While parents may not recognize the name Dude Perfect, the chances are good their kids do.
The "trick shot" superstars have more than 7.8 million subscribers on YouTube and have amassed more than 1 billion views for their videos showing them making incredibly hard shots, like sinking a basketball into a moving basket from the top of a 500-foot tower. Now, in a move that may be a sign of things to come, Nerf is betting big that the online sensations will be able to pique kids' attention.
The Nerf Dude Perfect collection is slated to hit shelves this spring. The toy line hopes to make it easier for children to perform their own trick shots with coordinated targets, hoops and other equipment. It marks the first time parent company Hasbro will release a series with YouTube stars.
"We were trying to find new ways to connect with these kids," said Michael Ritchie, vice president of global brand strategy and marketing for Nerf. "We found there was a lot of synergies with what (Dude Perfect) was doing and what we're doing. They were showing a youthful exuberance and fun active play."
The group known as Dude Perfect — twins Coby and Cory Cotton, Garrett Hilbert, Cody Jones, Tyler Toney and their panda mascot — started in 2009. The Texas A&M roommates enjoyed trying crazy trick shots in their backyard, and decided to video some of their stunts for friends and family and upload it to Youtube. Then, ABC's "Good Morning America" asked to feature their video on the show.
"I think it's more than the trick shots that appeal to people," said Toney. "I think it's just the friendship that we have with the five guys, the comradery and the happy, clean fun."
Four videos later, General Motors' inquired about signing the five guys for an ad deal. They got their first television commercial, which was shown during the NBA All-Star game and the FIFA World Cup.
"This kind of thing is reflective of what the future of modern marketing will look like," said Anne Bologna, chief strategy officer for digital agency iCrossing. "I'm not one for hyperbole, but the disruption that is going on in digital marketing today has not been seen since the invention of the television set. The consumer world is turning into C-to-B, where the consumer is the disruptor, and they have the tools to be in charge."
YouTubers can now make five- to-seven-figure deals for a brand partnership, depending on their audience size and how what they do fits in with their client's products, Bologna said.
Whistle Sports, a digital media company focused on creating sports content for millennials, made Dude Perfect their first brand ambassador in mid-December. The deal allows the company to facilitate more sponsorship deals for Dude Perfect, as well as allows them to expand into more original series online outside of stunt-based shows.
"You don't need to be right in the middle of the stadium kicking a point to have millions of fans," said Brian Selander, executive vice president of Whistle Sports Network. "You can find fans all over the world, and you can do it in a way that's inspiring and engaging — and you can do it across platform."
Nerf began working with Dude Perfect in 2013 when it commissioned them to create sponsored YouTube videos using their products. One of the videos, "Nerf Blasters Edition," is the most popular video of all time for Dude Perfect, with 41.8 million views. The collaboration has continued throughout the years to the tune of 80 million views online, and spread to TV commercials.
What excited Ritchie most about the collaboration, however, was the fact that Nerf discovered that kids were emulating their YouTube idols and uploading their own Nerf product-based trick shot videos online. He said that there are more than 180,000 Nerf-related videos — but more than 90 percent of those are fan-created content.
"There's less of an importance being put on TV, whether that's on demand or commercials or viewership," Ritchie said. "It's changed how we connect with kids, and it's on YouTube and other social channels."
Toney admitted it wasn't an easy choice committing to Dude Perfect. He and three of the other guys are married, and Hilbert has a 9-month-old son.
"It was more of a hobby, and we made a little bit of money on the side," said Toney, who used to be a commercial landscape designer. "We were all still going to college, and we were going to finish up and 'get real jobs,' as we like to call them."
One of their most recent sponsored deals with State Farm features Los Angeles Clippers point guard Chris Paul and Green Bay Packers quarterback Aaron Rodgers pulling off herculean shots on a basketball court. Since being uploaded on Dec. 21, it's been viewed more than 4.6 million times on YouTube.
"Internet celebrities, because they have built their celebrity and their fan base, their personal persona is obviously valuable to them," iCrossing's Bologna said. "They are really expecting the brand to respect that and pay accordingly. The value has changed."