There might not be a clearer example of how YouTube can elevate awareness for a brand, or its products, than the exponential growth in popularity of what is now commonly known as the “lifestyle action camera.” Rife with opportunities for fan engagement, uploads, competitions, and exhibiting the quality of their products by using the very medium in which it seeks to excel, YouTube has become an enormously competitive playing field for these devices.

The growing market for these cameras–all seeking to prove, via digital video, that their product is the best–is often not even in the brand’s control. Fans dominate on YouTube and the best strategy is to at least embrace them and most definitely to engage with them.

For an example, just look at this surfer, who decided to test six different cameras he somehow affixed to a plank attached to a bike helmet which he then strapped to his board and then set out to sea to get his footage to edit and compare:

Follow the Leader: GoPro

For a new player in the lifestyle action camera game, the task of taking on a workable YouTube strategy can be a daunting one, especially considering fans are often beating the company to the punch (such as our surfer friend and his six-camera surfing expedition) and uploading their own product reviews before a brand is even able to formulate a message and stick to it.

We decided to look at three companies all vying for a piece of the market in different ways. ZEFR, as we often do, found that the brands who engage most authentically with their fans almost always come out on top. For the best example, look no further than GoPro.

Where else but YouTube could a company such as GoPro post a product launch video featuring footage shot exclusively on its newest camera and attract nearly 18 million views? The product itself is designed to capture life, your life, as you choose to live it, adventurously or otherwise.

In fact, with nearly 2.5 million subscribers and more than a half-billion views on their official channel, GoPro is the overwhelming leader in nearly every category that counts. From fan uploads to engagement to views, GoPro remains the standard by which to measure your own brand’s success on YouTube, especially if you’re also in the lifestyle action camera game.

While the channel’s official uploads inspire views and engagement, GoPro is fully aware that it’s the fans that drive their content on YouTube. This might also explain why they’re able to give so many of their products away, perhaps considering their fans to be their best ambassadors. With so many of their cameras disseminated throughout the world, the brand is able to curate some of the most popular fan-made content on all of YouTube. Their strategy blurs the lines almost entirely between “fan” and “official” by literally merging the content they find most interesting made on their cameras.

They also have a sense of humor…

They have a sense of responsibility…

And they even allow fans to battle out reality-versus-conspiracy and watch as millions of earned media views roll in:

In short, emulating any part of the GoPro strategy is bound to prove returns on the investment of time and money. Some recent players in the action-camera/digital-video market have apparently gotten the hint and are trying to play catch-up. But as ZEFR data shows, this will take a lot of strategy and even more legwork.


Up-and-Coming: Garmin VIRB Elite

If not quite on the scale of GoPro, Garmin is doing something right with their own action lifestyle camera, VIRB and VIRB Elite. With a company that manufactures all varieties of equipment from navigation devices to fitness bands, it’s telling that their second most-watched official upload (on pace to be the most-watched) is action footage captured on their newest product, VIRB Elite, featuring screaming riders of the world’s tallest water slide.

Garmin has also taken GoPro’s cue and encouraged its fans to help them produce content by including a Video Submission portal on their company website, possibly resulting in the enthusiasm of these snorkelers seeking sea creatures in the Maldives.

But, as Garmin grows its audience for VIRB, the inevitable comparisons with GoPro will continue to drive the kind of earned media the brand might want to seek to combat with increased fan engagement of the kind their number-one competitor has already mastered.

The Rookie: Polaroid CUBE

What does a veteran company such as Polaroid do when it’s 2014 and some millenials actually think the Instagram rainbow stripes originated with Instagram and were “stolen” by Polaroid? They can sit back and try to capitlize on their “retro” credibility (refurbished vintage Polaroids are selling at places such as Urban Outfitters and Taylor Swift’s most recent album, 1989, includes exclusive sets of Polaroids as part of the CD artwork). Or, they could enter the action lifestyle camera fray and somehow leverage their 75-year historical brand credibility to their advantage.

The company has, according to Fast Company, gone bankrupt twice and changed CEOs six times between 2001 and 2009. While the remarkable rise in sales of vinyl records in recent years indicates a surprising growth in appetite for analogue and vintage media, Polaroid is instead wading into digital territory with their newly introduced Cube. With the Cube priced at $99 (compared with GoPro’s HERO4 Black priced at $499) some are touting the new Polaroid video camera as the “GoPro-killer.” It also takes still shots.

However, with the product now on the market for nearly six months, the brand is virtually invisible on YouTube compared to its competitors. If it truly aspires to be the GoPro killer some say it could be, it needs much more than just a lower price point to even wound the current reigning champ of action lifestyle cameras. By taking a couple of cues from GoPro (and even Garmin) and encouraging or even engaging with their seemingly significant fanbase (for both its new and old products) the CUBE might secure a better foothold in the market.

As it stands now, its only earned media consists mostly of comparison vids…

Impressively thorough, and mostly positive product reviews. (However, this gent took issue with the fascination over the camera’s magnet):

And, of course, unboxings:


As engagement with digital video, especially YouTube, continues its global expansion and audience share, users of the platform are becoming more sophisticated. These amateur videographers will require the right tools to make the right kind of content for whatever footage interests them most. For those involved in active lifestyles and sports (especially biking, hiking, surfing, skateboarding, and off-roading) the action lifestyle camera will only expand alongside platforms such as YouTube, where the content from these cameras are bound to end up. With GoPro the clear leader in the industry, any company seeking to announce itself as its “killer” might do better by learning a thing or two about how GoPro has grown and nurtured their fan base, encouraged customer involvement, and rewarded their product’s users with either official video uploads or even free camera equipment. There’s always room for more than one player in any industry, but if Garmin or Polaroid ever hope to catch up to GoPro, they could start by acting just a little bit more like them and capitalize on a YouTube audience just waiting to hear from them.