people get the most out of their daily life. It’s a dietary supplement for “whatever your work may be.” I view it as sort of a pre- or intra-workout drink that is for your day instead of your workout. Maybe an intra-daily-grind drink? Whether or not I am describing it accurately, it doesn’t matter. What does matter is that her followers on YouTube seem to really like the Onward product a lot, and she and her husband used YouTube to not only launch and promote Onward, but have also created video content to directly address the skeptics and naysayers of the brand.
Skeptics & Naysayers
Speaking of skeptics and naysayers, when it comes to VMS products as a whole, there is always someone present to refer to supplements as a waste of money. “They don’t do anything…” is quite possibly the comment I read the most, even among fitness enthusiasts who prefer a 100% “natty” (natural) approach. My observation, though, is that 9 out of 10 times, these people have been blessed with outstanding genes, and do not need the aforementioned third gear of supplements to achieve great results.
I also observe that when I compare the skeptics’ voices to the money spent on VMS products – much of it spent on repeat purchasing – it appears that the masses have spoken with their wallets: VMS products work.
Think about it: if the laundry detergent Tide was a rip-off that didn’t do anything, it would not be the powerhouse brand it is. Sustained sales by repeat purchases, compounded by new purchases made into the same brand, prove that VMS products not only produce desired results, but that there is great satisfaction from these products.
YouTube as a channel for CPG products is something brands need to consider. The smaller the brand, the easier it is going to be to leverage YouTube because small brands can be more nimble and responsive than big brands.
There’s also the authenticity factor, and I believe this is likely why these VMS brands have found YouTube to be such a successful channel.
If we consider all of the video content mentioned in this post, it has one thing in common: Most of the time it’s a single-take video with the person in front of the camera simply talking authoritatively about a topic. Rarely is there a well-lit set or professional-level recording and post-production. It’s emerging brands using YouTube the way YouTubers want their videos: authentic, real, and no fluff.
Can any brand leverage YouTube as a channel for their product? I believe so. It’s not so much the product that is in question, but the approach. Savvy brands will do as has been cited in this post, and put together content for anything from pet food to incense to B2B products and services.
What’s interesting to me, though, is that we have a channel that no one in the CPG innovation circles I know of saw coming. We have here a new channel that is proving very successful for a niche category, and that excites me.
Want to talk about how my branding shop, Brand Shepherd, can help get your product on YouTube and make content like the stuff I’ve covered in this post? Let’s talk about your brand, and let’s make it happen.