Gen Z Influencers: Summer Mckeen

The thin line between average teenagehood and reality TV stardom


 

How would you imagine the classic American teenage TV icon? We bet you’ve pictured it as blond-haired, with deep blue eyes and a dazzling smile, topped by an attitude that says: “Hello world, here I come!”. Take all of that, pour it into the influencer-packed California of the late 2010s, sprinkle it with social media fame and just a pinch of goofiness, and you get Summer Mckeen.

At 20 years of age, Summer already has all the numbers to demonstrate that the fascination for the Laguna Beach-type of girl hasn’t faded yet. Actually based in Laguna Beach (!), Orange County, Mckeen is a vlogger with 2.35 million subscribers on her YouTube channel and 2 million followers on Instagram. Yet, it’s her collaboration with Snapchat that launched her into stardom and made her the Gen Z reference for reality TV that she is today.

Endless Summer is the title of the first reality series produced by the instant-stories app. It stars the daily fun, drama and teenage shenanigans of Summer and her family and friends (most of whom are also influencers and vloggers, such as McKenzie Luskey, Olivia Rouyre, and Summer’s ex-boyfriend, Dylan Jordan). 2018’s 10-episodes series was a hit among Snapchat users, so much so that a second season has already been streamed in June 2019.

So, what makes Endless Summer and its star such a hit (and on a social network that only now seems to have regained part of its lost fortune)?

The key may be the correct balance between watchability, relatability and staged beauty.

The 5-minutes, highly-concentrated episodes of Endless Summer may fit in everyone’s daily schedule: you may watch them on a subway ride, during a coffee break, or while waiting for dinner at the restaurant. Also, they can comfortably be streamed on your phone, thanks to Snapchat videos’ vertical format. No need to turn on any device other than that in your hands and you get all the true drama of a reality show — break-ups and family feuds included.

Moreover, the routines and situations captured on Summer’s YouTube videos represent a life that is very close to an average one, just — like the tradition of classic TV shows want — a little bit better. Summer’s most popular videos are about pretty down-to-earth subjects: make-up tutorials for school and hair tutorials for school. These audience favourites may imply that the majority of her followers are around her age and in search of inspiration for everyday routines, better if led by someone who always seems to fall on her feet (even when she gets backlash for lack of inclusivity of her cosmetic line).

Yes, Summer may have acne and may talk about her insecurities regarding social media exposure. Still, the feeling you get watching her is that she’s somehow above average, the classic girl/model you’d see in a coming-of-age reality show that leaves millions of teens wondering if that could be their story too. Relatable, but not too much.

That’s probably all it takes to work the Gen Z pop-TV magic: the line between average teens and tv stars gets blurred, the marketing machine stays in the background — yet is always present, or you wouldn’t explain Mckeen’s collaborations with Gen Z iconic brands such as Brandy Melville — and Summer becomes a celebrity, yes, but a sort of achievable one. And the relatability layer she adds to her TV-star lifestyle makes her saying “I’m a normal person. I’m just broadcasting my life” sound not so hypocritical after all.

Summer Mckeen — YouTube Channel Metrics

  • Subscribers: 2.35 mln
  • Average new subscribers per month: 10k
  • Total views (from channel inception in July 2012): 160 mln
  • Most Viewed Video (Natural Drugstore Makeup Tutorial for School): 5.4 mln views
  • Average views per month: 1.9 mln
(source)

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This is part of YAD — Understanding Young Audiences Digest: a free monthly digest on young audiences for VOD and TV professionals. We’ve analysed millions of data points and we don’t mind sharing some of them — if this could help channels and commissioners to reach Gen Z, by understanding their needs, behavioural traits and intrinsic cultural values. 

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