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Caspar Lee: A web star unknown in his own country

Nearly nine-million YouTube views in less than a year, 168 000 subscribers, 118 000 Twitter followers. Those are fairly impressive figures, the kind of numbers that most brands would kill for. So how come nobody in South Africa seems to have heard of Caspar Lee?

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I was first alerted to the existence of this baby-faced 18-year-old by @MartinYoung — a fellow resident of Lee’s hometown of Knysna in the Western Cape. I asked the interns at digital agency Quirk if they’d heard of him. Nobody had a clue who he was. That’s when Lourie Campher and I started doing a bit of digging — and what we found surprised us.

Let’s reflect on those stats again.

  • 49 videos
  • 177 659 subscribers to his YouTube channel
  • 9 170 659 views
  • 743 439 views of his most popular video
  • 118 687 Twitter followers
  • 137 413 views of the video he put up a day ago
  • Two percent number of fake followers according to Status People.

So why hasn’t anybody in South Africa heard of him? Possibly it’s because his followers and fans appear to be mostly based in the UK.

His approach in a nutshell:

Platforms: YouTube, Facebook, Twitter, Instagram and tumblr, where he sells branded Caspar Lee T-shirts.

Conversation topics: Anything teenage girl-friendly. A discussion about UK pop band One Direction with his young niece and nephew scored the highest number of views of any of his videos.

Tonality: Deadpan, insouciant.

Look: Bieberesque.

Strategy: What’s the secret to Caspar’s success? How did he build up such a huge following in such a short time?

We were hoping to get comment from Lee himself on this, but to date he has played hard to get, so we’re going to have to base our conclusions on what we’ve observed.

For a while, Campher and I were mystified by the sheer scale of the numbers. But through careful investigation, Campher worked it out. Lee picks up subscribers and Twitter followers by cross-promoting with other YouTube stars like Jack’s Gap and Marcus Butler — both of whom have more subscribers and more views. The video Jack Harries made with Caspar educating viewers on “How to speak South African” has over 824 000 views to date.

As it turns out, there’s an entire obsessive vlogger subculture, where the same girls fantasize about the same group of Bieberesque boys, screeching and swooning in tweets whenever one of them deigns to follow back. With his deadpan, permanently dazed expression, artfully wild hair (hair seems to be very important) and piercing blue eyes, he clearly has the type of look that sets thirteen year old hearts a-flutter. Sex appeal has a lot to do with his popularity. Blogs like this and this leave little doubt as to what drives interest in Caspar Lee and others like him.

What’s interesting about Lee and others is that they’re exploiting the kind of matinée idol niche that used to be accessible purely to pop singers and movie stars. Now that YouTube has given a channel to anyone with an ego, a video camera and internet access (which means almost everyone), anyone can be a star.

Kudos to Lee for generating such a huge following and creating a brand in such a short space of time — and doing it without attracting any attention from the usual arbiters of online success.

Perhaps South African Tourism should give him a call.

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