How Digital Marketers Can Think Outside the Box: Adventures at Buffer Festival

Last week, in the midst of a busy time in Toronto, the fifth annual Buffer Festival solidified its place in the digital video world. Taking place directly after the Toronto International Film Festival, Buffer Fest set its sights on the independent digital creator and highlighted up-and-coming voices in various content verticals.

More than ever, Buffer Fest was an opportunity for creators to see their impact, as fans lined up at screenings with the hopes of meeting their favorite online personality. It was an obvious reminder that entertainment is moving in the direction of independent voices.

Creator-first festivals are always my favorite. They allow us to explore the industry from their point of view and understand why, in the first place, they were successful in building an audience.

As a way of structuring the conversation between creators and the companies they work with, Buffer Fest did a very nice job of setting up an Industry Day.  As someone who’s worked with companies that operate alongside YouTubers for a few years now, I’ve been to many similar events. But this round of speakers stands out in my mind due to their bluntness and solid understanding of how marketers can be successful working with digital creators.

Today’s Marketer is a Content Producer

The main through-line that emerged: Marketing as a whole is rapidly changing, and needs to be reimagined from all angles. Working with creators is no exception. David Beebe began the morning explaining how his previous role as a marketing VP at Marriott felt more like being an executive producer at a TV studio. He was creating engaging content that wasn’t focused on selling hotel rooms, but rather selling the spirit of adventure. He accomplished this by developing several digital series (similar in format to TV shows) that follow characters as they interact with Marriott properties worldwide.

Interruptive Marketing Needs to Evolve

The need to innovate away from interruptive marketing (any ad format that stands in the way of content, i.e. commercials, pre-roll ads, banner ads) was at the core of every presentation, and what better lens to examine this through than influencer marketing. Many of the attendees came from agencies and brands: the perfect audience to hear this narrative.

Two important perspectives came directly from creators who have built huge audiences on their own skills and merit. These creators shared their experiences of how they found it best to work with brands, and also shared stories about not-so-smooth integrations.

Words of Wisdom from Creators

Stevie Boebi, in her first-ever solo keynote, expressed how important it is to allow creators to remain authentic while working with your brand. In her case, she is known for sex-ed content directed toward LGBTQ+ youth. Very plainly, she told the crowd: If your brand can’t mix with the content I’ve made in the past, you shouldn’t be trying to force it.

Creator Stevie Boebi.


Sarah Dietschy and Dodie Clark (prominent YouTubers) echoed Stevie on their panel, explaining how important it is to find a creator that fits your brand (and vice versa) and work to integrate it in creative ways over a long period of time.  For example: rather than paying the creator to pitch the latest flavored water, send the creator enough product to fill a fridge! This makes for cool visuals and more easily allows the creator to make content. I can’t emphasize it enough: every creator stressed the importance of being involved in discovery conversations and creative brainstorming.

The importance of thinking outside the box was the message I took away from Buffer Fest. I don’t mean that in the most generic, cliched type of way about creative thinking. Thinking outside the box as a brand marketer means that you should first deeply understand the medium you’re buying into, and then do your best to think like a creator and a subscriber.

Famed TV and film producer Dana Brunetti, responsible for bringing House of Cards and The Social Network to screens of various sizes, shared his thoughts on the digital space.  As a perfect knot to tie the entire day together, his insight into disrupting the ‘norm’ in Hollywood complemented the need to shake up our marketing efforts. Brunetti is a proponent of digital disruption: he was an early believer in Netflix, even when most were still making the safe choice of not primarily distributing content on the Internet.

Definitely put Buffer Fest on your list!  I’m excited to see what we’ll be talking about next year!

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