What brands still get wrong about social

From putting his stamp on YouTube’s social presence to setting up his own studio Star Quality, creative director Hunter Ellenbarger has built a career on creating content that actually resonates

You won’t find many people in the marketing world who would cite a photoshoot with a hairless cat as one of the most formative moments of their career so far. But in Hunter Ellenbarger’s case, it feels entirely fitting. Part of a broader push to promote the launch of YouTube Music’s streaming platform, his concept for the social campaign was simple but effective: photograph his friend’s pet cat wearing a branded YouTube T-shirt and diamante collar, alongside a Google Pixel phone (on brand, ofc) that showed off the new app.

The significance of that particular campaign came to light when Ellenbarger, who was creative lead for YouTube’s social team at the time, found himself butting heads with the wider marketing team, who had already shot a big-budget, 30-second film they wanted to lead with on social. “I literally made a deck that was ‘hairless cat vs the high production spot’ with all this data about why we should post the hairless cat as our announcement, and the internal food chain killed it,” he tells CR. As it turned out, the blockbuster-style ad was the brand’s least liked post of the year on Instagram, and when the hairless cat finally made an appearance on its social channels it performed over 300% better.

The creative director believes his personal experience with hairless cat-gate is indicative of an increasingly fragmented media landscape, where the rules of engagement for brands and agencies are constantly changing. “There’s still this dissonance where the old guard of marketers or advertisers approach things in a high fidelity, precious way, but on social it’s never that serious. I think people that can do social well often have a non-traditional approach to creative and understand that social audiences want to see weird, surprising things,” he says.

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