As brands try to connect with today's connected generation, they're turning to top digital video and social media stars to represent their companies.
"With an often sizable number of highly active fans, influencers can be a great way to deliver content to an engaged audience that might otherwise tune out conventionally branded content like display ads or pre-roll video," said Andrew Cunningham, social marketing lead at digital agency Huge. "Among teens, some influencers are even more recognizable than mainstream celebrities, so there's a serious appeal in getting that type of access and exposure."
Instead of just using traditional print or TV ad campaigns, brands are tapping these digital content creators to intertwine what they do best online with their products. The results are known as native advertising, or brand-sponsored content. It's one step beyond your typical product placement, because the item is often hidden in the background or just supplemental to the video.
"On the one end, a brand can simply sponsor someone's posts or blog, but working with influencers in their own voice is one thing that seems to work best, whether for a product review, usage, or demonstration," said Adam Shlachter, chief investment officer for digital agency DigitasLBi. "The key is authenticity; it shouldn't feel like a commercial at all."
Read More VidCon a chance for fans to see online video stars in person
Landon Ledford, co-founder of technology platform InstaHype, which connects online influencers with brands, said people with large social media presences not only speak in millennial and Gen Z terms, but they can turn around timely and cost-effective ad campaigns.
"(Millennials and Gen Z) have grown up in a time that has caused them to doubt the traditional systems, they don't trust mass media, and they have technology that puts all answers at their fingertips," he said. "When a brand can enlist a real person, to reach them on their turf online with a peer-to-peer message, this will lead to a purchase—much more important than the 'brand awareness' big agencies are selling—much more often than any mass media commercial or tagline."
Here's a few of today's top online talent and what they do, and the big names they are representing: